Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Letter to the Editor: Regulate the Pet Industry


(Image credits: Animal People Online)

The proposal by local animal welfare groups to regulate the pet industry is a timely and necessary one (“Groups barking up the wrong tree, say pet shop owners”, 12 Dec 2011). Pet store operators understandably have vested interests to protect in objecting to any such initiative on grounds of lack of fairness, as their profit margin from the sale of pet supplies and providing boarding and grooming services would be smaller than from the sale of pets.

At present, the licensing of pet shops falls under the jurisdiction of local councils. There are no adequate guidelines to ensure the health, safety or welfare of the animals or the humans who come into contact with them.

Animals for the pet trade are frequently raised in deplorable conditions, and wildlife is often passed off as legitimately captive-bred animals without any verification procedure or animal or environmental protection criteria being set. The absence of guidelines and regulations in the pet industry often means that customers have no redress if they have purchased inbred, ill, diseased or disabled animals. These animals thus frequently end up being abandoned or euthanised.

A flash flood in downtown Kuala Lumpur several years ago, which saw hundreds of animals drown in their cages at a pet store in Brickfields, as well as a more recent incident involving the abandonment and starvation of over 300 pet cats left at a pet store and boarding facility in Damansara, are testimony to the shortcomings of the current laws governing the pet industry.

Pet store operators argue that better regulation and enforcement of pet stores and breeders would be a better option than an outright ban on the retail sale of pets. However, a ban would have several advantages over mere regulation. Pet breeders would be compelled to comply with health, safety and animal welfare standards in order to register their operations as businesses, and the fact that potential pet owners would now have to deal directly with breeders would enhance transparency and accountability in the pet industry. There would be fewer impulse purchases of companion animals if potential customers were privy to the actual living conditions of breeder animals. A ban would also help reduce stray overpopulation, as there will be fewer opportunities for the indiscriminate breeding and dumping of animals. Potential pet owners would also be more inclined to adopt from animal shelters and rescue groups, which are generally stronger advocates and practitioners of vaccination and neutering than pet stores. This will in turn reduce the public costs of managing stray animal populations.

It must also be taken into cognisance that most existing pet stores, being shophouses and retail outlets within shopping complexes, are unsuitable and unsafe housing facilities for animals, in the event of a fire, natural disaster or disease outbreak. A ban on the retail sale of pets would therefore be in the best interests of animal welfare as well as human health and safety.

It is foreseeable that if such a ban were to be imposed with immediate effect without a grace period for compliance, many animals would end up abandoned or culled by pet breeders and stores. However, if sufficient time were given for compliance, breeding facilities and pet stores would be able to get themselves properly assessed by the authorities for licensing purposes. Animals past breeding age could be neutered and existing animals could be rehomed before the ban takes effect.

Progressive and compassionate communities around the world, including in San Francisco and Toronto, are urging their governments to ban the retail sale of pets. A growing number of cities, including Albuquerque and Irvine in the USA, have successfully implemented such a ban. Animals are not merchandise, but sentient beings that are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In recognition of this fact, the call for a ban on the retail sale of pets and better legislation to regulate the pet industry is one that should be applauded by all right-thinking individuals.


Thursday, 20 October 2011

Letter to the Editor: Put More Thought Into Coordinating "Green" Events


I had the pleasure of participating in the Cleaner Marina Day clean up of Klang River on Saturday, Oct 15 ("1,250 volunteers come together to clean Port Klang", Star Metro, Oct 17). While I must commend the organisers of this event for managing to mobilise such a large number of volunteers in a relatively short time, it would be hasty to deem the event a "great success".

The organisers claim that "tons of rubbish" were collected by the volunteers, but tons of rubbish were also generated during the event in the form of styrofoam food packets, plastic packaging, PET drinking water bottles, and "goodie bags" filled with advertising and promotional material. When queried about this by some of the more environmentally-aware volunteers, the organisers claimed that they had no control over the packaging and distribution of food and freebies as the said items were provided by sponsors.

It is averred that the organisers and coordinators must set the direction of an environmental event. An environmental event should instil positive change in vendors, sponsors, participants and attendees, while meeting community expectations. Sponsors and vendors should be advised to minimise waste and costs. Minimising waste improves efficiency at an event and reduces the need for sponsorship. Too much money, time and resources are being channelled towards the collection, storage, removal and transportation of rubbish as it is.

At a cleanup campaign such as the Cleaner Marina Day event, the following measures could have been taken to reduce the use and wastage of resources in the first place:

(i) Eliminate the need for goodie bags and t-shirts. Volunteers can be advised to come in old white-shirts and can be given adhesive paper labels to stick on their shirts to identify them as volunteers.

