1st RPO Student Ambassador Training of 2012: SOTA Students

25 students from the School of The Arts (SOTA) were greeted by a big black Rottweiler at the Centre for Animal Welfare and Control (CAWC) last Friday!

Gypsy the Rottweiler and her owner Lesley were guest 'lecturers' for the afternoon, sharing how great their relationship has been ever since they started attending canine obedience training together more than 7.5 years ago.

The pair shared more on the importance of dog obedience training for animals to live harmoniously in the community. Through entertaining demonstrations, the spritely and well-trained Gypsy removed any misconceptions or worries that Rottweilers and other big dogs are only meant to frighten. Such dogs too can be loving and affectionate when given proper training!

Important tip: Dogs can sense fear and when they do, they might become domineering or frightened too. This puts them on alert and there would be a higher chance of them attacking. Thus, if you meet with any big dogs, walk away with confidence. Do not run or they will chase!

Apart from the engaging talk given by Lesley, the students were given a chance to interact with smaller animals such as chinchillas, hamsters and rabbits. The opportunity to come into contact with pets of all shapes and sizes certainly intrigued the students! Not only did it instil a sense of empathy in them but also helped to deepen their understanding of the efforts required for pet care.

The SOTA students were also briefed on the Responsible Pet Ownership (RPO) Student Ambassador Programme. These student ambassadors will be working with us through various projects and community services to extend our educational outreach efforts. With a greater understanding and passion for animals, it's no wonder a number of students are already expressing interest in this programme!

If you share the same level of enthusiasm about animals, we want you to join us!

Friends of The Animals: From Fear to Love

Hi all, it's time for our fortnightly blog series, "Friends of the Animals", a collection of blogposts relating animal lovers' experiences with their pets or their passion for animals. AVA staff, together with animal lovers from the animal welfare groups, are contributing to this blog.

In our latest post, our colleague, Aminah Hassan from the Communication & Corporate Relations Department, shares how she transformed her daughter's fear of cats to love for felines. Have fun reading!

I must say, in the neighbourhood where we live, the stray cats are a happy bunch. We have so many dedicated cat caregivers around who never fail to feed and care for these cats. My family is very active in helping these caregivers, the unsung heroes of our area who spend their time taking care of all the stray cats around. At times, we help to buy cat food for these unsung heroes for them to feed the cats. We have also brought abandoned cats with skin problems and urine infection to the vet and found them new homes.

While most of us who live in the area help out with the strays around our homes, my 24-year-old daughter used to be a person who runs away from the sight of cats! Well, but that was 4 years ago...

Her fear of cats started in her teenage years when a cat jumped on her in a lift. Since then, whenever she sees a cat, she would run for her life. It got so bad that sometimes, in order to avoid the cats on her way home, she would call one of us to fetch her. This had to stop, and so, one day, I forced her to carry a stray cat in her arms. The cat sat there like an obedient baby. And that was when she wanted a cat of her own. Soon after, we adopted one. We have added two more to the family now!

Let me introduce you to our 3 cats: Cotton (Ragdoll; 4 years old), Princess (Tabby; 5 years old) and Lulu (Flat-nose Persian; 2 years old).

Cotton is such a gentle cat and likes to be around people. Every morning at 5am, she never fails to do her "massage" - pushing in and out her front paws, alternating between her right and left limbs. According to cat experts, this is a sign of contentment and so that's a good sign because she gets good food, a clean litter box and comfy sleeping place (our velvety soft sofa).

Princess, on the other hand, is an independent and very fussy cat. We adopted her because she was a stray that often visited us. Soon, we fell in love with her and brought her into our home. Because she was once a stray cat, Princess likes to loiter at our door and wait for her favourite owner (my first son) to come home.

Lulu. Oh, Lulu. When we first saw Lulu, it was my daughter's friend who asked if my daughter (yes, the once scared one) can foster an abandoned kitten for two weeks. She was in such a horrific condition. Eye infection, skin infection and covered in dirt. We thought she was a lost cat but found out it was not so. While waiting for her to be adopted by a new owner, we realised we couldn't bear to part with her so we took her in. And she is the most vocal, mischievous and funniest cat who likes to disturb the other cats! We can't scold her because she has the "please-don't-scold-me" kind of eyes.

Having three cats brought more joy and happiness to our family but it doesn't come easy. We have to clean the litter box, buy cat food supplies, visit the vet and set aside time to groom and pay attention to our cats. Here are some things to consider before owning a cat:

1. Adopt/Buy?
I would encourage people looking for a pet to adopt. You can go to a pet shelter like SPCA (www.spca.org). The Cat Welfare Society ( www.catwelfare.org) is also a good place to start.

2. Are you able to afford a cat?
Cats require food, vet visits, medication, vaccination, cat litter and grooming on a regular basis. So make sure you can pay for these costs. Remember, having a cat is a long term commitment.

3. Are you prepared for your pet's health challenges?
Cats can get fleas, allergies and other health-related problems that you may face. You have to be emotionally and financially prepared for these challenges.

4. Are you be able to spend time with your cat?
Although cats seem more independent than dogs, if you travel often and don't have much time for a cat, try not to own one as a cat needs as much attention as a dog.

