AN ANIMAL ACTIVIST
SAVED THE YISHUN SWAMP DOGS FROM DEATH BY LETHAL INJECTION - Chapters 1 &
Chapter 1. Did
the Animal Activist Fail in Her Mission?
Monday, June 14, 2007 - The Yishun Swamp Land
did you throw stones at the monitor lizard ?" I asked
Esther Seah, as Lynda Goh bumped her Sports Utility
Vehicle forward along the pot-holed and undulating jungle
track, off Yishun Avenue 6 in the Northern part of
The monitor lizard puffed out his neck to make
himself look bigger and intimating. His tail never
drops off when he is in danger, unlike house
lizards. He uses his tail to whip away the swamp
Photo: Esther's mobile phone.
We ignored at least
two bright red military warning signs with illustrations
of soldiers carrying guns shooting trespassers, tall
lallang grasses, fallen tree branches, thick vines, ferns,
shrubs and roots of mangrove trees lining the sedate
greyish-green Khatib Bongsu River on our left. On our
right was the secondary forests.
Mangrove trees lined the green-algae Khatib Bongsu
A hidden Eden in the
city-state of Singapore --- no high rises, no crowds,
fresh air of with the fragrance of wild flowers, blue
skies with white cotton-like clouds seen in landscape
A fish and crab trap set up by the 68-year-old man
who lived by the Khatib Bongsu River.
Lynda Goh, an animal activist had packed 5 volunteers into
her SUV on a mission to get 21 swamp dogs caught,
vaccinated and micro-chipped and relocated to NANAS (Noah's
Ark and Animal Sanctuary) in Johor in 10 days' time.
A skier on the Khatib Bongsu River is seen from the
Should she fail in
her mission, all dogs would be put to sleep by lethal
injections by a veterinarian. If she succeeded, they
would live out their lives in NANAS, a no-kill animal
shelter in the Southern part of Malaysia.
Lynda Goh, an animal activist for NANAS has just
parked her SUV but cell phone queries on animal
welfare needed to be answered
The military had taken over the premises. The two tenants
(a family and a 68-year-old man) must vacate the premises
in 10 days' time as their lease to operate a fishing pond
would expire. The fishing pond is a place where customers
would rent the wooden chairs, throw in the fishing line
with bait and hope to catch big fishes in safety. Without
the risks of being captured by pirates if they fish at
sea. Sometimes they smoked as they de-stress themselves.
Tenant 1 in front row with Lynda (left) and Esther
(right). Back row: Esther's 2 children with
the vet. Fish pond is in the background.
Tenant 2 is a 68-year-old man with Lynda (left),
Esther's 2 children and Esther. The Khatib Bongsu
River is in the background.
Lynda was not
familiar with the exact location and relied on Esther's
directions to get us to the swamp land. Google Earth's
2006 satellite pictures showed me several big rectangular
ponds carved out of the mangrove swamp land and wetland
larger than 100,000 football fields. These pictures looked
similar to those I saw in a recent National
Geographic report about mangrove trees in South
America being destroyed by business constructing shrimp
Lynda's volunteers were a photographer, an animal activist
Esther Seah with her two children and a veterinarian
(myself). We met for the first time in the SUV.
On the way, Esther told us that the swamp land had
gigantic monitor lizards. On one occasion she and her
children were stoning one. It is out of a character of an
animal activist to harm animals, especially wildlife. That
was why I asked why she was stoning the gigantic monitor
lizard in the swamp land.
"We threw stones at the monitor lizard away because he ate
puppies," Esther elaborated. "When a puppy fell into the
fish pond, the monitor lizard dived in and swallowed him.
I know of two big monitor lizards living in burrows dug
below the banks of the river."
Swamp land puppies were born free. Once they could walk,
they could wander onto the planks at the fringe of
the fish pond. Some would fall into the pond and drown.
Predators like pythons, estuarine crocodiles, eagles and
monitor lizards prey on them.
"It is survival of the fittest," I heard Lynda softly
stating the laws of the jungle as she made sure that her
SUV would not overturn as it hit a large pot hole.
Esther continued: "We
were helping the swamp dogs to chase the monitor lizard
away from the puppies by throwing pebbles at him. The
monitor lizard hissed and puffed his throat to a large
size. He tried to claw the dogs with his sharp claws. The
dogs continued to assault from the flank. His slender
muscular tail lashed out at some dogs. Suddenly he
sprinted towards me and the children."
What a smart creature, I thought. Offence is the best form
"Why did he not just jump into the river?" I asked.
Monitor lizards can swim and are said to be able to stay
submerged in the water for 30 minutes.