(ii) Almost all the volunteers came with their own drinking water bottles. As such, water refill stations could have been set up to eliminate the need for individual PET drinking water bottles. A bucket of reusable plastic cups can be provided for those who came without water bottles.

(iii) Food should have been provided on reusable tableware. This isn't a very big challenge as the services of a canteen operator or caterer could have easily and just as inexpensively been engaged to supply food using reusable tableware and cutlery. Dirty tableware and utensils can be deposited into bins to be transported back to the canteen or other facility for washing.

(iv) Vegetarian food should have been made available for vegetarian attendees. Food served at an environmental event should ideally be vegan or vegetarian, in line with the principles of a low-impact lifestyle, environmental responsibility and non-violence.

(v) The waste collected and generated at the event should have been separated for recycling and possible composting. Clear signage placed high will help inform attendees of the availability of recycling and waste separation facilities.

(vi) Certificates of appreciation can be e-mailed in soft copy format to sponsors and volunteers, as many may not require a printed version. Instead of giving out promotional and advertising literature in goodie bags, vendors and sponsors can be encouraged to e-mail printable discount coupons and vouchers to volunteers on the mailing list or social network site instead.

Further, the organisers should have not merely advised participants to take public transport and/or carpool, but also educated the boatmen not to leave their boat engines idling for long periods of time while waiting for the participants.

The success of an environmental event should not be measured by the number of sponsors and volunteers, but by the educational value of the event and the permanent changes it makes in the lives of the volunteers and local community. Attendees must be able to make the logical connection between the packaging they dispose of and the rubbish they fished out from the river. The objective of an environmental organisation should never be to have ever-increasing numbers of volunteers to clean up litter from public places, but to achieve such a high level of public and governmental awareness that one day we may never again have a need for a cleanup campaign.

While we acknowledge that planning a large-scale environmental and volunteer-based event is never an easy undertaking, better planning and coordination is needed to ensure that such events in future do not end up becoming mere greenwashing opportunities or feel-good excursions with little benefit to the environment.


Hooks and nets for collecting rubbish with at the back of a pickup truck.

Breakfast served in styrofoam containers. Great, innit? This event generated as much rubbish as it collected.

This is the kind of rubbish we had to collect on Saturday morning. The other kind of rubbish -- we have to vote them out of Parliament.

Boats coming to pick up the volunteers to transport us to our respective stations and areas.

Posing with bin liners -- it's the "in" thing to do at every cleanup campaign.

Me, Petri, Laila and Shawn in our One-Size-Fits-Nobody lifejackets.

Shawn with his Catch of the Day.

Volunteers returning to shore with the rubbish.

You talkin' trash to me, punk? You talkin' trash to me?

We're a bunch of treehuggin' nutjobs! Talk dirty to us!

Do away with the canopies, goodie (i.e. junk) bags, t-shirts, certificates, PET drinking water bottles and styrofoam clamboxes and you might just actually have a truly green event.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Drafting An Effective Letter To The Editor


(This blogpost will be published as a 2-3 part series in the Malaysian Nature Society monthly newsletter. All rights reserved by author alone.)

Much as Green Living is about sharing and disseminating information on environmentally responsible choices and putting these choices into daily practice, we must understand that lifestyle changes must go hand-in-hand with political advocacy. It is important to live a lifestyle that is consistent with our environmental values. It is hypocritical, for instance, to call for a ban on the construction of new dams when we fail to manage and reduce our water and energy use. But personal lifestyle changes alone cannot be a substitute for political action. As environmentalists and concerned citizens, we should all strive to keep ourselves informed on environmental issues and to be able to articulate our grievances and ideas in a way that is meaningful.

For many people who have never drafted a letter to the editor, this can seem like a daunting and time-consuming task. But like any other undertaking in life, a bit of planning, a fair amount of research and a good deal of determination is all it takes before you become a regular writer of letters to the editor. Letters to the editor vary greatly in quality. Some are forgotten almost as soon as they are read, some need to be refuted, some are impressive in their pomp and some are worth a second read. If you are a beginner, here are some basic pointers on how to draft a letter to the editor that is more likely to be published and therefore more likely to be read and considered by those with the political and economic leverage to make necessary changes:


If you are quoting a newspaper report, article or someone else’s letter to the editor, try not to start your letter with “I refer to your report, XXXX, dated XXXX” or a similarly predictable and bland opening line. Make a stand from the beginning. Let your reader know, in the same sentence that you are bringing their attention to another article, whether you are for or against the article you cited.

