SINGAPORE: Cat lovers in the Republic have another reason to rejoice: for the price of a pair of socks, they will get to enjoy the company of a clutter of pedigree cats housed in the new Cats Safari located at Sunny Heights, the largest animal day-care centre in Singapore.
The pet therapy centre is the brainchild of Mr Derrick Tan, founder of animal welfare group Voices For Animals (VFA). Since 2011, VFA has been rescuing and rehoming ex-breeding dogs and cats that are past their reproductive prime and retired by breeding facilities. It has also been providing animal-assisted therapy for the elderly and people with special needs.
He recalled an experience of working with a young girl with special needs: “She was wheelchair bound, and couldn't talk. When we presented her a dog, she started shaking her head. But the moment we put the cat on her lap, she just kept smiling nonstop - she was so happy.
"The smile and laughter from their faces, that’s something we want to achieve.”
His firm belief that animals can make a difference in people’s lives stems from his past as a troubled teenager: “Animals are my true friends. When I was young and rebellious, my dad got me a dog and it kept me sane and in control in many situations. I was hot tempered, but the animals around were able to calm me down.”
Derrick Tan in his Sunny Heights office, where he works as the head of operations. (Photo: Ray Yeh)
During those “young and rebellious” days, he tried everything from drugs to gangs. Eventually, his parents’ love and the strong bond he enjoys with animals turned him around. His love affair with animals even led him to his first job as a dog trainer with the Singapore Police Force.
“You’ve already guaranteed yourself the best partner when you join the police canine unit. The dogs won't play you out. They will protect you,” said Mr Tan, who stayed with the law enforcement unit for 10 years, before founding VFA.
Derrick Tan finalising a case at one of the Voices For Animal adoption drives. (Photo: Ray Yeh)
These days, he runs Sunny Heights as its head of operations. Whatever time he has left he uses to manage the animal shelter and organise adoption drives which happen once or twice a month.
Potential adopters go through a stringent interview process, and not everyone goes home with an animal at these events: “Out of 100 people, about 20 of them get the dogs. 80 per cent of them are not ready. Most people back out when they hear about the medical bills - these are the things that stress them out.”
Voices For Animals Adoption Drive at Pasir Ris. (Photo: Kim Wong)
Another reason for the 20 per cent success rate: “Some people come to our adoption drive knowing that they’re ex-breeding dogs, but they still ask, ‘Do you have a three-month-old puppy? I don’t want an older dog.’
“Or they want a particular breed. They try their luck, and feedback to their friends and say, ‘How come the dogs are all so ugly and old?’” lamented Mr Tan.
VFA Adoption Drive at Pasir Ris. (Photo: Kim Wong)
To boost the rate of adoption, Mr Tan will soon set up a second adoption centre in Sunny Heights that is open to the public daily, via appointment, so that “people can come and see and understand the ex-breeding dogs, rather than just seeing pictures on social media.”
But for those who cannot afford the time and money to adopt, they can still get a dose of tender loving care from Derrick’s furry friends by visiting Cats Safari. Visitors are reminded to book a slot early.
The Cats Safari at Sunny Heights opens on Saturdays and Sundays, 1pm-7pm. The resident cats are not for adoption. Entrance for adults is S$5 and S$3 for students. (Photo: Ray Yeh)