"A fence was behind him. The swamp dogs were flanking him.
My children and I were in front of him. He suddenly
charged at us."
I would not believe her story. How could a monitor lizard
frighten an adult woman of respectable size and one who
would be at least 3 times bigger than him? I could
not expect him to be a Godzilla or a Komodo Dragon.
"The four-legged snake (monitor lizard in the Hokkien
dialect) was as big as me," Esther said.
"If you include his tail, he is about my size." Esther
read my incredulous eyes and arched eyebrows. "I had a
picture in my mobile phone to show you."
"What happened when the lizard charged towards you and
your two children?" I asked.
"We scattered in all directions as fast as our legs could
carry us. The monitor lizard leaped into the river
behind us." What a smart creature! Withdraw when
outnumbered. Live to fight another day.
The volunteer photographer, a young adult in his 2nd year
of junior college was quiet. Could he be worried.
Ferocious swamp dogs and big reptiles are seldom
encountered by him as he lived in a developed area of high
rise apartments. This sounded like a risky mission. Would
all of us survive?
Fortunately, the swamp dogs were mostly easy to handle as
the tenants were around. Fit, trim, good conditioned
orange coat and well muscled limbs conditioned by lots of
exercise and swimming in the river Most of them had
snow-white strong canine teeth indicating that they were
around 2 years old.
Esther focused on leashing the swamp dog while
Tenant 1's matriarch offered some pork pieces while
the volunteer photographer clicked away.
"It is safer to put dogs on a table," I advised as Lynda
and Esther caught the first dog and held one on the ground
for me. The dogs were apprehensive as I saw their eye
whites and alert eyes. We were at the premises of Tenant
1. The young-looking lady who was the matriarch provided
Esther and her daughter with bread and pork to get close
to the dogs.
I could see
that Esther's pre-teen daughter was a proactive animal
activist. She gave bread to some dogs so that they could
be leashed by her mum. The mother had transmitted her love
of and kindness to dogs in need of help to this primary
However, Esther's pre-teen son rested on the bench of the
fish pond to appreciate the countryside. Let his mother
lasso the dogs. Lynda found a squeaky wobbly greenish
white circular stone table to place the dogs so that I
could do a good job.
Esther's daughter is getting some bread for the
"It is safer to muzzle them," I advised Lynda as she
grabbed the big dogs for me like a World Wrestling
Federation wrestler. She had the weight advantage in
canine wrestling, I thought. But the dogs had sharp fangs.
But we were handling a pack of swamp dogs used to freedom
and swimming in the river and little contact with
All dogs had wrinkled faces, eyeballs showing more eye
white than usual as if they were nervous. Stiff hairs
stuck out of their back area and tails down when they were
put on the table. One of these apprehensive dogs
could sink the strong canine teeth into Lynda's face or
hands while she restrained them.
"You never know when a dog is going to bite you while I
inject." I noted that the young photographer simply came
close to the dogs to take pictures for NANAS without fear.
These were not the ordinary household pets!
Once a dog in a pack bites people, he transmits a 'smell
and sound of fear'. The rest of the pack would sense the
dangers and become uncontrollable. We would not accomplish
"Tell me how you do it?" Lynda asked after I had knotted
the dogs' muzzle tightly with one end of the leash. She
forgot to bring the commercial dog muzzle.
"Make a loop with one end of the leash as if you are tying
up a present," I said. "Slip this loop over the muzzle and
tighten the knot. In this way, the dog becomes submissive
and cannot bite."
There were no mass hysteria. Lynda got
raffia strings from the owner to tie round the neck of the
dogs that had been tagged. A nursing dam and a young wary
male dog were difficult to catch.
"I will bring the dam to your clinic another time," Lynda
said. "We still had the 8 dogs of Tenant 2 to catch."
Spaying female stray dogs will reduce the number of
"I have cancelled all my morning appointments," I said.
"Persevere to catch the 2 dogs". In my heart, I knew
that the dogs and puppies that missed the vaccination
today would pay the ultimate price - death by lethal
Singapore is reported to have at least 10,000 - 20,000
unwanted pedigreed and cross-bred dogs a year euthanized.
Therefore, the cross-bred swamp dogs have very little
chance of being adopted.
Voluntary organisations are always short of money, time
and resources. These are the realities of life. It was
now or never for these swamp dogs.
The 68-year-old man loved all his 9 dogs. Only 7
dogs were vaccinated and micro-chipped.
I was glad the Lynda
roped in the nursing dam for me to vaccinate and
"We have to abandon the suspicious male," Lynda told me.
