Meet the dog rescuer

SINGAPORE - He got into the dog rescue scene by chance three years ago.

Derrick Tan, 31, led a group of seven volunteers to save more than 80 dogs from deplorable conditions at a farm in Pasir Ris after its owner ran out of money.

They spent an undisclosed five-digit sum to buy these dogs, which included miniature schnauzers, labradors and malteses, from the breeder and have since homed them with loving families.

But Mr Tan's passion for animals did not start there.

"It all began with my dad. He used to take me along whenever he went out to feed the strays at his previous job site. Gradually, I started copying this habit," he said.

Mr Tan, who had been a para vet, providing basic animal health care with the Singapore Police Force K-9 unit for 10 years, has a soft spot for ex-breeding dogs.

"All they have known throughout their lives is to have puppies. Once they get to a certain age, they are put down. It's a sad existence," he said.

Instead of storming breeding farms, Mr Tan, a general manager with a marine repair company, believes in the soft approach, which has worked time and again.

He befriends breeders and farmhands to gain access to animals.

"I try not to judge their practices, though I do not agree with them. This way, I gain their trust and can go into the mills to rescue the retired dogs."

Rescue

Since setting up Voice for Animals (VFA) with his close friends, he and his team have rescued over 300 ex-puppy-mill dogs and re-housed more than 200.

They came up with the name for the group because the group is dedicated to making the voices of these animals heard.

Mr Tan, who adopted two such dogs himself, said: "These dogs never experienced love before and when you love them, they are so appreciative," he said, his voice breaking.

Mr Tan has also taken in ex-breeding cats and once in a while, pets that have been abandoned.

"But this is on a case-by-case basis. Dogs that were from a home environment and are dumped will not be able to survive outside.

While we don't reject them, it will also depend on space available at the shelter," he said.

Mr Tan dedicates his time to his charges and can be found at the shelter, at Pasir Ris Farmway 2, most days after work or during the weekend.

The running of his centre is financed by the nominal fee paid during the adoption of the dogs, sponsors, money earned at flea markets, and donations.

"A Buddhist nun came once to the shelter and when she realised that the weather was sweltering and it was rather hot for the animals, she donated an air-conditioner within minutes. She even cleared our medical bills. I was so grateful for that," Mr Tan said.

A pragmatic man with a passion, Mr Tan said: "We can't stop people from buying pets. All we can do is to educate them, tell them adopting is better as it gives unwanted dogs and cats a second lease.

"Adopting a dog from shelter or pound saves two lives - the dog you adopt, leaving a space at the shelter for another. All of them deserved to be in a place where they can call home."

Mr Tan plans to start an education programme in schools to teach the young about adoption. He is also in talks with other animal action groups to use rescued dogs as therapy dogs for residents at old folks' homes and hospices.

 

juditht@sph.com.sg


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