Examples of statements that express agreement include: “I concur with the views of…” and “I commend the XXX State Government for…”. Examples of statements that express disagreement include: “I was disappointed to read that the Federal Government has approved plans to....” and “The National Solid Waste Management Policy falls short of …”

If you are referring to a specific incident, for example, open burning or the felling of trees in your area, then start off your letter with a narration. Use the “5 Ws of Journalism” as a rough guide. In your introduction, address:
- What happened?
- Where did it take place?
- Who is it about/ Who does it affect/ Who witnessed it/ Who was responsible for the incident?
- When did it happen?
- How did it happen?

For example, following a reef clean-up project, you could start a letter thus: “Following a recent coral reef clean-up project off the coast of XXXX conducted by volunteers from the Malaysian Nature Society, we found to our dismay that most of the litter consisted of fishing lines and broken polystyrene foam coolers left behind by the local fishing community.”


“The Government should do so-and-so” is a statement that is best restricted to coffeeshop conversations. When you are drafting a Press Statement or a letter to the editor, identify and address the party responsible for rectifying a problem or implementing a solution to an issue.
- Waste management, local community, and recycling issues = Ministry of Housing and Local Government
- Open burning = Dept of Environment
- Marine issues = Dept of Fisheries and Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry.
- Tree felling, green lungs = National Landscape Dept and Ministry of Housing and Local Government
- Pet stores, animal welfare, stray animals = Dept of Veterinary Services
- Wildlife = PERHILITAN and Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.
- Fuel, vehicle ownership and public transport = Ministry of Transport


If you are writing in response to a letter, report or article, analyse the article you are referring to. Break it down into specific issues that you wish to refute or express agreement with. Be specific.

Here is an example of a point-by-point response to arguments raised by the Malaysian Plastics Forum:

“The plastics industry also attempts to argue that such a ban would result in unemployment. It is, however, unforeseeable to us that any industry, much less the plastics industry, would be so lacking in resilience and resourcefulness that it could not adapt to changes in consumer patterns and legislation and could not come up with alternative or better products to meet market demands.

Further, the plastics industry feigns concern for the environment by arguing that the solution lies in instituting more measures to recycle plastic bags and polystyrene packaging. This is in defiance of science, economics and common sense, which demonstrate that it costs more to recycle a plastic bag than to manufacture one from raw materials, that even the recycling process generates waste and pollution and consumes fuel, water and energy, and that many types of plastic products cannot be safely or feasibly recycled.”

You must be able to explain why you agree/disagree with a statement, and support it with facts. This is more effective than merely saying “Plastic bags are not good for the environment.” As any lawyer will tell you, a failure to refute / challenge someone’s allegation or claim will be taken as an indication of acquiescence!


“Leaving your car engine idling while you wait is a waste of fuel” sounds less compelling than “For every two minutes a car is idling, it uses about the same amount of fuel it takes to go about 1.6 km”. Examples, comparisons and illustrations all help to communicate ideas more effectively to your readers, as it will appeal to their imagination and memory. However, be sure to check your facts and references to make sure they are corroborated by official or academic sources.


Always cite references whenever possible, e.g. “Relying on the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s and CO2 Balance’s carbon emission calculators, it is determined that a return trip for just one person from Tokyo to KLIA would generate an estimated 2.51 tonnes of carbon dioxide.” Cite specific laws and guidelines, whenever possible. In this age of information technology, there is hardly anything that you could not speedily locate using search engines.

This is especially important if you hold a position of leadership in your organisation and you are writing in the capacity of a representative of your organisation. All information cited should be reliable and relevant.

Just as importantly, check your references. Each statement you cite should be corroborated by more than one source type. For example, a newspaper report should be corroborated by an official statement in a Ministry’s official website. Be careful about citing blogs, Wikipedia or statements and claims made by NGOs of dubious reputation. Check the veracity of their statements. Is it corroborated by any other reliable party? Some sources may not be objective, and be based on personal opinions and prejudices.

Steer clear of “round trip” sources, where secondary sources begin to cite each other (e.g. a Chairman of an NGO cites his own article in their newsletter, and the newsletter quotes him in return) and “mirror corroboration”, where secondary sources all cite one source, creating an illusion of corroboration. You can tell that statements constitute “mirror corroboration” when it is difficult or impossible to verify and does not cite authority. A veteran oil industry executive produced an ad that claims: “There is no scientific evidence that CO2 is a pollutant… higher CO2 levels than we have today would actually help the Earth’s ecosystems”. Your “Mirror Corroboration/Round Trip Corroboration” alarm bells should start ringing by now.


