It’s a dog’s life, as the Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) staff will testify. It’s bad enough trying to beat the traffic to get to the shelter premises in 7th Mile, Kota Sentosa, Kuching each morning on time, and then be greeted by 600 hungry, barking dogs. It can drive you mad! In the old days, I used to spend time visiting the shelter under the care of manager Mrs Elizabeth James that had maybe 50 animals or so, to listen to the perennial problem of funding the shelter. It was manageable then because there was ample space, and the cost of food, medicine and staff salary was manageable.
But as the population of strays at the shelter began to increase — no thanks to people who refuse to neuter their animals and prefer to dump the mother and their puppies and kittens on the roadside — so did their headache. So it was the best news for a long time when SSPCA’s able and caring president Datin Dona Drury-Wee announced that the Sarawak government had agreed to donate a parcel of land to build a larger shelter. It was long overdue because the previous government made several promises that were not fulfilled until Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg agreed to SSPCA’s dream of building Kuching’s first Dog Park. According to Dona, who is also the president of the Sarawak Eurasian Association, it would cost RM5 million to build the park that can also be a centre to educate society about how to care for pets.
Over the years, they have come up with various innovative fundraising projects to maintain the shelter. Now it appears like the coast is clear for better days! The SSPCA started as a noble project by the colonial government who initiated this in 1962. But since SSPCA was established on the eve of the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, it started at a small building behind the nurses quarters behind Jalan Rodway.
However, it took 13 years before the society took off in 1975 when British Council representative Philip William added some financial muscle to the society by recruiting the CEOs from Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (HSBC), Chartered Bank and other expatriates to sit on the committee. He also incorporated a young veterinary surgeon, Dr Hsiung Kwo Yuen, into the committee. Dr Hsiung later rose to become the head of the state veterinary services and helmed the SSPCA for 36 years. One of the first persons to help the SSPCA raise funds was the daughter of the HSBC manager, raising $120 when she organised a swimming event. As the expatriates began to leave for their homeland, the Sarawak government stepped in, with State Secretary Tan Sri Gerunsin Lambat initiating the drive for local VIPs to take the lead.
For the first 20 years, the SSPCA leadership included prominent personalities such as Wee Hua Boo, Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui and Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam holding the post of president. In 1983, the SSPCA started raising funds with film premieres and invited then Governor Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce to become its patron. Other interesting projects to get the public involved was the 1986 Doggerthon — a charity run. Finally through persistence and close rapport with the Sarawak government under then Chief Minister Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, the SSPCA was given a 0.63-acre land at the present site.
Dr Hsiung, who was president of SSPCA from 1995 till 2011 before handing over the job to Dona, said the society started building the shelter in 1998 with RM250,000 raised by Dr Chan. Later, both the Kuching North and South city councils donated funds totalling RM70,000 annually while the Sarawak government under the late Chief Minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem chipped in with a one-off RM50,000 donation. Among other things, a SSPCA website was started to educate the public while the society was also given power to prosecute cases of animal cruelty. Over the last 55 years, the SSPCA has come a long way.
Of course when compared to animal groups and charities operating in the western world, we still have much to do to catch up. The SSPCA is based on the Royal SPCA, which is the oldest and largest animal welfare organisation in the world. It is still one of the largest charities in the UK. With Queen Elizabeth II as its patron, the RSPCA also does international outreach work across Europe, Africa and Asia. In 2017, RSPCA’s total income was £140,900,000 and total expenditure was £129,400,000.
The Sarawak government’s offer to help with the SSPCA is a move in the right direction. Hopefully, some of the tens of millions that are being spent on the anti-rabies drive can be diverted to the noble cause of saving the last strays of Sarawak.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.