Coming to Ipoh to retire in 2004, Londoner Victor Lawrence Oates and his Malaysian wife, Malika, thought that they could finally extend their travels in Asia.
Oates, 71, said, “My wife and I met in the United Kingdom where I was an engineer with British Gas and where Malika went for her nursing training. In April 1976, I came to visit her family and shortly after, we got married. During the three months we were in Malaysia following our marriage, I bought a motorcycle and we cruised around West Malaysia, visiting almost all the touristy areas and a few backwater places off the beaten track.
“Following that trip, we visited Malaysia every year for our holidays. When both of us took early retirement, we decided to make Ipoh our base because Malika’s family is here, plus it would be easy for us to get around visiting neighbouring countries.”
Little did Oates know that even upon retirement, he would be working harder than he actually did in the United Kingdom. “When we relocated to Ipoh, we bought two Labrador Retrievers, Max and Rosie, because we have always had pet dogs in the UK. Not long after that, through our veterinarian, we found out about the stray dog situation in Ipoh. If we had known earlier, we wouldn’t have purchased pedigree dogs but adopted from the animal shelter instead,” he added.
Over the years, Oates and his wife’s passion to do something for the strays grew as they got themselves further involved in the city’s animal welfare community. Married for forty years now, Malika is currently the president of Noah’s Ark Ipoh (NAI), a registered animal welfare non-governmental organisation.
NAI manages a cattery with more than sixty cats. In addition, Oates and his wife keep sixteen other cats along with seven dogs at home. “They were strays but they are animals that will not get adopted, so we opened our home to them. My day starts with me walking, feeding and grooming them for the better part of the morning.
“After that, I go out to my first planned pick up of the day, and take it to the veterinary clinic for neutering or treatment, then picking up the dog or cat from the day before and return it to where it needs to go. In the evening, we feed the strays that we have neutered previously, and any other strays that need food.
“It is a nice feeling when we take in a sick dog or cat and nurse it back to good health and then find it a new home. I am sometimes reluctant to let these animals go because of the bond that we have formed but knowing that they have a better life ahead of them is a consolation. Now, you understand why our tour of Asia did not work out,” he chuckled.
To Oates, besides being close to family, the slower pace of Ipoh is just ‘perfect’ for retirees. He said, “Where we live, it only takes fifteen minutes to get to most places, which would not be possible in larger cities. Besides, Ipoh boasts plenty of food choices, both local and international fare. Also, there are more than enough places of interest to entertain us. If there was one thing to complain about, it would be the standard of driving of the locals. Still, Ipoh is improving, especially now that the city is enticing more tourists to visit.”
On tackling the stray dog problem in Ipoh, Oates had this to share: “People find it too easy to dump their dogs, especially senior dogs which are falling sick with old age or leave them behind when they move to another place, expecting someone else to take over the burden of re-homing or feeding them. Dog ownership should be more stringent. The local council should take a more responsible attitude towards neutering and work alongside animal welfare NGOs. Taking drastic measures is only a temporary solution. We need to look at the bigger picture and educate the community on responsible pet ownership. Neutering is the way forward. Although the growing number of strays is alarming, it is not the fault of the strays. In fact, it is a human problem. Hopefully, everyone would do their part in helping these animals in need.”
Note: An edited version of this article [Fur-ever home] was published on 10th December, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.