"The dog everted his lips and growled while he was
cornered inside the house. We have to go to Tenant 2 to
vaccinate his 8 dogs."
The wary male could not be enticed with food treats. He
ran into the house as the volunteers came after him. He
ran out. He would stand around 1 meter away from the food
temptresses He was incorruptible. I should not
anthropomorphise by attributing corruption which is a
human value of ethics to an animal such as a dog.
Lynda is trying to get the wary male dog
(foreground) to go near to Esther and be leashed.
But he was street smart.
Esther led us to Tenant 2 nearby. The 68-year-old man
simply caught and carried 7 out of his 8 dogs.
"The 8th dog is too shy when strangers are around," the
old man with a thick crop of silvery hair said. His
well defined biceps, flat abdominal muscles and lean
weight made me feel that I needed to exercise to remove my
excess weight. He was the poster 'boy' for the
Health Promotion Board (HPB) of Singapore trying to
educate Singaporeans to eat less fat, exercise and not get
high blood pressure and diabetes. If only Singapore has a
fitness club catering to oldies, he would earn a good
Esther continued writing down the description of the dogs
on the piece of paper salvaged from the microchip package
while Lynda helped put the dog on a make-shift table.
"Do you want to go to NANAS to visit your dogs?" I asked
the 68-year-old man tenant who had lived alone close to
nature for several decades. He never spoke much. He looked
so sad. "There are buses in Jurong and a taxi service in
Johor to get to NANAS."
He was silent. I repeated my question in the Hokkien
"Maybe some time later," he waved his left hand as if
wiping a tear off his left eye and would not want to talk
further about his losses of canine companionship.
"Do you have a place to live?" I asked him. He lifted the
heavy water container with one hand while I could not lift
it up 2 cm from the ground! He said in a whisper
that he would live with his daughter in an apartment.
Tenant 1 was a closely knitted family with a much older
man. The patriarch had reclaimed the land we stood on to
start shrimp farming around 50 years ago. He told me he
would live with his children.
By 12.30 p.m, 21 swamp dogs had been vaccinated. I hope
all would live their natural lives in NANAS. .
"The dogs will adapt well to the communal living in
NANAS," Lynda assured me "Unlike dogs that
live in apartments alone."
Lynda fielded numerous animal welfare queries on her
mobile phone. Fish pond (foreground), previously
used for shrimp farming in the 1970s is
non-existent in April 2008.
monitor lizard survive now that contractors and the
military come into the swamp land?" I asked a snow-white
haired man in his fifties. He was a son-in-law of the
patriarch of the Tenant 1 group.
For the last 2 years, he had been unemployed as his job at
the chip-making factory disappeared. Singapore's high-cost
manufacturing industry had hollowed out in recent years as
China becomes the world's cheapest factory producing
various products. It was incredibly difficult for men over
fifties to get a decent job in Singapore.
"The estimated 20 monitor lizards would survive. It is not
that easy for the construction workers and army boys to
catch and eat them," the snow-white haired man assured
me. I thought it would be easy as trappers could some meat
inside a big cage which is a gigantic mouse-trap.
"Will there be monitor lizards in NANAS?" I text-message
Lynda some days later as I wondered how the free roaming
rehomed puppies in communal living survive in NANAS.
noahsarklodge.com showed a forested enclave. Will
there be rivers nearby? The Malayan Water Monitor Lizard
which Esther had encountered is commonly found near water
and in forests.
"No, only beautiful birds." Lynda disappointed me with her
reply. I live in one of those concrete jungles of
Singapore and rarely encounter a sparrow, let alone
wildlife. Now, if Lynda had said there are monitor lizards
in NANAS, I would head for NANAS in a wink of an eye.
Lynda had much paper work to do to relocate the dogs. She
had her own office work. But
10 days passed quickly. I phoned her.
The dogs and puppies were still in the Yishun
Swamp Land. Did the animal activist fail in her mission?
There would be a very high price to pay. Death by lethal
injections for the dogs.
Chapter 2. A Volunteer With Passion Is Worth More Than 40
Friday July 6, 2007. Yishun Swamp Land.
"The military had kindly
given more time," Lynda said when I asked why the pack of swamp
dogs had not been relocated to NANAS (Noah's Ark Natural Animal
Sanctuary) by June 24, 2007. This was the deadline to vacate the
premises including the fishing pond. "However, a batch of dogs
is in NANAS," Lynda confirmed.
Today was surprisingly the same blue-sky bright sunshine and
white-cottony clouded morning almost identical to the weather on June 24,
when I came to vaccinate and microchip the swamp dogs.