When dealing with authorities and parties whose cooperation and assistance you require, it is often helpful to use the “Sandwich Approach” in presenting constructive criticism and feedback. In the sandwich, praise is the bread, and constructive criticism is the filling. The person giving feedback begins by praising strengths, then suggests improvements, and ends with further praise.

An example of how to use the Sandwich Approach in a press statement or letter to the editor:
Bread 1: “Like many citizens, I appreciate the State Government’s concern for the welfare of the people”
Filling: “However, it is submitted that reduced water charges will not help water conservation efforts, and may contribute to a water crisis in the state”. (Provide reasons to back up your statements.)
Bread 2: “I am positive that the State Government would be willing to consider adopting water-saving technologies and practicing better management of our water resources, all of which will help our state reach its developmental goals without sacrificing the environment or the people’s welfare.”


Appreciate that whenever you are expressing your views on one issue, there will always be a percentage of people who hold a different view. Not everyone will be as enthusiastic about cloth shopping bags, taking public transport and using vegetable enzymes as you are. For every tree that you may wish to protect, there may be a fearful houseowner convinced that dead branches will fall through his roof at any time. Try to find a common ground, and then present a balanced and fair argument. Help your opponents address their concerns. Try to reach a compromise and propose solutions whenever possible.


An eloquent letter goes nowhere if it ends abruptly without offering alternatives and solutions. Put your research skills to good use by finding alternatives, especially ones tried-and-tested in other jurisdictions. Offering alternatives encourages discussion and communication. Here is an example of how to put forward multiple alternatives in a letter to the editor:
“In order to mitigate the problem of overfishing and at the same time, ensure food security, we must consider alternatives to commercial fishing. These include:
i. Promoting aquaculture and fish farming methods that are sustainable and limit the risk of infection, zoonosis and pollution;
ii. ii. Establishing fishing quotas so fishermen can only legally take a certain amount of fish; and
iii. Declaring certain areas of the sea "no-go zones" and make fishing there strictly illegal, so the fish in that area have time to recover and repopulate.”


Many people mistake being emotional with being passionate. It is best never to write when you are feeling too angry or emotional. A letter that declares: “The poachers should die for this!”, “How could they do this?!?” or “This is crazy!” might be able to get public attention, but is less likely to be taken seriously than one that says: “Legislators must take immediate steps to safeguard our fast-vanishing natural heritage, while PERHILITAN and other bodies entrusted with the regulation of the wildlife trade must be more circumspect in the issuing of permits and be more vigilant in the monitoring of wildlife displays.” Remember that your letter or press statement will reflect on you, your organisation and the cause you champion. Be professional and considerate of other’s views and sensitivities always.


A prolific petition writer has a tendency of making demands and issuing ultimatums in his petitions and press statements. “We demand that the police investigate this matter and bring the culprits to book within 24 hours”, ends one press statement. 24 hours went by, and nothing happened. What can the petition writer do? Threaten to migrate to another country? Threaten to vote in a new government? Terminate the entire police department?

Never write cheques that can’t be cashed. You will end up antagonising the parties that you should be making your allies, and you will end up looking ridiculous.


Please take the time to proofread your draft, and if possible, get a helpful associate to review it for you. A poorly drafted letter indicates a lack of professionalism. If you don’t take your letter seriously enough to want it to be as free of faults as possible, then chances are, your readers will not take it seriously either.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Cat Boarding Hell & Raya Roundup

This blogpost was supposed to be about something else (read: something totally mundane and uninspiring), but the emails and text messages flooding my Berry last night impelled me to add my two cents worth to the topic of the pet boarding facility which breached its contract with its clients and left its clients' cats unattended without food and water for an extended period.

I was in the midst of planning a break-in at an apartment unit in Jalan Kuching (with the approval and help of the police and the apartment management corporation, to make it legit) to rescue several abandoned cats when news reached me of the raid on the Petknode Cat Boarding Centre in Damansara Damai by the police, animal rescue volunteers and animal caregivers. I am glad that the police and our ever-reliable Bukit Lanjan State Assemblywoman have stepped in and that the animals have been removed from the terrible premises, but everything else is a merry chaos.

