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Catastrophic Event at Dog Shelter

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In the last few months of hiatus, I’d spent my time with friends, relatives and catching up on outdoor pursuits all over Germany & Italy and getting a bit of underwater time in Egypt. I took a break from myself because I wanted to get more input to be able to give output. I was writing for work so much that I’ve lost some mojo in the things that once brought me such joy. One event led to the next, and though people may envy my travels, they don’t really know how disconnected I become when I come back from each trip, catching up on friends’ FB feed and desiring fellowship with great buddies. One friend got married, had a baby with a man I didn’t know she married because I thought she was still dating her long time boyfriend whom I happen to also know. I asked her privately, of course, much to my confusion and thankfully, it wasn’t as embarrassing as I thought it would be. Honesty and forthrightness go a long way to preserving relationships. I don’t believe in talking behind anyone’s back unless I’m giving them praises.

I got to a stage in life where I started to place importance in keeping friends who want to stay in touch, I began to keep away from those who are malignant. I became less attached to social media starting with my weaning off Twitter & Google+, using it only to communicate with several people pertaining to current issues. I stay in touch with good friends who are also busy, making no demands on their time as they made no demands on mine and when we meet, it would be as if no time had passed between us at all. I made a resolution last year to only write what would be of good cheer, useful and informative articles for the benefit of my audience who take the time to journey with me.

I was also getting over a traumatic event.

Just before the turn of the New Year, a Christmas party I attended at a dog shelter ended up in a disaster. I couldn’t write about it then because I was distraught and injured. What seemed to be a fine afternoon of celebration in the sun with cheery dogs running about, a sudden storm turned the river outside into a raging torrent that submerged the shelter and all other houses in the vicinity in over 2 metres of muddy water. 13 volunteers and workers including Puspa, the founder of the shelter, Aziz & myself, were scrambling to raise the cages & free the dogs but the flood waters rose so fast, there wasn’t enough time to get all to safety and dry ground resulting in deaths. Everyone did their best to get as many dogs out, those of us who could swim, were grabbing dogs paddling about to hoist them to higher platforms, those who couldn’t, were clinging on to several dogs on trees, pillars & roofs for their dear lives. The scene was right out of a catastrophic mudslide except that this happened in Kajang, on our soil, to our people. Having my supposedly waterproof Sony Xperia Z1 phone in my pocket while I swam to & fro the main gate of the shelter’s compound to call for help, had actually flooded it. If only I can get hold of the footage I filmed when the flood happened, it would give you an idea what we endured before risking our lives to save our dogs. The incident left many broken hearted.

The rain didn’t stop. When the waters rose passed knee deep. I began to pray. This was way beyond what I was trained for in disaster management and life saving but I couldn’t leave them stranded and knowing the majority of our nation could not swim, it was a call of duty. I knew Aziz could swim, having been educated in the U.K., I expected him to be able to. He was rescuing bags of food and the box of frozen chicken. I asked God what to do. By then, the water had reached my waist. A rat swam frantically by. There was also a snake in the water. I didn’t flinch. I was just stunned. It was barely minutes. I had a backpack filled with documents, electronic gadgets, tablets & devices that weren’t protected. I pleaded for help. Lord, if you want me to do this right, please protect my belongings! God made me turn around & there, I saw a bungee cord hanging on the door! Then He showed me a pipe near the roof for me to climb up the window sill to tie my bag there. In my breath, I heaved a sigh of relief and gave thanks to God who always fished me out of trouble. Then the rescue really begun. I tried to stay calm and talked to those who couldn’t swim. We released all dogs within our perimeters to fend for themselves. My priority was human beings, dogs go to heaven any way. Dogs have an inbuilt ability to swim. Humans don’t. The larger dogs in the outside compound cages were freed in time and being social animals, they clamoured onto us & clung on for dear lives onto our shoulders and backs. If I wasn’t a strong swimmer, I would’ve drowned in all that weight. I tossed whoever was in my grasp to either Baskaran, the staff who got onto the higher platform with 20 other panicky dogs or Aziz who would bring the dogs to stand above the hoisted cages. Somehow, they know trouble was brewing. I couldn’t let my voice falter or they would hear my tone of distress that would trouble them even more. The last thing I needed was for the 20+ dogs to jump out of the holding platform at once to head for the torrential river outside the gate. I had scratches and bruises and like the rest, I wasn’t going to let go of them. Joey lost her car in the floods. It was almost like a repeat of Pulau Selat Kering back in 2009.