At 11 a.m, Lynda drove the volunteers (Esther, myself, 2
second-year Melbourne University vet students and Mr Nick Lee, the dog
photographer) from the Khatib subway to the Yishun Swamp Land to gather 16
dogs and 4 puppies to be transported to Pasir Ris boarding kennel, a
20-minute drive away.
Rick would transport the dogs to the Pasir Ris boarding kennels
today. Another day, the NANAS driver would bring the dogs to NANAS.
Today's Khatib Bongsu River was dry. It was low tide and I could
see the protruding roots of the mangrove trees in the sticky chocolate mud
to our left.
A small group of around 6 men and women suddenly appeared 10
metres to our right as we turned the corner of the pot-holed track. "Look
out," I pointed to the group.
"Are they bandits?" I asked Lynda.
One man appeared to be chopping an object on the granite slab
and the others were eyeing us.
We were in danger? None of us had martial arts training to
defend ourselves and definitely no weapons with us? Lynda should make a
fast U-turn and speed back in such situations. But she slowed down instead
as her SUV dipped into a pot hole.
A man waved his parang (machete) at us. He was a stout person.
He looked intimidating. The jungle track curved her SUV closer to the
"They are eating the durians, probably from the fallen durian
trees," I sighed. The two young lady volunteer vet students' heart beats
slowed back to normal.
We reached the fishing pond. The vacated house of Tenant 1 (the
extended family with the patriarch) and the surrounding structures were
run down. Some foreign workers had entered to remove metallic stuff for
sale to scrape yards. Metal prices had shot up in the commodity market.
There were reports of manholes and copper wires being stolen in Singapore.
Catching the dogs would be easy, I thought. Not like the
previous expedition when we needed to entice them with food so that I
could vaccinate them. There were the troublesome nursing dam Lynda finally
caught and a wary suspicious male dog baring his teeth. Lynda decided to
leave him to his fate in Singapore.
Today we seem to have more guns, I mean the manpower. Rick's big
Mercedes van to transport the dogs. Esther, Lynda and the family members
of the patriarch were in full force. The ladies would catch the dogs
without any need for food bribery and put them in Rick's plastic dog
2 puppies inside one crate were fighting. One puppy yelled
loudly as he was bitten painfully. This play-biting is normal
developmental behaviour in the dog as the biter gets feedback of painful
"These 2 puppies cannot be crated together," the matriarch's
A kind 2nd-year vet student separated the 2 puppies and put each
in a different cage.
As many as 3 adult dogs were put inside the large big plastic
dog carrier crate. However, there were many canine escapes.
As Lynda opened one door to put in the 3rd dog, the 2 inside
dashed out at top speed. So, all ladies had to catch them again.
It seemed to be a back-breaking job for the ladies as Lynda and
Esther lifted up the swamp dogs by the armpit, put them backside first
into the upright plastic dog carrier crates. Soon, the crates were full.
What to do now?
"Tie one dog inside the van," Lynda took out a brand new blue
dog collar and leash from her fluorescent green plastic bag. This time she
remembered to bring leashes unlike the previous expedition when she had to
get one from the Tenant.
Esther held up the adult dog by the armpits as high above the
ground as she could. With all her strength. Lynda looped the dog collar
onto and round his neck as if she was lassoing wild horses at a rodeo.
From my camera view finder, I knew she was doing it the wrong
way. I shouted not too loudly: "The collar is too loose. The dog's neck is
too small. He will run away when you put him down on the ground!"
I spoke from bitter experience as I had dogs escaping from the
Surgery because my assistants put on loose collars when exercising the
patients. Sometimes, they were confident as the collar had been fitting
and was used by the dog owner for some time.
The dog then shakes his head and escapes out of my Surgery. It
is extremely difficult to catch him and it makes the owner unhappy. A
choke chain for restraining dogs would be the preferred collar rather than
the nylon one Lynda was using.
Now Lynda had handled more dogs than anyone of us, I presume.
She collared this dog. Esther put the dog down to let him walk to the van
on a leash. The dog shook his head, the collar rolled out.
He bounced up, not giving one look of respect to the two-legged
homo sapiens. He hunched his shoulders, head lowered and sprinted back to
the house. A flurry of female legs were no match in speed to this
four-legged canine. Now, the ladies were playing "police and thief" while
the dog initiated the game of "hide and seek".
He sank low and dog-crawled under a wooden platform near the
entrance of the house. Into a 6-inch gap and safety. I don't know whether
to laugh out loud as I might offend the volunteers and they might go on
strike. Then I would have to do the job. I wished I was a animal
documentary movie expert as this episode was more comical than words could
describe. Maybe this movie would raise funds for NANAS' animal upkeep.
