Gone To The Dogs: 5 Questions With Exclusively Mongrels Founder Kevin Neo

He sheds light on Singapore’s stray dog situation and tells us what he really thinks of people who buy, instead of adopting

Photo: Exclusively Mongrels Limited 

The unconditional love from a dog is a mystic force, unfathomable by the likes of human beings and sadly disregarded by several bad eggs. And it shows.

“There are an estimated 8,000 stray dogs residing in forests, constructions sites and factories across the island,” says Kevin Neo, Founder & Director of Exclusively Mongrels. “Many strays that used to live in the forests are also being forced out of their habitat due to deforestation for development, which resulted in higher rate of complaints, and more getting caught and culled. ”

Most of these homeless dogs are what you call mongrels, or Singapore Specials – a term endearingly coined by Singaporean canine lovers. While they’re no less than pedigrees dogs, these faultless creatures have been misunderstood for having aggressive, skittish and even destructive personality traits, which unfortunately turn away potential adopters.

Therefore, animal welfare organisation Exclusively Mongrels Limited (EM) is on the mission to change this misconstrued perception of Singapore Specials, which the group hopes will increase the chances of the dogs finding a forever home.

To further illustrate the organisation’s cause, we picked Neo’s thoughts on this prevalent, yet understated, issue.

1. What are the most common stigmas faced by shelters?

That the dogs in the shelters are not rehomable as they have “issues” such as aggression, shyness, etc. This may be true for very few cases, however, the majority of the shelter dogs are very friendly, in good health and definitely rehomable. Another stigma faced by the shelter is the misconception of the living conditions of the shelter; while many people think of a shelter as overcrowded, dirty, constant dog fights, disease outbreak, etc, on the contrary, most shelters (at least in Singapore) have very clean kennels, dogs are walked and showered regularly, on excellent diet and have sufficient space for them. 

2. It seems that the organisation has received the government’s support. Could you share a couple of current or future collaborative plans between EM and the government that go to helping the strays?

As EM does not have a shelter, all our rescue dogs are fostered in loving homes until they get adopted. As such, we organise monthly adoption drives, and participate in events held by People’s Association, and the AVA’s Responsible Pet Ownership to promote adoption of our rescue dogs.

We recently concluded the inaugural Singapore Specials Day that started with a “dogathon” where dog owners and their dogs took a 1.5km walk from Bishan Park, and ended at Leban Park where the main event was held. This was our single largest event and with the support of the AVA, they assisted with the tentage, backdrop, free pet health check (FPHC), and a Responsible Pet Ownership (RPO) booth. For all EM’s adoption drives, we will always collaborate with the AVA to promote adoption, and RPO. Therefore, EM and the AVA’s objectives are aligned in full sense of the word.

For 2018, we will organise another Singapore Special Day (bigger and better) to reinforce the message of adopting our Singapore Specials, of which the AVA will also be supporting. There are several projects in the pipeline that EM, along with the other Animal Welfare Groups (AWGs), will be working very closely with the Government to help the strays, details of which are still being worked out, so we will not be able to share until the plans are more concrete. Suffice to say, the Government is definitely in support of the efforts put in by the AWGs, and they will continue to provide further support and assistance in more ways than one. 

3. Judging by the plight of strays, is buying a dog from a pet shop then frowned upon?

It’s about freedom of choice. What we advocate strongly is Responsible Pet Ownership (RPO) that the AVA has been promoting all this while. Adopting a dog is awesome, but we also understand that some people prefer to buy, of which we will advise them to do proper research on puppy mills before making the purchase. Pet shops have no business “selling dogs”. Their role is to complement dog owners by selling dog food, accessories, toys, treats, etc. But never a dog. At the end of the day, adoption is not for everyone, and we acknowledge this, which is why we actively promote RPO to reduce abandonment of pets. 

4. What should a potential owner expect from adopting a dog, as opposed to buying a pedigreed dog?

EM adopts out Singapore Specials (SS), most of which used to be strays before getting caught or abandoned. Potential adopters need to understand that these are not the “perfect” dogs that one should come to expect of a pedigreed dog, that is bred in captivity. Most SS, if not all, are not used to humans, trucks, loud noises, and need plenty of time and patience before they’ll warm up to their adopters. But, once your adopted dog sees you at part of his family, his loyalty is unsurpassed. Pedigree dogs are bred for their temperament, hence you will be able to find plenty of literature and books to learn more about how to manage them. For SS, it is a learning journey, even for us, as no 2 SS are the same, but the rewards are immense when you see your adopted SS finally feeling at home and safe. 

5. What is the ideal goal in mind, to the point when you feel your work here is done?

When all the rehomable dogs are adopted into good families, when there are no more strays roaming the streets, waiting to be caught and culled. That is when our job is done. But, we also know that can never happen for the next 20 to 30 years, so I guess our work will never be done, at least for this lifetime.