Jan 17, 2006, 6:28 AM
CURRENT NEWS FROM SINGAPORE
You love your dog. You really do?
You love your dog. You really do?
But would you forgo your soft, warm bed in your home to sleep on a cold, hard mat out in the streets with him because he is too big to be kept in an HDB flat?
Ms Nelly Yeo, 40, would.
She started doing this six months ago. She has given up sleeping in her comfy three-room HDB flat in Boon Lay to spend her nights in a partially-used building just so that she can keep her dog company.
She says it's a small sacrifice to pay for the love she has for her pet, which she refers to as her 'son' - a 7-year-old mongrel called Star.
She has no choice, really. Ms Yeo, who is single, was fined $50 for keeping an unauthorised breed in an HDB flat at the end of 2004. (See other report.)
Ms Yeo, who bought her flat in September 2000, has been living on her own for almost 20 years and is not close to her family.
In 2001, she was told by the authorities that her neighbours had complained about her dog.
She then put Star in a Pasir Ris pet farm and visited him every day.
Eventually, she decided to give up her security-guard job, which had paid her $1,000 a month, to work at the farm.
'I wanted to stay overnight but only staff members could do that, so I decided to work there. I got free board for Star, and I was paid $650 a month at first. But later I only got $5 a day for meals because business was affected by the Sars outbreak,' said Ms Yeo.
She put up with the low pay to be with Star, but had to stop work after injuring her back in a fall in 2003.
Ms Yeo volunteered to work in two animal welfare shelters in exchange for Star's accommodation, but after a few months, her back hurt too much and she had to stay home to rest.
She took Star back to her Boon Lay flat at the end of 2004.
That was when she was fined and warned by AVA officials to keep Star elsewhere, otherwise he would be confiscated and sent to the pound.
Desperate, she said she borrowed $1,000 from a loan shark to help pay the rent for a private apartment in Kovan.
For about six months, Ms Yeo lived there with Star but when her money ran out, she and her dog were evicted.
The pair took to the streets and started sleeping at MRT stations and public parks since the middle of last year.
Ms Yeo said she was chased away from these places by the authorities. She eventually found shelter in the staircase landing of a Boon Lay building.
GONE TO THE DOG
A passer-by, Ms Maggie Tan, called The New Paper hotline after seeing her asleep there.
'She's there almost the whole day except when she buys food for the dog. She seems to have given up her life for her dog.
'She goes home to shower and keeps her things in the flat, but spends nights outside. It's quite sad and I do worry for her well-being,' said Ms Tan, 48.
But Ms Yeo, now jobless, is not daunted by the hardship of her life outdoors.
'Once there were some foreign workers who kept looking at me and Star. I was so scared I couldn't sleep, although Star made sure they didn't come near me,' she recalled.
She doesn't face such problems now as she sleeps in the day and walks Star at night.
Ms Yeo now survives on the $500 monthly rent from tenants in her three-room flat.
When The New Paper on Sunday visited her in the Boon Lay building earlier this week, we found it clean and tidy. There was a mat, a windbreaker, some food and water for Star, and some mosquito coils.
Ms Yeo said she got Star as a puppy in 1999. His mother was a stray which gave birth to six puppies in a Paya Lebar canal. She abandoned them there.
'When the tide came in, four of them drowned leaving just Star and another puppy,' said Ms Yeo.
The white-and-brown ball of fur reminded Ms Yeo of her first dog, which died suddenly from an illness.
'His eyes weren't even open yet. I bottle-fed him for seven days before they opened,' said Ms Yeo.
Although her family has kept a dozen other dogs and Ms Yeo keeps other pets like fish and tortoises, Star is special to her.
He's the first dog that she brought up from young. Like a proud 'mother', she has an entire album with photographs of her beloved pet.
Every year in August, she buys him a cake with candles to celebrate his birthday.
Although money is tight, Ms Yeo spends about $250, which is half of her rent money, on branded dog food and special treats for Star.
To bathe him weekly, she buys cleansing gel from Nu Skin, a US cosmetics brand that's usually used by people, not dogs. A small 400 ml bottle costs $17, said Ms Yeo.
She said she started bathing Star with the Nu Skin gel because he seemed to have an allergic reaction to a previous dog shampoo.
'He liked it very much. After that, I couldn't switch back because he growled when I tried to use other shampoos,' said Ms Yeo.
She spends less than $100 on herself, sometimes only eating one meal a day.
'When I eat chicken, I will only chew the bone and take the fat and skin, I will give Star the meat,' she said.
What is it like to be sleeping in the streets?
Her answer wasn't about herself, but about her dog, which she says was not used to the stress of outdoor living at first.
'He had high fever for three days. My vet friend told me to try giving him a quarter of a Panadol. I did that and he got well,' she recalled.
There was another time when Star's face swelled for a week. Ms Yeo borrowed money from her dad to take Star to a vet.
Ms Yeo said her father and siblings want her to give up Star.
'They don't see the need to help me. They think I can get another smaller dog. But I just can't. He depends on me. He will not eat food given by other people.'
She said: 'People think I'm mad, but what can I do? I did try to re-home him when he was growing up because I could see he was too big to be kept in a flat. But no-one wants mongrels. Now I'm too attached to him to let go.'
Ms Yeo's friend, a housing agent, is trying to find alternative accommodation for her and her dog so that she can look for a job.
'But she can't find work because of her bad back,' he said.
She added: 'I also don't want to be operated on because if something happens to me, who will take care of Star?'
(This post was edited by chrisong on Jan 17, 2006, 6:29 AM)