5. What kind of cat is right for you?
Male or Female? Gentle or Active? For example, Cotton is a gentle and quiet cat while Lulu is very active and vocal cat. They are very different in their personalities. Find out more about a cat's personality from the pet shelter or fosterer before you adopt.

Dogtravaganza!

Planning a day out with your dog? Fancy giving your dog a treat? Or maybe you're thinking of getting a pet but not sure if you should?

If your answer is a resounding 'YES!' you should come down for Dogtravaganza!

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) will be setting up a booth along with the Animal Welfare Groups (AWGs) such as SPCA, Animals Lovers League and Noah's Ark CARE. Those who wish to know more about how to take care of their pets are very welcome to come down to the booths and ask away! There will be mini games at the AVA's booth as well as free goodie bags for the winners!

To be held at West Coast Park on April 28th 2012, Dogtravaganza is a dog carnival co-organised by the Clementi YEC and the Singapore Kennel Club (SKC) from 9 am to 5 pm. There will be an open agility and jumper trial where everyone is welcomed to register regardless of whether you are an SKC member or not*! The open agility and jumper trial is tailored to suit the needs of beginners as well!

The Top Dog in each category will stand to win some fabulous prizes! Allow you and your dog to have a day of healthy fun and excitement! All you have to do is register online by April 24th! Even children are allowed to participate so come on down and make this a memorable day for your dog and family!

It's not all about agility either!

A dog bakery will be setting up a booth so you can be sure that your furry friend will be spoilt for choice when it comes to yummy treats! The owners are not forgotten - Yuan Ching Secondary School will be setting up a charity booth providing snacks and drinks for one and all. There will also be a Photo Styling Corner for those who wish to take part in the first ever "Singapore's Next Dog Model" competition!

We hope to see you there!

Make it a special day for the entire family by coming down for all the fun and games which await you!

For more information, check out Dogravaganza's Facebook page or their website.

Friends Of The Animals: Creating the Right Home for My Guinea Pig

Hi all, it's time for our fortnightly blog series, "Friends of the Animals", a collection of blogposts relating animal lovers' experiences with their pets or their passion for animals. AVA staff, together with animal lovers from the animal welfare groups, are contributing to this blog.

In our latest post, our colleague, Dr Jan Yong from the Animal & Plant Section, shares how she lovingly built a home for her guinea pig, Opium. Have fun reading!

Did you know guinea pigs need lots of space to run laps, "popcorn", and be happy?

I learnt these facts and more while researching on housing for my guinea pig, Opium. Opium came into my life when I adopted him from a girl whose guinea pigs gave birth. When he was smaller, Opium looked like a black mop and he smelt of pee. He was also terrified of humans. When my mother asked why I picked such an ugly guinea pig, I told her it needed a home.

After a year, Opium has grown out his spiky fur and everyone who looks at him says he has the most adorable little face. He is slightly more relaxed with humans and squeals in excitement whenever I bring him some cucumber and chye sim from the fridge. He is a champion hay eater and also a champion pooper. My mum is kind enough to do a poop sweep 4-5 times a day while I'm away at work, but five minutes after she removes his poop, there are fresh ones again.

Opium is one of the most spoilt guinea pigs you will ever meet. He will only eat hay if it's fresh out of the bag. He also lives in a palace-like cage when he's not on the floor running around. He loves his enormous cage where he can burrow, hide, sleep and run laps and popcorn. (A guinea pig "popcorns" when it hops repeatedly in the air. "Popcorn" is an expression of happiness in guinea pigs.) I had a lot of fun building a cubes and coroplast cage for Opium and my guinea pig loves the space he gets. I'm sure that if he could talk, he would want other guinea pig owners to build a similar enclosure for his guinea pig friends. So here's how I did it.

The cage is 1.2m by 1.2m, and it comprises of grids that form the "wall" of the cage. I used coroplast boards that I bought in bookshops to form the base of the cage. I covered the base of the cage with towels and a layer of fleece to provide a soft cushion for my guinea pig to walk on. Fleece is useful because it lets urine wick through and onto the towel layer, leaving a nice, dry surface for your guinea pig to walk on. I change the bedding layer twice a day to prevent ammonia build up. When I first put Opium on his fleece bedding cage, he got really excited and started to run laps around the cage and popcorned repeatedly, just like he did when he was a baby! That was a clear indication that Opium preferred the fleece bedding over other kinds of bedding I had previously used, such as newspaper floor or recycled newspaper pellets.

Here are some tips for building your guinea pig enclosure!

- Make sure the holes in the grids are not too big to allow your guinea pig to escape or too small to avoid getting your guinea pig's feet stuck.

- The grids must be high enough. Contrary to popular belief, young guinea pigs are particularly agile and are able to jump out of a cage if its walls are too low. I doubled the height of Opium's cage with garden mesh.

- Guinea pigs will chew the grids so make sure you are using non-toxic grids.

- You can use cable ties to secure the grids and presentation boards as the base of the cage.

One of the cons of such a setup is that the cage can't really be moved around. I sometimes get lazy and don't wash the fleece as often as I should. However, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. It is cheaper than store bought cages and it can also be expanded to accommodate multiple levels if you add more members to your guinea pig family. The best part? Your guinea pig will be heaps happier!

You can find lots of useful information on cubes and coroplast cages can be found on the web. There's a whole website dedicated to it (www.guineapigcages.com). Have fun browsing and learning!