The SPCA Inspectorate was only informed this morning about the raid, break-in and removal of the suffering cats, so our work is as good as done. All the evidence has been tampered with. As anyone with a little bit of experience in investigative work and anyone who has attended our GAWS-SPCA Animal Welfare Legislation and CSI Workshop will tell you, even if you are armed only with a cell phone camera (who doesn’t have one nowadays?), you should take sufficient photos to help establish a causal link between the acts or omissions of the perpetrators and the harm suffered by the animals. The simplest procedure should be to:
(i) Take a photo of the exterior of the building showing the signboard and the address;
(ii) Take a photo prior to entering the room, so that an objective viewer will be able to see that the room being photographed is part of the interior of the building whose exterior had been photographed;
(iii) Take a photo of the room before anything is moved or touched.
(iv) AND ONLY THEN take pictures of the poor cats in various stages of illness, dehydration, starvation and distress. Take close-up photos of chains/leashes, cages, litter trays, empty food and water bowls, wounds and sores, closed windows, mail piling up by the door and anything that can help establish neglect, abuse and/or abandonment. Keep your photos in a memory card without editing anything, so that if you are called upon to give evidence, the photos you took will be acceptable as documentary evidence in a court of law.

I don’t know if the police or any of the distraught pet owners had the presence of mind to do this before they removed all those cages full of poor cats, but if they hadn’t, it could spell trouble for the prosecution team.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to establish cruelty to animals in this instance, but since the penalty for cruelty to animals under the current Act is such a derisory slap on the wrist, the best option would be to go for other offences under the Penal Code as well, including Section 418 (Cheating with knowledge that wrongful loss may be thereby caused to a person whose interest the offender is bound to protect – maximum penalty: 7 yrs in prison or fine or both) as well as Section 428 (Mischief by killing or maiming any animal of the value of five ringgit – maximum penalty: 2 yrs in prison or fine or both).

But above all, the important thing for us to remember is do something constructive with our outrage. Sign the Petition to stop animal abuse, if you haven’t already. Voice your thoughts on this issue in a letter to the Press. Ask your MP to vote for an increased penalty under the new Animal Welfare Act when it gets tabled in Parliament next year. Call your MP the day before the reading of the Bill in Parliament, introduce yourself as one if his/her constituents, and express your hope that he/she will vote for the Bill.

Malaysians, in general, tend to forget easily. We respond to incidents. We express anger and outrage when something bad happens, and then forget about it when the furore dies down. Let’s be the exception to the general rule. Let’s speak up. Animals and the natural environment have no suffrage. We do. Help them with your voice and your votes. National Day was merely a week ago. If we want to do something meaningful in commemoration of our country’s independence, then we should exercise our freedom of expression and free thought. Let’s make this country better for all its citizens – human, animal and plant.

* - * - * - * - * - * -

Raya Roundup and Project Second Chance Updates:

My big bandaged finger and I go visiting on the first day of Hari Raya. Pak Idrus and Makcik Asmah's home is always a joy to visit. Their hospitality, warmth and sincerity always make one feel very welcome. This photo is courtesy of Pak Idrus.

(Note: Further proof that the world is full of friends -- I met at least 4 other mutual friends at Pak Idrus' Raya Open House, and made at least 3 new friends.)

Chatting with my new friends Kevin and Choy, with whom I am currently executing a plan to bring in the stray cats of Ampang Jaya to the SPCA for spaying. I meet up with them tomorrow to set up the cage and carrier, and maybe we'll meet up again to discuss eco-tourism and volun-tourism ideas. This photo is also courtesy of Pak Idrus.

What a jovial lot we are! An especial thanks go out to Makcik Asmah for her thoughtfulness in making sure there are vegetarian dishes, and to Pak Idrus' daughter Lin for her delicious cakes! Heartiest thanks to our wonderful host, Pak Idrus, for bringing friends, old and new, together. What need is there for political slogans and self-conscious attempts at "unity" when there is genuine friendship, acceptance and openness?
(Photo credits: Pak Idrus)

Here is the injured 'community dog' that Kevin and Choy wanted me to see. Something injured him so badly that there is a wound going through his snout right through his upper jaw. You could see the exposed bones and the mouth through the wound. The poor dog was very scared and skittish and would not come to me. I begged the SPCA for a can of wound spray and brought it back to Choy. Choy reports that the dog dislikes the spray but does not try to run away, probably because he knows Choy is trying to help him get better. The wound is healing and there is less risk of parasitic infection now that it has been sprayed with antiseptic solution.

A big, bold kitty at the SPCA lets us know just what he thinks of the Malaysian mainstream media. You tell 'em, Kitty!

Tigger and Cali (both 3 months old) are vaccinated, dewormed and toilet-trained. They will be spayed at the age of 5 months. They are still in need of good homes. You will help me spread the word, won't you please?

~ Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Eid Mubarak, Happy National Day, Happy Vinayagar Chatturthi and Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to all ~

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Yeah, Well, Bite Me!

