Growing up in Sijangkang, Selangor, like many other village children, Dr. Muhd. Taqiyudin Zainal Ulum had for company poultry such as ducks and chickens that his parents reared. It was during this period in his life that Dr. Taqiyudin built an awareness of animals as his parents, both teachers, encouraged him to be kind towards them.
At the age of 16, Taqiyudin came across a stray cat and promptly adopted him. The fact that the cat was three-legged made no difference to the young Taqiyudin, who lovingly named him “Tripod”.
Recalling the time, Dr. Taqiyudin said, “Tripod was an energetic cat, completely unhampered by what most people would consider a disability. I only had him for three months as he died from poisoning from one of the house insects that turned out to be poisonous to cats. Due to my economic situation and the distance from my house to the city where a veterinarian was, Tripod died on our way to a veterinary clinic. The incident stoked a fierce determination in me to be a champion for strays like Tripod and other animals that shared his background and prospects, knowing that we are facing an overpopulation of stray cats and dogs. There are just too many abandoned animals roaming our streets.”
When Dr. Taqiyudin’s schoolmates struggled to decide on a course to pursue at university, there was only one course he was interested in and that was veterinary medicine.
Graduating from Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2012, Dr. Taqiyudin served at two different places before establishing his own veterinary clinic in Setia Alam last year. Animal lovers in the community know Dr. Taqiyudin as a veterinarian who would not turn away a stray animal seeking medical treatment.
“I receive cases on a daily basis of stray dogs and cats; some of whom have been poisoned, some were involved in motor vehicle accidents resulting in traumatic injuries. Be it a cat or a dog, I do my best to treat every case to the best of my ability, bearing in mind the Veterinary Surgeon’s Oath that I took prior to earning my qualification as a veterinarian,” said Dr. Taqiyudin.
The oath comes with a lifelong obligation and responsibility to care for all animals, regardless of species. “Therefore, it means that even as a Muslim, I must care for and treat dogs, and also pigs, if the occasion requires my expertise. There will always be issues related to this understanding, or rather misunderstanding, that a Muslim should not touch these species of animals, but I am trying to educate those around me that we can become better people by helping animals. Our ability to empathise should not be reserved only for other human beings or selected species of animals. As long as we cleanse ourselves properly (sertu), which I do daily, I do not see an issue with treating dogs. I handle about three to four cases a week, mainly emergencies but also other treatments such as wound care, vaccinations and deworming, as well as make house calls for ill dogs.”
Dr. Taqiyudin’s parents, Hamisah Binti Kamaruddin and Zainal Ulum Bin Ahmad Kasah, have been extremely supportive of the work that their son does. They understand his motivations because they have seen him persevere through his studies and dedicated himself to animal welfare from the very start. Part of their compound in their village home has been converted into an animal shelter; one of the residents, Boy, is a canine cancer patient. Dr. Taqiyudin also keeps cats at his clinic together with a puppy, B-jay, an amputee as a result of an accident.
These were strays that were brought in by Good Samaritans to the clinic to be treated. However, as no one claimed ownership of the animals, Dr. Taqiyudin was left to continue caring for them. From providing a halfway house for animals, Dr. Taqiyudin expanded it to a shelter.
“I established TAQWA Animal Shelter due to the need to provide a space for strays, away from danger, while finding them more permanent, loving homes through adoption. I can’t leave them out in the streets where they could again be poisoned or get involved in another road accident. Therefore, I am campaigning for ‘1 Home, 1 Pet’, which I feel is something that is perfectly within my ability to inculcate, first, among those around me,” said the dashing 28-year-old, who is still single.
Caring for the many animals has taken up all of Dr. Taqiyudin’s time, not that he is complaining. Besides running his clinic full time, there are shelter animals under his care both at his clinic and at his parents’ place. Also, there is his Cat Hotel, which goes full swing during the Raya season. He explained: “I built my Cat Hotel in my parents’ compound in Sijangkang so that I do not have to make the twice daily trips to my clinic in Setia Alam when I am home for Hari Raya. With this Cat Hotel, I can be near both my family and pets that are under my care.”
Even in his capacity as a veterinarian to care for animals, especially those that are unable to fend for themselves, Dr. Taqiyudin feels that his efforts are far from noble. He explained: “I believe that by helping animals, we are actually doing ourselves a favour. As high-functioning human beings, we too improve spiritually and emotionally as we care for animals. I wish that Malaysians would be mature enough one day to stop antagonising dogs. Stop harming them, and definitely stop leaving out poison-laced food for them in false kindness.
“If we cannot afford to care for them, or cannot spare a moment to care, leave them to those who are better equipped to do so. Animals have the right to live, as we all do. If we want to achieve the status of an advanced society, we must mandate a certain level of compassion for animals to truly wield the position of a developed nation.”
TAQWA Animal Shelter has about 24 cats and 3 dogs currently. It requires approximately RM2000 monthly for expenses. “While our main motivation has always been to put animal welfare first and foremost, we must consider our own limitations to comfortably house the animals. Therefore we have certain regulations in place that owners must comply with before they can send their animals to the shelter. This is to avoid our facilities from being inundated and overwhelmed due to a lack of space and resources,” Dr. Taqiyudin elaborated, adding that the shelter could always do with public donation in cash or kind, volunteering and adoption. Contact details of the shelter are available at its official website: www.taqwaanimalshelter.com
Being a compassionate person that he is today, Dr. Taqiyudin credits his parents: “I am where I am today because they have prayed hard for me and supported me throughout the years. To successfully juggle so many roles for the animals, I also thank my eight siblings, generous sponsors, supportive friends and of course, the Sijangkang Village Development and Security Committee, as well as the neighbourhood Jamiul Ehsani Mosque. I wouldn’t be able to go it alone. Stand tall for animals; stop animal abuse!”
Note: An edited version of this article [Taking a stand for animals] was published on 15th October, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.