When the firemen finally got to us, they asked us how many we were and if there are children present. They asked us if we needed to be rescued in the waters well over my head. I said to them, where’s the boat, we only want to be rescued if we know we can leave here with our dogs. Bomba left us. Hmmm……I guess they don’t rescue dogs.

Thiaga from DAP, the party who came to our aid, offered Puspa a factory premise nearby to temporarily host the dogs till she can find something more permanent. Having had floods before, the current shelter is no longer a safe haven and she has got to move before another flood hits and by then, it wouldn’t be coinciding with any more parties with volunteers who know how to swim being present. Coming out to attend Pesta Balakong, the DAP councillor gave us new T-Shirts to change from our totally soaked & stinky attire. My foot was bleeding from having kicked some sharp object underwater but the pain was nothing compared to the pain of losing these beloved dogs in the flood. I don’t know the figures because I didn’t stay behind to witness the depressing sight which the workers had the terrible task of doing. More volunteers arrived after our calls for help reached social media. Anthony was my beacon. I never cried so hard before for the loss of these innocent lives caught in a catastrophe. It was something beyond our control. I cannot speak for the accusations levelled at Puspa on the running of the association but I was there at the scene with her to see her risk her life for her dogs. And so did her workers and volunteers present. I went home in a daze and washed my hair 3 times. I caught a chill but my thoughts were with MIAR. We can leave the incident but the incident can never leave us.

Upon hearing our ordeal, Steven Yong on behalf of HTC Malaysia came forward and gave the 13 of us at MIAR a replacement phone each. What a wonderful thing to do! A major commercial brand reached out to those who stayed behind for their four-legged friends. Thank you, HTC! The HTC Desire 610 is serving me very well. I’m reminded of the dogs that didn’t make it and the dogs that did. I asked God for a place in heaven for each one of them who crossed the Rainbow Bridge that day. And may those who lent a hand during the rescue and the post-rescue clean-up be blessed abundantly for answering the call for help. The empathy shown just blew me away.

Daddykins, I Miss You Much!

Daddy was a sportsman, who put Malaysia on the world map each time he qualified for SEA Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games & even the Olympic Games. Upon a search in the online archives of Straits Times, I found many news articles on him in his days as a national shooter & golfer. I guess we were too young to keep newspaper cuttings then & to find this picture of him in the company of our nation’s first Prime Minister, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman & the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, was indeed, dignifying. I met Tunku when I was a young girl while he had drinks with my dad at the RSGC. My dad was the first winner of the Putra Cup, a golf tournament in honour of Tunku as the founding father of Malaysia.

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Daddy is second from left, Tunku beside him & Lee Kuan Yew on Tunku’s left.

Daddy’s avid hunting pursuits brought home all kinds of game meat. In my lifetime, I’ve had wild boar, venison, pigeons, flying foxes & even an owl when he heard that it would cure my whooping cough. For some strange reason, it did. What I didn’t know was that he used to go hunting with the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong (The King) too. Dad, you sure shot me some royal pigeons there! How I wish you had brought me along to the hunt with you! You’re super cool, you know! Royal pigeons…….the only thing I’d come close to eating anything royal nowadays is royal jelly. I miss you dad.

In all those times you had represented the country in your pursuit of excellence, you demonstrated your sportsmanship by doing your best, staying in practice even if it meant footing everything yourself because the country didn’t have sponsorship programmes then. Following you to the gun club meant that I got to disturb the admin staff & watch them polish shotguns. And what a highlight it was when you won medals in competitions!

Well, it’s exactly 7 years since you went home to the Lord. I still remember receiving the phone call while I was having my ISO Standards meeting at SIRIM. How fast time flies. And I’m so glad you are playing golf in heaven today. I wish I could play with you one day, daddy. I’m sure I would look as good as you in golf attire too. Hey, wait…..I have your smile, daddy!!! ?

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Dad with the King! Beside the King is Dad’s cousin, Uncle Pow Thong.
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In Loving Memory of Sabrina Yeap, 1963 – 2012.