The past month has convinced me that the world is an insane, arbitrary and chaotic place. It doesn't help that my daily schedule is insane, arbitrary and chaotic. Every day is an endless stream not of cigarettes and magazines, but of research papers, assessments, volunteer commitments, needy rescued animals in need of medical treatment, local political issues, world political issues, home repairs, car repairs, housework, yardwork, animal care work, Trap-Vaccinate-Neuter-Rehome arrangements and promises and favours that I was wheedled into agreeing to. My flabber is totally gasted.

As for the title of this blogpost: I was bitten by a dog at the SPCA on Saturday while trying to break up a particularly vicious dogfight. I was in the midst of giving the Sick Bay dogs baths and tick treatment when a fight broke out between Bubbie (the victim) and Paris, Suki and their gang. We tried to separate the dogs using mops, brooms and streams of water from the hose, but it didn't work. I jumped into the affray because one dog had Bubbie by the ear and another dog had her by the neck. I was afraid Bubbie was going to die so I grabbed her and held her and tried to carry her to the surgery. Somehow I got bitten and sustained a very deep wound in one of my fingers. Now my finger has been cleaned up and stitched, but it is still in a lot of pain and I can't apply much pressure on it, so this adds to my irritability. Trust my hand to get injured when I have so much to do. Tsk.

* - * - * - * - * - * - * - * -

August 6, 2011:

Have you ever had the feeling that you have known a blogging buddy all your life, even though the two of you have yet to meet in real life? Have you ever felt that a blog friendship was somehow more supportive and more real than some of the acquaintances you have made in real life?

Zara and I felt that way about our friendship from the time we started blogging (on another hosting site) in 2002. We found more and more in common with each other after she graduated from law school and started legal practice. So when she disclosed her plans to visit Malaysia with her boyfriend a few months ago, I was elated. We finally got to meet a few weeks ago and she was every bit as I had imagined her to be. I was thrilled to play host and tour guide and I hope Zara and Rohan enjoyed the time they spent with me as much as I did with them.

Zara came bearing gifts of a huge bundle of Amar Chitra Katha comics and a box of soan papdi from Mumbai. I was overjoyed with her gifts -- it was like my birthday, Christmas and Lunar New Year all rolled into one. She didn't leave empty-handed either, as I had already purchased gifts from the Malaysian Nature Society gift shop for her, along with a copy of Lat's "Kampung Boy" and lots of zany band-aids, which are not available in India.

Our first stop for the day was Batu Caves. Despite the fact that the Battletank's radiator had a leak, we managed to arrive safely at a workshop and spent a few hours exploring Batu Caves while waiting for the radiator to be repaired.

I drove everyone crazy with my questions: "Why does Lord Muruga have a poonal? Can a deity be a Brahmin? If Brahmins are humans who are believed to be imbued with divinity, but the reverse is not true, then how can it be that Muruga wears a poonal in this image of Him? True, some humans can be incarnations of deities -- Krishna often appeared in human form -- but he is still an incarnation of Vishnu. Here, Muruga appears as himself. Not as a human incarnation. Why, then, does he wear a poonal?" I guess I'll have to ask the temple priests that one.

Taking a breather in the cave temple. This photo was taken by a young man we met in the temple. Trust Zara to find herself a stalker almost as soon as she arrived in Malaysia! The young man tried to maintain contact with me. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I am 7 years older than he is, and the terms of endearment he used were way out of line.

Guess who's up and about! Rohan finally overcame his jet lag and managed to meet up with us. Here they are outside Tugu Negara, the national monument.

Zara and Rohan at the ASEAN Sculpture Gardens.

Zara and me outside Central Market.

Rohan and me at their room in Trader's Hotel, with KLCC in the background.

Although the time they had in Malaysia was so short, I believe that we shared good memories of the time we spent together. I hope we'll get to meet again soon. Until then, my dear friends and I will harass each other on Facebook. Here's to friendship and Facebook!

* - * - * - * - * - * - * - * -

Project Second Chance Updates:

Napoleon the Puppy thinks my full-time job is to play with him. I must go and visit him again soon. Thank you to everyone who contributed towards his medical bills. You saved Napoleon's life. He is a "mere stray" no more. Whenever confronted with the choice of doing the easy thing and doing the right thing, always try to do the right thing, even if it costs more and is more inconvenient. If you have the determination to do it, you will almost always succeed.

This is the face of the little dog who was almost euthanised due to his injuries. Thanks to everyone's kind donations, Napoleon the Puppy now has a new lease of life and can look forward to a life as a happy, healthy pup in a loving home. Next mission: A good home for Napoleon!

