Dog Doctors – aiding Macau’s society

Dog Doctors – aiding Macau’s society

The Macau Animal Welfare Association recently celebrated their seven-year anniversary. Working to strengthen the relationship between Macau’s residents and dogs, the association has already reached many worthy milestones, with more in sight.

On the 14th of November a bus full of excited dogs and their owners made their way through the streets of Macau, drawing a lot of attention as they went – they were celebrating Macau Animal Welfare Association’s (MAWA) seventh anniversary. Having spent more than three months organizing this event, they thought it would be a good way to spark interest and promote MAWA in Macau.

Founded in 2006 by Ms. Lai, the problem of abandoned dogs in Macau was tackled with a different approach- instead of taking the dogs in and caring for them, Ms. Lai believed there was a different way to deal with the issue. She wanted to use the tool of education to teach the population, especially youngsters, how to care for dogs and love them, something that would in time reduce the number of stray dogs. Ms. Lai wanted to change people’s perceptions of dogs and help them understand that dogs are useful and beneficial to our society, and that we need them almost just as much as they need us.

In the early stages, MAWA’s dogs were trained at home, and professional dog trainers from Hong Kong were invited to work with them. These trainers teach each one of the dogs to be patient, to withhold their agitation, to be loving and most of all, to be obedient. They must ensure that the dogs are very friendly, that is their minimum requirement. An enthusiastic local recognized licensed dog trainer from Autralia is currently running training sessions and conducting seminars to coach the dogs.

“With a group of 11 dog doctors, we usually visit kindergartens, primary schools, centres for the disabled, elderly homes and so forth. Our main goal is to embed a caring mentality into younger people, so they can grow up treating animals fairly.”

During Chinese New Year they dress the dogs up in traditional costumes and go to elderly homes to pay respect and celebrate. MAWA also organize six to eight yearly seminars with a few Macau government departments, and the topics vary from “how to take care of dogs” to “keeping them healthy” to “understanding them better” teaching people how to train dogs in the right way.

Therapy for the autistic

A few years ago MAWA organised a remarkable program in Macau with the support of a doctor from Hong Kong, Dr. Wong Chong Kong. This program took place every Sunday for a year, and it focused on autistic children. Six autistic children up to the age of three were chosen to participate in this animal-assisted therapy, and for every child there were four volunteers – one to take care of the child, another to monitor expressions and two others to video record the hour long session.

After the session they would review the recording of each child, analyzing movements, how many times they blinked and smiled, and then send it to Dr. Wong Chong Kong. This required a lot of devotion from the volunteers, as this activity would take up their entire Sunday and they could not miss a single week in the whole year.

Over the year the children showed significant improvements: from not wanting to attend the classes, crying and looking for their parents, to walking in on their own, wanting to play with the dogs, cleaning up after themselves, greeting the volunteers and their dogs and most importantly- speech improvements. The whole process was extremely touching and even the parents themselves thank MAWA every time they bump into them on the street and the first question they always ask is: “When will you restart this program?” Although MAWA is very passionate about it, the lack of volunteers and the immense commitment each volunteer has to give, makes it difficult to sustain.

Coloane, home for stray dogs

Ms. Lai has a farm in Coloane which she rents from a very kind hearted gentlemen for a very symbolic price: “When he came to Macau in the 50s, dogs really helped him, and now he wants to contribute and return those sympathies.” We have now turned that area into a home and training ground for around 18 dogs who are hurt or who don’t have a home.

Recalling a particularly moving experience, Ms. Lai recounted the time MAWA went to a disabled children’s home where there was a particular boy who conversed with the volunteers for over an hour, recognizing their names, and even their pet’s names. They later found out that, since the boy’s arrival at that centre three years ago, he never spoke more than a few words. This shows how much of an effect dog doctors can have on children.

A very dedicated volunteer Lee, and her dog Buddy, have been volunteering at MAWA for the past two years, she explains “it is so touching to be in situations where children go from not recognizing us to speaking to us, and being able to open up to our dogs. Dogs really are our best friends, and I’d like to promote this organization as much as possible, because I truly believe dog doctors can help our society. ”

Ms. Lai admits that their biggest challenge is when school personnel are wary about letting their dogs into facilities, worrying that they may cause harm to children or make a mess. But after so many years of visiting different institutions and schools, they have built up a good reputation for themselves and now many directors of schools have taken initiatives to invite them to their schools.

More schools

In future, MAWA want to extend their visits to more mainstream schools hoping they will give them the chance to educate their youngsters on how to care for animals. They would also like to be more involved in creating training courses within government departments and institutions – through this, citizens of Macau will learn about dog’s diets, health issues and behaviour patterns. The lives of animals are highly dependent on how their owners treat them; hence this type of education is vital Lastly, MAWA hope the citizens of Macau will recognize their organization and support them in their venture to diminish the stray dog population through education. They believe that, “we are all equal, we are all one”.

How to volunteer?

Anyone who can dedicate their time and effort is welcome to volunteer at MAWA, but must keep in mind that the activities take up a lot of time, and sometimes you may even have to use your annual leave to attend their activities. Being a volunteer is not only beneficial to society, but you can also gain a lot of knowledge, confidence and values.

Calling all future Dog Doctors
MAWA now has about 30 dog doctors with experience in “opening up” children with autism, taming children with hyperactivity and teaching children self-discipline, but as there are more activities coming up, more dog doctors are needed.
 “Many people want their dog to become a dog doctor, but they don’t have time to take their dogs to our training base in Coloane,” according to Ms. Lai “It takes a lot of commitment from the owners.”
Ms. Lai says that even if your dog does not yet have all the qualities to be a dog doctor, you can join training camps organized regularly by the association.
For more information about dog doctors and their activities, please visit MAWA’s facebook page.