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Her grit saw her through the many dire situations that Sabrina Yeap encountered in her lifetime. The lives of those furry friends she found on the street, rescued from chains or cages in abandonment, in the drains & ditches and even in mangrove swamps. Sabrina Yeap always had room for one more dog in her farm no matter what her detractors say. And her detractors are simply just that. Sabrina was born, her parents died & her relatives took everything then dumped her at an orphanage. She knew too well what it’s like being abandoned. She never had a normal childhood, yet the love for dogs emanated from within the tiny frame that held her gentle soul, kept her close with the animals that she devoted her life to raising, caring & protecting. She spent 15 years working in SPCA as an Animal Inspector, then under the leadership of (Max) Ian Wheatley who founded the society in 1958. I met her a few years before Mr. Wheatley died when I volunteered at the society. 

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Holding Cleo, one of the rescued dogs of Pulau Selat Kering.

Sabrina investigated every case of cruelty reported & she worked together with the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) to prosecute perpetrators in court right up to 2005. In that time I’ve known her, she always had the welfare of the animals first. She would climb out of the trucks with dogs trapped & the look of triumph on her face told me that she had rescued another cruelty case. My task was merely to feed the difficult dogs their medication but seeing her return with a casualty was like watching CSI solve a case.

Our ties formed when I began travelling, and very often I had to leave my dog with her in her house where she boarded pets as a side income to supplement her low income from the shelter. She did odd jobs like bathing dogs kept by the affluent for RM10 each, which some might think is a lowly job when in fact, she had enjoyed every minute of the bonding sessions with them. She got closer to the animals that she was entrusted with, and very soon, my dog too, started to listen to her command.
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In safe hands!

She had always spent her money on the dogs’ welfare & never for herself. The money belt grew tighter after she left SPCA & eventually started her own no-kill policy shelter with 10 dogs in 2006,  giving tuition classes to earn a living. With a meagre income, she started an adoption programme where people could sponsor a dog for life at RM30 per month. She rented an area to keep these dogs, driving to & fro Kundang to prepare food for them & feed them. When more people got to know her plight upon recognising her exemplary work in SPCA, they begin to give her a helping hand. She built Furry Friends Farm to what it is today with sheer dedication, hard work & determination to give dogs (and cats, goats, rabbits) a sanctuary for their dog days. She gave talks in international schools on responsible dog ownership & had awareness campaigns in exhibitions & expos in the Klang Valley. She ate very little & made sure her furkids ate a lot. By the time she rescued & helped 100 dogs, she knew she had the capacity to take in more. The dogs were jolly, charming every visitor & hounding those who had treats in the pocket as soon as they stepped through the gate. She knew each dog by name & they knew her by her voice. The dogs would be scampering home if they had escaped through cracks in the fencing, much like a kid caught for staying out too long. She could even tell me all their traits as I sit down in the centre of all her most laid-back snoozers. Dr. Jill Robinson of Animals Asia Foundation, appointed Sabrina to be the executor of the Dr. Dog Programme in 2007 & have since raised eight Dr. Dog Ambassadors.

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Picking up Hope at the vet one morning in Kepong.

Sabrina had a quiet demeanour but with a kind of assertiveness that made her the matriarch of the troop, subduing even the most aggressive of males in the pack. She would get herself dirty to rescue a stranded pup & risk her life to reach out to an injured dog. She ferried each dog to the vet & would collect the ones which were already treated, in her little Kancil. Her relentless effort for animal welfare made her a champion for the causes she stood up for, including the Pulau Ketam dog dumping incident in 2009 that garnered international attention.(More on that rescue in the RESCUE category). In that mission, 29 stray dogs were rescued, now living in the farm. Its no wonder those who know her would feel protective of her. She had many friends, some stayed away from the overzealous & territorial volunteers she seemed to attract & helped in a distance. Having spent years communicating with her, we know what she held close to her heart & what she wanted most for the animals. We have lost a selfless saint of neglected dogs & cats on 17 July 2012. May she be reunited with the lives of her furry friends who had gone on before her to the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.

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Sabrina kissing Jerry, the snoozer, at FFF.

