Posted 25 September 2011, by Rashvinjeet S. Bedi, The Star, thestar.com.my
Many volunteered their services, taking the traumatised cats to veterinarians or fostering the animals until their rightful owners came to claim them.
Some even stood outside the shop from morning till night for a few days to inform cat owners who had just returned from their Hari Raya holidays the whereabouts of their pets.
Animal lovers, banded under a group called KTAJ (Kucing Terbiar Anjing Jalanan), coordinated the rescue efforts.
The KTAJ is one of several animal welfare groups that have sprung into the limelight recently. These independent groups, some bearing little known acronyms, are made up of individuals who share a common bond – their love for animals.
Formed in March this year, KTAJ has already attracted more than 14,700 “likes” on its Facebook wall.
Besides KTAJ, other groups include Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better (MDDB), Malaysian Cats Care Project (MCCP), Independent Pet Rescuers (IPR), Myanimalcare, Garden of Eden, and Paws mission. The roles they assume, at times, appear to have eclipsed those of mainstream organisations like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and PAWS.
“Many individuals have been feeding and rescuing animals for decades but it is only recently that animal lovers, especially those from the younger generation, are organising themselves,” says MDDB adoption coordinator Christine Lai.
With social networking tools, animal lovers are now able to share their views online with many other like-minded people, resulting in groups being formed at the community level.
These groups use Facebook, blogs and Twitter to send out alerts if there is an emergency, as in the Damansara Damai case three Sundays ago where the cats were left at the pet hotel without food for days.
Both KTAJ and MDDB constantly update their Facebook to inform members on pets that need to be adopted or urgent rescue missions. They also highlight cases of animal cruelty by posting pictures and videos online.
Lai says the group was formed in 2008 when seven volunteers collaborated to rescue a stray dog whose ears had been torn out while trying to escape some dog catchers.
MDDB believes in organising members to have a louder voice so that the authorities will take action against those found neglecting or abusing animals. Members have exposed the sorry state at pounds and circulated photographs showing animals being mistreated.
“Initially, detractors rebutted our findings and even claimed our pictures had been doctored. But all that changed when members of the public started coming forward to expose similar atrocities.’’
Lai points to a video posted on YouTube which showed a group of local council workers brutally euthanising a dog at a housing estate in full view of residents. Someone captured the scene and uploaded it on the Internet. The video sparked off a public outrage with calls for action to be taken against the errant workers.
“This shows that cruelty against animals is no longer tolerated. We are glad that the people have become more proactive. We also want to change the public’s perception on animal welfare and create a more caring society.”
When videos of a cat “killer” in Serdang and abuse of Sushi the toy poodle went viral recently, they resulted in a huge outcry. Independent groups lodged police reports and handed petitions to the authorities, demanding justice.
Some good came out of it – the government decided to review existing laws and look into more deterrent measures. The Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, for instance, has proposed to amend the existing Animal Act 1953 to impose a stiffer penalty of up to RM50,000 and a year’s jail for those convicted of ill-treating animals.
MDDB also tries to highlight the good work of independent rescuers to encourage others to follow suit.
“Many animal lovers have been doing great work quietly on their own. We want them to be seen and heard to inspire others,” Lai says.
MDDB has a halfway home for dogs, and employs several full-time staff. Funding comes from the public and the members’ own pockets. The group is in the midst of registering an association called the Animal Protection Society and hope to be able to operate larger shelters like the SPCA in future.
KTAJ, meanwhile, came about when a few cat lovers decided to band together after seeing MDDB’s fight for dogs.
Founding member Suzana Sulaiman, 30, says many stray cats too need help. The group’s target is to minimise the stray population by neutering and nursing the animals, fighting animal cruelty and helping the local animal shelters.
The architectural designer believes that independent rescuers prefer to work with independent NGOs such as KTAJ as they are more flexible than groups that operate during office hours.
“You are more likely to get a quicker response from these groups. You shout for help and there are bound to be volunteers. We can pull our resources together,” she says, adding that 80% of the group is made up of women, mostly students and housewives.
Another KTAJ member Shahriza Idrus, 32, says members share the same interest in wanting to create animals rights awareness.
“We got to know each other through Facebook. Our members have big hearts and there is transparency in everything we do,” she shares.
Members usually come up with their own funds but in cases where the medical bills are too steep, they can request others to help via their Facebook page, says Shahriza.
In the past two months, Shahriza has spent about RM400 on medical bills for two cats – one, a kitten with hernia and the other, an adult cat with a serious head wound.
Despite being a busy event planner, Shahriza finds time for the felines. She drives to a few areas every night to feed stray cats. Even when she returns home from work in the wee hours of the morning, she will stick to this routine lest the strays go hungry.
Her car is always equipped with dry food, newspapers and gloves. If Shahriza comes across any animal carcass on the road, she will wrap it up before placing it by the roadside. If she is not busy rushing anywhere, she will bury the carcass behind her house.
Shariza says she is always bombarded with questions by people who ask her why she channels so much time and energy on the animals.
“Cats cannot speak or ask for help. At least, people know how to earn money and defend themselves,” says the event planner who finds keeping pets therapeutic.
One of the earlier independent groups to be formed, the IPR was set up in 2005.
“Many of us cannot turn a blind eye on a puppy or stray animal by the roadside,” says IPR volunteer Carnea Lee, who is a real-estate agent.
The IPR, she says, has a pool of volunteers who are on call. Like MMDB, the group has an animal sanctuary in Kuala Kubu Baru run by members using their own funds and public donations.
There are also pet lovers who are not affiliated with any one group but will readily offer help when needed.
Rena Chang, 46, for instance, has rescued countless animals over the last 10 years and works with any group that requires her assistance. She herself keeps four dogs and two cats, all rescued.
The property agent and events management executive helps strays and abused animals find homes with people who can be trusted. She has come across a dog with its nose chopped off while another was beaten until its jaw was dislocated.
Caring for animals can be time consuming and financially draining, as Chang has learnt over time. Most of her weekends are occupied with rescue work and she last took a holiday in 2002.
But for Chang, it’s not about the money or time spent as she gets satisfaction from helping and caring for animals that suffer from neglect or abuse.
Some independent rescue workers have even gone to the extent of setting up pet shops so they can use the premises to house rescued animals and buy pet food at cost price.
Ruth Chow and Amy Gui of the Garden Of Eden (http://www.thegoeden.com) began rescue work in 1996 when they reluctantly rescued a kitten. Many more rescued animals soon found a home in their house. But neighbours, tired of the endless barking and yelps, reported them to the authorities.
In 2006, they started a pet shop to keep the authorities at bay and listed boarding as one of the services provided. They were also able to get good food and supplements for the animals at a cheaper price. However, people started to dump animals outside their shop.
“We had no choice but to keep the animals as we didn’t have the heart to leave them. In the few years that we ran the pet shop, the number quadrupled. It was difficult to sustain the business financially and we had to close shop.
“We were getting into debt. I’m still paying off the supplier to this day,” laments Chow.
Last year, they managed to rent a tract of farmland for RM1,000 monthly and now have over 90 dogs and 200 cats under their care. Apart from contributions from well-wishers, Chow teaches English and music to help sustain the animal sanctuary.
“We have to live frugally as we will never let the animals go hungry. To us, they are God’s creations too and have a right to live, just like us humans.”