In the course of making house calls to 40 percent of her fur clients, veterinarian Dr Kim Koh treats pampered pooches, felines and the occasional chinchilla living in the air-conditioned comfort of luxury apartments and landed properties. An increasing number in expat and local households are rescued mixed breeds dubbed “Singapore Specials”.
It’s a good sign. “People used to go shopping with a specific breed in mind. But now, more are realising it doesn’t matter what their pets look like. They give the same amount of love and joy to the family,” she says.
Also a show-jumper who is training to compete in the SEA Games, Koh was in equine practice as a fresh grad when she started seeing dogs and cats at the homes of friends and horse clients. (She was also a treating vet at the Youth Olympics in 2010.)
She and her husband, fellow vet Dr Huang Zhixiong, whom she met at the University of Melbourne, soon realised that there was a large demand for house calls, especially from multi-pet households. Together, they set up The Visiting Vets Clinic in 2015. “It’s also good for clients with big dogs and small or no cars. Or for cat owners; felines often disappear once the carrier is brought out. It also helps with old dogs that have difficulty walking, or animals that get car sick.”
Clients can also visit their clinic opposite the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where they will be greeted by Fatso, a not-so-rotund white feline who once lived at a bus stop in Jurong until rescuers got word that AVA was coming a-culling. Another resident is Boots, a tabby who requires daily treatment that her owner is unable to administer. “For some reason, she is very mean to her owner who loves her very much and visits her regularly and pays the bills.”
Here, the couple also check strays who have been brought in by rescuers such as Mutts Rescue and Exclusively Mongrels before they go on to foster homes. They also work with Sharon Oh, an independent, whom she describes as a “shining example of a dog rescuer”.
“She rescues dogs from industrial sites or jungles either by herself or with rescuers from the other two groups. She raises funds to buy dog food to distribute to stray feeders and even goes round to feed them herself,” says Koh.
Between the clinic and homes of her and his parents, Koh and Huang have six dogs and seven cats, all rescues. At the shoot with Prestige were Trigger, who was saved from the AVA; and Leica, who looks like a fluffy German Shepherd, rescued by Oh from a construction site. There is also Maia, a Siberian Husky found wandering the streets of Yishun. The husky had half her jaw removed along with a tumour last year.
“Huskies were quite trendy after movies like Eight Below and Snow Dogs, as were Japanese breeds like Akita and Shiba Inu after Hachiko,” says Koh of the craze for owning breeds featured in hit movies.
She also observes a spike in popularity of animals in years corresponding with signs of the Chinese Zodiac. “Sometimes people buy animals for luck, like a rabbit during the Year of the Rabbit, or sometimes as a playmate or toy for their three-year-old child.”
Unfortunately, when their owners find these animals too troublesome to care for or “have stopped being fun or lucky”, many are abandoned. “Pets are not toys or presents and are most certainly not disposable,” she says.
Koh also notices an increase in abandoned animals coinciding with seasons for giving such as Christmas and the pre-festive decluttering of homes. “People often don’t realise that pets are a commitment for the lifetime of the animal. We’re talking 10 to potentially 16 years of providing food, shelter and veterinarian care for them. They sometimes also don’t consider the real cost, like vet bills, when the animal is ill,” she says.
I realised I wanted to be a vet when…I was in secondary school. I would bring home injured birds when I was young. I once found a nest on the ground in the playground. It contained one tiny barely feathered crow. I took it home and fed it some dog food and bread.
I don’t eat…shark’s fin soup. Shark finning is cruel and unnecessary. I’m also a pescatarian.
I started riding…when I was 2½-years-old, during a family holiday in New Zealand. When I was 12, I took formal riding lessons at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club. I used to ride six days a week with Suki (aka Soury de la Ronelle), my 10-year-old grey French sport horse. She is currently in Bandung, Indonesia with a good friend who is competing with her and will soon breed her. I currently ride a leased horse, Charlie (real name Mr Sheen), twice a week.
The only time I am away from animals…would be overseas. The sad part of our job is that we’re often with sick (sometimes dying) patients, so it’s nice to go home and appreciate our still-healthy pets that are happy to see us. (Nobody else likes the vet!) We take a couple of our dogs to work with us almost daily.
I am guilty of…sharing the occasional Facebook video of how pets feel after being abandoned. My dad shares just about every dog adoption post on FB that he comes across. I also share with friends, family and clients on how adoption saves lives vs buying from a pet shop and inadvertently supporting puppy mills. It’s good to let them know about the rough conditions that breeding dogs live in and the inhumane practices of puppy mills. And purebred dogs often suffer from hereditary diseases, especially if they have not been bred well.