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At the kelong near Pulau Selat Kering, Klang

Furry Friends Farm will be managed by her current pool of volunteers & if you would like to pay your last respects, the wake is at Nirvana Memorial Centre, No. 1, Jalan 1/116A off Jalan Sg. Besi, KL. Funeral Parlor No.13 (Rose). Funeral Service:- Friday, 20 July, 10am Shah Alam Crematorium (Nirvana)

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Group photo of the rescuers.

My Mom Has Finished Her Journey

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My mom, Mary Then, has been called home to the Lord on 22 February 2012. She suffered her third stroke in August 2011, the same time when I was attending Chien’s funeral in Penang. It had been downhill all the way & as we prepared ourselves, I prayed & released her. I know she will be better off where she is now, having reunited with dad in heaven. I haven’t been able to focus my thoughts to write what I feel, just as I thought I had overcome the sadness of my best friend’s passing, I have to deal with another. At least I know her pain & suffering from being semi-paralysed is now over.

My optimism belongs to God. He’s there when reality hits me later. That morning, God sent me 9 migratory eagles thermalling in the sky just outside my apartment. He said, “Just as they are on their journey home, so is your mom!” I was comforted in that knowledge & proceeded to arrange for the undertaker.

We had the wake on the same day & the funeral the next. It was a simple service. Thank you for turning up to support us in our grieving.

Thank you, mommy, for living this life for us. We will see you again.

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I had the honour of having Nigel play the keyboards for the wake service. Thank you, Nigel!

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Flowers for my mom

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The journey for mom & us.

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Our last goodbyes before she enters the furnace. It’s hot, mommy but you’re not there anymore! You’re with Jesus!

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And she shall return to our Father in heaven!

What The Last Six Months Had Been

Catching up with my thoughts is a rarity nowadays with the numerous events & assignments I have undertaken to bring the stories to you. Life seem to have gone on a fast forward mode with pauses in between for the things that matter in my life albeit brief ones. I was mourning the loss of my best friend, Choo Tse Chien, the person I have considered as family, since his sudden demise in August 2011. At that time, I had work assignments that required my composure & sense, keeping it all in to project the fragile front that managed to trick a few who did not know me well. I lost a travel partner, a guide, a teacher, a source of inspiration & excitement. I lost my panic button of sorts, a shoulder whose never tired of my outpouring of emotions . Immersing myself with work, I could only think of how my life would be without a reference, a valuable opinion or a confidante. Just how God can take him away at the prime of his life, I don’t want to know. I only know how much I miss him, his nagging & his kiddie-ish sparkle in the little secrets that he shared with me. I am thankful to have been his best friend for the last 6 years of his life & to have known how precious his friendship was to me. The whole of Penang rings of his name & presence at the mere mention & as I drove up to bid him farewell then, I knew Penang would never be the same again.

Everything that I know about birds, Chien had taught me. Every gear that I needed to get, he had done the research for me to make sure I didn’t make any wrong purchases. I made it this far since we started birding in 2006 is because of his infectious influence in my life. He made me enjoy birding so much. When I was on the phone with him one morning after walking the dog, I had seen a very curious blue/green bird with no tail. I described the bird to him & he told me to get my gear back to that spot I had been to shoot the ever elusive Hooded Pitta! And I did. He made everything so simple & attainable. And he worked hard for everything he had acquired, choosing to buy me stuff because I was the female version of him who loved bags. He added to my collection of bags when he himself couldn’t resist getting them. He made decisions when we travelled & it was simple because I didn’t want to think. I can go on & on but I want to tell you that even as I miss him dearly, I have chosen to let my memories stay within the hundreds of letters we have written to each other through email. We even fight through email. Being the big man that he is, he is very quick to make amends & apologise even though it’s my fault. Gosh, I don’t want to cry anymore & I’m sure you would want to read about the happy things happening right now instead.

So I will leave you with this, as personal as I could ever get, I am sad I have lost my best friend but I am glad to know that he loved me even as he had to deal with the biggest brat ever in the last 6 years of his life. I will endeavour to keep this passion for birding that you have instilled in me, for the underwater photography that you have been so supportive of & the cycling that you inspired me to take on. Sorry for all the times I’ve defied you as you have always been right. I just wanted to be a brat. Babes, if I’m not a brat to you, who else can I be a brat to???

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In loving memory of Chien.