Keeping warm at the SPCA shelter on a rainy Saturday afternoon, Aug 13. I was in the middle of cleaning cages and kennels when these 2, Fajar and Sherry, decided to come and keep me company.

This Mama Cat gave birth to her litter in the back alley behind my friends Seng and Carol's house. My friends sought my assistance and so I brought the whole brood to the vet for vaccination and am currently fostering and deworming them in my home. I posted adoption notices in PetFinder, a local non-profit pet adoption portal, and found homes for 2 of the kittens almost immediately. The kittens are now over 2 months old and well able to eat on their own, so I will be getting the Mama Cat spayed this coming weekend.

Right now besides the Office Feral Cats that I am trying to trap for neutering and Mama Cat and her remaining two kittens, I am also providing post-neutering care for the cats who live with the Burger Stall Couple.

Somebody. I need help. I am turning into the crazy neighbourhood cat lady that your mother warned you about.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Shine On For The Fireflies of Kampung Dew

I attended the inaugural Malaysian Nature Society Firefly Festival at Kg. Dew, Taiping, to support the conservation and environmental education efforts of our counterparts in Perak. I also had to reconnoitre the event for the purposes of Selangor Branch's very own Firefly Conservation Festival to be held this October.

Kg. Dew is located along Sg. Sepetang, around 20 minutes away from Taiping Town, where firefly-watching activities on a limited scale are being carried out by some boatmen from the nearby villages.

I managed to persuade CovertMum and CovertDad to join me. I told them:
"There's nothing you won't like about this trip. There's nothing dangerous, difficult or dirty about it. There will be fireflies. There won't be any leeches, snakes or crocodiles (Disclaimer: As long as you follow our safety instructions). I won't make you hike, swim, climb or camp. I will take care of you. Trust me."

And so we had an idyllic and enchanting weekend away from the city at Kg. Dew and Taiping Town. I trust ecotourism events such as this Firefly Festival will bring a glimmer of hope to firefly populations and encourage local communities and the authorities to conserve firefly habitats, maintain cleanliness and eliminate threats to firefly populations. Like birds, frogs and many other specie that are frequently taken for granted, fireflies are a good indicator of the environmental health of an area. A healthy and thriving ecosystem will benefit human, animal and plant populations.

Kg Dew is a tiny village mostly planted over with oil palm.

Booths and a banquet tent in the middle of the little village.

Display materials with natural history information.

Samples of mangrove flora at the exhibition booths. The local community also took the opportunity to produce handicrafts and local snacks for sale.

The local community took the opportunity to set up refreshment stalls.

A mangrove charcoal kiln! This is the first time I have ever been in one!

Charcoal is traditionally produced in these beehive-like charcoal kilns. It smells awesome. Like a combination of hashish, opium and mesquite barbecue. I feel sorry for the poor charcoal-maker's lungs. All that soot.

Kg. Dew jetty with its little passenger boats. It is commendable that MNS decided to carry out its ecotourism project here. The river was rather polluted with litter, and the local community needs to be educated on waste management and sustainable tourism. They don't know the gold mine that they are sitting on.

CovertDad and me at the jetty, waiting for the safety briefing and our lifejackets after the official opening ceremony.

Moon River / Wider than a mile / I'm crossing you in style / Some day.

CovertDad and CovertMum finally get their lifejackets. What an awesome boat ride it was. The firefly population at Kg Dew is at least 3 times denser than that of Kg Kuantan, Sg Selangor. There are over 133 Berembang trees along the 6km stretch and the trees lit up like parade floats when the fireflies did their synchronised flashing. From afar, the trees looked like they were generating lightning. All the participants and passengers agreed that it was a magical experience and expressed surprise at the density of the firefly population. Let's hope it stays that way.

We checked out the Taiping Lake Gardens the following morning. Our hotel was located within the Lake Gardens. Here I am, walking purposefully in search of vegetarian food, surrounded by majestic raintrees (Samanea saman). Inexpensive and nutritious Chinese vegetarian food is widely available at the food courts in Taiping Town.

The branches of the raintrees formed a natural tunnel for motorists through the Lake Gardens.

Taiping Lake Gardens, with the Titiwangsa Mountain Range in the background.

Paddleboats for rent. Look at the reflection of the mountains in the lake.

An old-timey snack stall on wheels at the Lake Gardens parking lot. Makes me feel like buying a cold garishly-coloured cordial drink, a box of DingDang (a new toy every week!) and a packet of "potato chips" that doesn't have very much real potato in it. Please raise your hand if you know what I am talking about!

