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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Welcoming mongrels to HDB flats

HDB residents who adopt mongrels have to be mindful of neighbours and shared spaces
The Straits Times - June 14, 2014
By: Lydia Vasko
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Welcoming mongrels to HDB flats Ms Jolanda Ho adopted Bobby, a mongrel puppy, who was rescued from the streets after one of its legs was broken in a hit-and-run accident. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

It was "commitment at first sight" when Ms Sharon Pillay, her husband and eight-year-old son saw a mongrel puppy at a Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD) adoption event in March.

"It just didn't seem right to go buy a dog when there are so many already looking for homes and the shelters are struggling to keep up with them," says the manager in a media company, 42, on why they wanted to adopt a mongrel.

At just under 50cm high, the puppy, which they named Floppie, is quite big - about three times the size of other dogs in the Bishan block where the family lives.

In the past, it would have been illegal under housing board rules to keep a mongrel such as Floppie in their maisonette, but recent changes in policy made it possible.

Like Floppie, thousands of stray dogs now have hope of finding a home, thanks to Project Adore.

The programme to rehome mongrels with families living in HDB flats was made permanent by the Ministry of National Development (MND) last month. Under it, mongrels up to 15kg in weight and 50cm in height - about the size of a cocker spaniel - can now be kept in HDB flats. Previously, only purebred toy breeds like shih tzus and miniature schnauzers were allowed in housing board residences.

Animal welfare groups Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD) pushed for Project Adore in 2011, which later began as a pilot programme under MND and the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) in 2012.

The permanent adoption of the programme was announced by Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee in Parliament on May 28.

Since the programme started, 64 strays have found permanent homes under the scheme. SOSD has joined the programme in an effort to increase its breadth.

To adopt a Project Adore dog, potential adopters must first meet with an SPCA, ASD or SOSD adoption councillor and pass a home assessment test, which will determine whether the dog, adopter and home environment are suited to one another.

Adopters are also encouraged to meet their neighbours and inform them about their plans to adopt a stray. They are coached on how to handle their dog in a communal environment. They are taught to only take their dog in the lift when it is empty and keep them on a short leash while walking in hallways, for example.

"We are very careful," says Floppie's owner, Ms Pillay. "We make sure it doesn't bark and if we are walking down the corridor, we keep it on a tight leash. There hasn't been any complaints."

One of her neighbours is Ms Cheryl Coutou, who has had no problems living next to Floppie. She regularly lets her two young children, one and three, play with the dog.

"I think strays and mutts being given a chance to live in HDB flats is a good thing," says Ms Coutou, 32, a pilates instructor. "If they don't get adopted, then what's going to happen to them? They will be out on the streets and probably be shot or poisoned. We should give them a chance to live."

If neighbours make a first and second complaint against the owner and their dog, the adopting organisation will investigate and try to amend the problem. But if a third complaint is made, the dog will be taken back to the shelter.

"We are very aware of the concerns people have about adopting strays in HDB homes," says Ms Corinne Fong, executive director of the SPCA. "And we have taken pains to make sure that this project is a success."

"We don't want it to be pulled out from under us and we have done everything that we can to prevent any problems and to make sure the neighbours are welcoming of the dog," she adds, noting that no complaints about Project Adore dogs have been made to the AVA or HDB board since the project started. Nor have any of the dogs that found homes under the project been returned to the shelters.

In addition to meeting height and weight requirements, the Project Adore dog should have a quiet temperament. It must be sterilised, vaccinated, microchipped, licensed and registered with the AVA and undergo a basic obedience training programme in order for the adoption to be approved, all of which costs roughly $500.

"Project Adore is extremely important as it paves the way for strays to be adopted to ease the space crunch in our shelters and on the streets," says Mr Ricky Yeo, president of ASD.

One such stray is Bobby, a one-year-old black-and-white mongrel picked up off the streets after one of its legs was broken in a hit-and-run accident.

It was adopted in March by Ms Jolanda Ho, 26, who lives in flat in Jurong West with her brother and her parents.

A curious dog, Bobby is still wary of strangers, although he has not received complaints or negative comments from neighbours.

"Most of them pity his past," says Ms Ho, a bank associate, who serves as an unofficial ambassador for the mongrel cause.

"In the past, I've owned Shetland sheepdogs, which are notoriously smart, and Bobby is just as easy to train," she says, adding that the mongrel is just as affectionate and intelligent as purebred dogs.

Still, despite the programme, finding owners who are willing to adopt a stray remains a challenge.

"The perception is that a big dog means it is more likely to be an aggressive dog," says ASD's Mr Yeo.

"We also have to fight the myth that the Singapore Special is a large, dirty, aggressive and untrainable dog which poses a danger to people," he adds, referring to mongrels by the nickname preferred by the animal welfare community.

Furthermore, "it's not a question of the size of the dog", says SPCA's Ms Fong.

She adds: "It's really a question of the owners attitude to the dog and whether he is a good owner.

"People need to remember and acknowledge that everyone is living in a shared space so the owner needs to understand the dog, how it reacts and how to take care of it so that no one has cause to raise a complaint."

Ms Fong says that with Project Adore permanently in place, there is now more hope that stray dogs can have a happy future: "We hope that more and more dogs can be identified and rehomed and ease the pressure on the ground.

"A lot of dogs on the streets and in industrial parks need and deserve a home. Life on the streets is not good.

"If there is a family waiting for them with open arms, ready to provide them with a warm home and food, they should be allowed to be happy."

Meanwhile, Floppie has become a community fixture and given Ms Pillay an opportunity to meet new people.

Says Ms Pillay: "When we walk Floppie, we meet passers-by and other neighbours who have dogs and we spend our time chatting while our dogs play together.

"I probably would not have met them otherwise."

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