Discretion is the better part of valour.
"Come out..." a second year vet student bent down and beckoned
to him. With hands on her hips and then off, Lynda did not say anything.
All the dogs sensed something was wrong today. They rolled up
their eyes and the short hairs on their spine were erect. Tails were down.
But they were with the family they knew and loved. So they did not panic.
The matriarch persuaded the dog to come out. There was so much
commotion, confusion and noise but the dog was captured.
It would be a dull boring dog-catching morning, I had thought.
But I had a rare chance to get out of my concrete jungle and
visit Singapore's hidden Eden for the last time before the military
acquisition. To smell the roses. To refresh my brain and get out from the
This piece of paradise would be barred to members of the public
once the military staked its claim. Maybe I could spot a monitor lizard
I did not expect a dog-catching day to be so eventful and funny.
But we were all volunteers and could not work with military precision and
As the dogs from Tenant 1 were crated, Lynda went with the
volunteers further up the track to another area to catch the 2 dogs from
Tenant 2, the 68-year-old man.
I stayed behind to talk to Tenant 1's patriarch. How come he was
still living here using generator to get electricity and bathing in rain
water? Getting bitten by mosquitoes and risking dengue viral fever which
is now endemic in Singapore.
When most Singaporeans have been housed in apartments with water
and electricity easily available at the touch of a switch, this patriarch
and his younger wife lived in a rural area.
According to the patriarch's son-in-law who was in his fifties,
it was around 50 years ago, that the patriarch reclaimed the swamp land.
He was the original land reclaimer, way before the Singapore Government
reclaimed sea land off Beach Road.
Bit by bit he dumped soil. He filled up the swamp to start
shrimp farming. As the years go by, the weather becomes hotter, perhaps
due to global warming. The quality of water from the Khatib Bongsu River
became poorer due to industries being set up nearby. Shrimps started dying
and the whole batch would perish.
He had converted to the fish farming and then he started a
fishing pond. The government offered him short land leases. Tenant 2, the
68-year-old man had worked with him all these years and had stayed alone
further up the track.
I was surprised that there were still old farmers around in
Singapore. Soon Lynda trooped back with the volunteers and the
photographer without dogs.
"The 68-year-old man needed to spend one more night with his 2
dogs," Lynda was sympathetic as the old man would have to live in the
concrete jungle of Singapore's apartments soon. "The dogs would be
Today, 14 dogs and 4 pups were rounded up. As I did not bring my
vaccine this time, I had to find time in the evening to drive to Pasir Ris
to vaccinate a male dog and 4 puppies that Lynda could not find families
"That's the suspicious and nervous male dog you did not
vaccinate," Lynda told me. Lynda did not abandon him to stray or be put to
sleep once the other dogs had been rehomed.
14 dogs and 4 puppies and 2 more dogs tomorrow would live their
natural lives, hopefully to old age, in NANAS. Initially only 21 adult
swamp dogs were selected. I don't know what would be the fate of those
remaining in the Yishun swamp land.
"Why don't you just transport the dogs directly from Yishun
swamp land to NANAS?" I asked Lynda earlier as I thought it was a matter
of vaccination, micro-chipping and putting them straight into a big truck
to to directly to NANAS which is in another country. "Like an army truck
"I need to do lots of paperwork and make other arrangements.
Some dogs would run away if the NANAS transport man come directly to the
fishing pond." Lynda explained. 24 hours a day were never enough for Lynda
as she had her own work to do and other commitments too.
"It is better to put them in the boarding kennels first. In this
way, NANAS' transport man can take them at his convenience."
It appeared that all available adult swamp dogs and puppies were
accounted for. Except for one. The leader of the pack called Bobby was a
casualty. He had been warded in a veterinary surgery, apparently from a
chopped tail around one week ago.
Animal volunteers play a big part in making life safer and
better for animals that need help. They are usually youths. They are a
significant help in animal welfare. Their interests usually do not sustain
over time. There is a need to have a pack leader to guide them. This
person must have passion to help animals.
Singaporedoes not have a no-kill animal shelter. So these
cross-bred swamp dogs would pay the ultimate price - death by lethal
injections. Animal shelters in various countries usually need to euthanise
the strays after 1-3 days as there is no space for them and new arrivals
keep flooding in.
It was fortunate that the swamp dogs were introduced by Esther
toa person willing to devote her limited free time to
evacuate them to a no-kill animal sanctuary where they can live out their
natural lives, living free.
An animal activist with passion is worth more than 40 people
merely interested because he or she delivers what is to be done.