Our Four-Legged Friends

Joseph Chia with some of his 4-legged friends at CARES
Our pets are like members of our family and my earliest memory of such a pet is Sally, a dog that dad brought home from Gelang Patah in the 1960s when he was with the Government dispensary there.  Sally had a litter of 6 puppies and while 5 were adopted, we kept one jet black puppy that we named, Ringo.  When our parents were transferred to Masai where they worked with the Health Sub-Centre for the next 13 years, Ringo moved there with us.  I will never forget how uncanny and spooky it was a few days after Ringo died at a ripe old age, when a stray that looked exactly like him, wandered into our compound and we adopted and named him, Fido!

Jojo happily gnawing at a bone!
After the demise of a much-loved pet, it is always difficult for me to adopt another but when I was ready in 2006, I left word with friends that I was seeking to adopt and almost every one of them referred me to Joseph Chia Lee Chuan.  His name seemed to pop up in every conversation about my quest for a puppy and it soon became obvious that he was the man to go to for pet adoption.  Our first encounter was a rendezvous at the Kulaijaya toll gate and Chia led us on a long and winding drive to Seelong where he had an animal shelter built within a durian orchard.

As we drove behind Chia’s old boneshaker of a car, I remember telling my mum that I noticed that he had removed his car’s back seats, probably to accommodate the animals he ferried to and from the shelter.  It was much later that I learnt that Chia has dedicated his life to care for abandoned, stray and abused cats and dogs – and his commitment knows no bounds because as long as there was enough fuel in his car, he will go out to rescue these animals.  Through Chia, I adopted a mangy fur-ball of a puppy that mum held on her lap as I drove home and I named him, Jojo, after Joseph Chia!

Fast forward to 2012 when Chris, a friend who wanted to adopt a dog to be a guard and companion as he moved into a bungalow house with a large garden that has a few matured durian trees.  There is no question of whom we should call so I contacted Chia and fixed an appointment to meet at a petrol station where he led us to his animal shelter that has relocated to Lima Kedai.  As we trailed behind his car, bumping along unfamiliar and uneven laterite roads, it occurred to me that he must have needed a bigger site because the pet population may have dramatically increased.

Back in 2006, I talked to Chia about what he was doing for the animals and he lamented that when people are aware that he has a soft spot for cats and dogs, they often dump unwanted pets on him.  Pet owners must be responsible towards their pets and avoid abandoning them because after being domesticated, these animals cannot fend for themselves and may die miserably.  If pet owners can no longer care for their pets, they must help their pets find new owners and let them have a future where they are cared for. 

Pala loves to lounge on her bed and play with her toys!
Chia’s passion in rescuing and maintaining abandoned and stray cats and dogs is an endless task especially when pet owners continue to abandon or give up their pets.  These voiceless, helpless and misunderstood creatures usually end up on the streets, often being abused by fearful and careless people and they end up being hurt.  The bad attitude of such pet owners starts a vicious cycle because if the strays are not spayed or neutered, they will breed and aggravate the situation by adding to the stray population.

To educate and encourage pet owners to be responsible towards their pets, Chia started an animal welfare society called, Companion Animal Rescue Effort Society or CARES, in short.  Besides operating an animal shelter, CARES has a network of volunteers including veterinary surgeons and animal lovers who support Chia in his work with the animals.  CARES regularly holds pet adoption drives and encourages people to adopt animals that need homes instead of buying pets that may challenge inexperienced owners with their special diets and environmental needs. 

In the shelter, Chris had his pick from some 250 dogs of various ages and even though he started out with the intention to adopt a male dog, he was so taken up by another female dog that he decided to adopt them both.  While Chia arranged for the female dog to be spayed before delivering the dogs, Chris was like an excited father, preparing for the arrival of his children.  I remember we shopped for water bowls and collars and he also placed orders for custom-made cotton stuffed beds for his dogs!

Handsome, happy and healthy Dusun
He named the male dog Dusun while the female is called Pala and with his training and loving care, they now look healthy, happy and confident.  Chris and others like him have provided safe and comfortable homes for pets adopted from CARES but a lot more needs to be done to educate and encourage people to adopt and be responsible for their pets.  CARES is doing a real service to the community but they need a great deal of support, both financially and practically, to continue with their work.

The sheer number of animals in the shelter is a drain on any resources and while there are staff to help with the food preparation, Chia single-handedly arranges for the daily collection of food scraps in and around Johor Baru and its delivery to the shelter.  As CARES still needs regular food donors and more volunteers in the day-to-day operations, it is organising a one-day Project Clean-Up on Sept 22 from 8am to 5pm and requires a team of helpers and contributions in the form of building materials, cleaning detergents, dog shampoo and pet food.  For more info and to donate your skills or materials, contact Chia on Tel: 014 – 6130617 or email to: caresanimalshelter@gmail.com

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 20 August 2013

Message from Joseph Chia received on 24 August 2013, in response to this article:

Hi Peggy, I applaud you for writing a balanced, well thought out and heart-warming article about the plight of stray and abandoned companion animals in our midst.  Thank you from the bottom of their "furry" hearts!  P.S. I'm quite taken aback by your account of me and how you know so much about me.


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