Sun, 06 Jul 2003

Animal shelter provides love, affection and care for strays

Maria Kegel, Contributor, Jakarta

Every Sunday for the past 10 years or so, frantic barking could be heard from within Pondok Pengayom Satwa animal shelter, as the dogs that are not penned up rushed to the front door.

They are there to greet "Jack", who comes bearing presents for all 130 of the dogs staying at the shelter.

In the trunk of his car are numerous grocery bags filled with bones and cooked chicken liver he has prepared for them, and the 50-something expatriate spends the next two hours handing the treats out to each and every dog.

He also brings freshly cleaned blankets for the older dogs, picking up the dirty ones to take home for washing.

The dogs go by the clock and if he's late, any car driving up to the shelter will be greeted with the same fanfare meant for Jack.

Although his kind and selfless deeds are noticed by many, he is quick to shy away from any attention or praise.

Karin Franken, vice chairman of Himpunan Penyayang Binatang (Animal Lovers Association), the supervisory board for the shelter, says any volunteer that comes in and gives the strays their love and attention "really make the dogs' day".

"Dogs really enjoy the company of humans, and if you give them some they're happy -- it really cheers them up. You can't spend too much time with one dog as there are so many of them, and they're all cute. Even the ugly ones are lovable."

Together with Karin, Inge Zein, the chairman of the board, oversees an adoption program and conducts home surveys to see if a potential home will provide a safe and loving environment for a dog or cat from the shelter.

Inge is at the shelter seven days a week for two or more hours at a time, and along with Karin, she checks to make sure the cats and dogs are in good condition and that there is medicine available for them, as well as helping the management at the shelter.

"I'm glad and satisfied if I can help them in anyway," she said -- her personal reward from giving all she can to the animals.

With a team of five volunteers, everyone takes turns fostering young abandoned kittens and puppies at their own homes for two to three months until they are independent enough to come to the shelter.

Volunteers walk the dogs and assist keepers in cleaning the animals, brushing them and checking for fleas and ticks.

But it is attention that the animals crave most, and this is what the volunteers are best at giving.

Cheri, who has been volunteering at the shelter since 1997, visits the dogs as much as she can -- up to five times a week -- to bathe and groom them, remove any ticks and take them for walks.

"When I go to bed at night, at least I know I've made a difference -- in a small way, but at least I've helped and I feel good about myself. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters," she said.

Although the shelter takes in strays, its facilities are limited, and a nominal fee of Rp 410,000 for dogs or Rp 325,000 for cats is charged for the animal's room and board as well as vaccinations and sterilization.

Every stray animal is given a medical examination by a vet on duty, and all animals admitted to the shelter undergo a sterilization operation, annual vaccinations and deworming treatment.

If the fee seems too steep to pay at one time, Dr. Christia Dilla, the veterinarian on duty, said it could be broken down and paid in installments or, if that was too complicated, the person bringing in the animal could sign a waiver declaring that they were handing over the stray.

With 104 two-by-three-meter enclosures for dogs, the shelter is overcrowded, and some pens have two or three dogs inside.

"There is a waiting list of 20 people wishing to hand over their canines to the shelter, so until there are more adoptions, we cannot accept any more dogs," Christia said.

She said there was enough room for cats and they could accept stray felines as they were allowed to roam free after they were spayed or neutered, whereas dogs had to be kept in pens.

Karin said admitting strays was done on a case-by-case evaluation.

"We're definitely full, but if a stray dog is brought here in terrible condition or, as it sometimes happens, if someone dumps a dog in front of our place, they're very hard to refuse as we are a shelter and we are here for the animals," she said.

Animals will inevitably suffer alongside humans caught up in the cycle of poverty, crisis or conflict.

But there are others who are quick to judge and even criticize people who help animals, saying such people are putting animals ahead of humans.

An expatriate who has been working in Jakarta for several years said she often carried out her own "animal rescues", but made the mistake of telling coworkers at her office.

"Someone has said in a teasing tone on more than one occasion that I have mange and people should steer clear of me.

"There have also been several others who cannot resist the temptation to make fun of the fact that I assist injured or diseased animals," the woman said.

Inge offered some supportive words.

"(My love for animals) doesn't mean I don't care about humans, too. It just means I'm following the path God has set for me. We have to take care of everything that God has created on Earth."

Pondok Pengayom Satwa is located at Jl. Harsono RM No. 10 in Ragunan, Pasar Minggu, tel. (021) 780 4993 or (021) 781 9617. Hours of operation are: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Sundays and holidays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.