Traveller's Palms at the Lake Gardens.

The view from our hotel room window. Love the midday shadow of that tree over yonder.

A colonial building with neoclassical features and nature-inspired Art Novveau plaster mouldings in Taiping Town.

Another colonial building with neoclassical features in Taiping Town. Note the Art Deco horizontal banding and the Deco archways, which suggest at an inchoate sunburst motif.

Interested in visiting Taiping and Kg Dew? Click on the links or follow the contact information below:

Kg Dew Firefly Ecotourism
Contact person: Khairul Salleh Ahmad
Mobile Phone Number: 012 514 5023

Flemington Hotel, Taiping Lake Gardens
Address: No. 1, Jalan Samanea Saman, 34000 Taiping, Perak Darul Ridzuan,
Telephone: +605-820-7777
Fax: +605-808-0177
My ratings: 4 stars out of 5, absolute value for money.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Rest in Peace, Darling Hopscotch

Rest in Peace, Darling Hopscotch
(April 2011 - 3rd August 2011)

Hopscotch came into my life in late May 2011. I named him after the blog title of my dear departed friend, Louis Sellier. I found Hopscotch in the space behind the condenser of one of the air-conditioning units in my office.

He was a sickly kitten, and full of fleas. I had to treat him for the fleas before I could bring him home. He survived the flea bath. I took him to the vet for his first vaccination. He survived the vaccination. He couldn't eliminate waste properly. So back to the vet we went, and after being treated with laxatives and dewormers, he was finally able to use the litter tray. Then other problems flared up. Poor little Hopscotch had such a high worm load that he could hardly eat and digest his food. So I had to administer the highest safe dosage of deworming medicine possible.

Once Hopscotch was clear of worms, I started worrying about his weight. He seemed unable to gain weight or grow, and was rather quiet and pensive for a kitten of his age. Still, he was an affectionate and loving kitten who was content to sleep against my neck or arm all night.

I left him in the good hands of my dear friend, Nicole, when I left for the Asia for Animals Conference in China in June.

Upon return from China, we found that Hopscotch had lost some weight, perhaps due to anxiety in my absence. We tried to make it up to Hopscotch with more cuddles, attention and yummy food.

When Topsy and Turvy, the rescued kittens, succumbed to parvovirus, I wasted no time in getting Hopscotch a full medical checkup and antibiotics to stop the secondary infection, even while I was still grieving for Topsy and Turvy. I was determined that Hopscotch should live, and I was pleased to see how well he socialised with other cats and humans. He was, to me, the ideal kitten.

Hopscotch's condition continued to deteriorate in July and soon he was practically skin and bones. I was horrified and soon vet visits became an almost daily affair. Hopscotch was constantly dehydrated and needed intravenous injections of glucose and fluids to stay alive. With grim determination, I pledged to spend less on my own needs and to direct all my resources towards saving Hopscotch instead.

Hopscotch was hospitalised for the final time last Saturday, 30th July. By then, he was so weak he could hardly meow. His gums were white and his pupils dilated. His body temperature was low. He was severely dehydrated despite all the vitamins, supplements, good food and filtered water that I provided him with. His lymph nodes by then were starting to show signs of enlargement. Amidst fears that he may have feline leukaemia virus, I begged the vet to put Hopscotch back on drips and keep him warm until the good vet was able to draw enough blood to test him for feline leukaemia virus and other retroviruses.

Hopscotch responded to the drips and antibiotics and started eating again in the next few days, but his breathing remain laboured and his kidney function was poor. A blood sample taken from an ear-prick showed that Hopscotch's white blood cells have not mutated, thus reducing the possibility of feline leukaemia virus. However, Hopscotch was so frail and his blood vessels so weak that a better blood sample could not be taken for confirmation. Still, there were enough signs for the vet to give a preliminary diagnosis of congenital polycystic kidney disease. Hopscotch's kidneys were failing in stages, and it really was the drips, medication and our love and care that was keeping him alive.

The vet called me this morning with the unfortunate news that my darling Hopscotch was no more. Never again will he lie on my tummy as I type out my assessments on my netbook. Never again will I get to feel him curl up against my neck as I sleep. Never again will I rush to prepare his wet food in the mornings and evenings and watch with satisfaction as he eats it at his own slow but steady pace.

My little Hopscotch is suffering no more. He is free of pain now, and he probably understands that I did the best I could afford for him, and loved him unconditionally.

Hopscotch, dear, if you ever get reborn as another cat or other animal, I would take you back and care for you all over again, in a heartbeat.

Rest in peace now, my beloved Hopscotch. I will never forget you.