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By Foo Jie Ying
The New Paper
May 27, 2016
He was flamed online for mishandling a husky.
Gawkers then appeared outside his house after his address was revealed online.
Finally, the glare from the public got too much to bear and Mr Alan Chiam, 41, and his wife even told their youngest son, nine, to stop going to school on Tuesday (May 24).
"I didn't want him to go to school and have people taunt him. It would affect him negatively," said Mrs Peline Chiam, 44.
Mr Chiam, a dog rescuer and boarder, shot to notoriety after video clips of him mistreating a husky went viral on Monday (May 23).
That night, he apologised for his actions.
On Wednesday evening, he repeated the apology as he spoke to The New Paper from his home - a rented terrace house that now houses seven dogs, three of which are his.
"I admit I made a mistake. And I'm ready to face the music," he said.
Mrs Chiam added: "We are not saints. Everyone makes mistakes."
Recalling the incident that morning, Mr Chiam said it was the first time their husky, which joined the family when it was just two months old, grew so aggressive.
"I know the husky's temperament very well," he said.
What happened On Monday morning, because he was expecting some contractors to fix a glass panel at the front of the house, Mr Chiam had moved his husky, golden retriever and Japanese spitz to a space behind the house.
Mrs Chiam, a housewife, said: "The weather's getting hot and we wanted to install air-conditioner for the dogs."
She believes the sudden change of environment and the hot weather were stressing the husky.
When Mr Chiam saw that the husky looked like it was about to attack his helper, he "hit the husky" in a moment of panic.
Mrs Chiam told TNP: "After my husband did that, he came to apologise to me. He knew it was wrong."
Had the husky bit their helper, the injury would have to be reported, possibly resulting in the dog being taken away, she added.
Again, she emphasised that she and her husband were not professional dog trainers.
"We learnt how to take care of dogs from our experience with the first few dogs we took in," she said.
The Chiams' dog rescue journey began late last year, when they took in their first dog.
Gradually, more and more people started approaching Mr Chiam to adopt or foster abandoned dogs.
Now, they are relying on their savings to get by.
Food alone costs the family around $4,000 to $5,000 every month.
Occasionally, Mr Chiam takes on part-time jobs.
He declined to reveal what he does.
The couple also offer boarding services and customised menus for dogs, but Mrs Chiam said those are not steady streams of income.
"(My husband) doesn't really charge people who are his friends," she said.
TNP got a glimpse of the dogs' living condition at the Chiams' residence on Wednesday evening.
The dogs were allowed to walk around freely.
One of the fridges in the kitchen was packed with frozen salmon fillet and tuna.
"We don't feed them kibble. We feed them food cooked from scratch," said Mrs Chiam.
"We have two fridges here, one for human food and one for dog food. The helper used to help to prepare the food but ever since my husband found a fish bone in the tuna, he took over the preparation of the fish," she said.
The cabinets in the house were filled with dog-related items such as shampoo, treats and medication.
"Anyone who comes to my home will know that it's kept very clean. There's no smell. My mother is a stickler for cleanliness, so we are always cleaning," said Mrs Chiam.
Though passionate about their cause, the brouhaha over the alleged dog abuse has left Mr Chiam and his wife discouraged.
She said: "We are not looking for people to repay us. We just feel it's very meaningful. Our family is united because of the dogs."
"We often walk the dogs together. We are not spending any money, just taking the dogs for a walk together makes us happy."
The comments online sting, but the couple try not to be too bothered by them.
They have stopped keeping track.
Their son, who reads every single comment posted, tells the couple: "We have to be strong."
Mr Chiam said: "There is a silver lining. Through this incident, I know who my true friends are."
He added that all he wants now is for his husky, which was taken away by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore for assessment of injury, to return.
He said wryly: "What's most ironic is, I saved so many dogs, but I failed to save my own dog."
HE DEVOTES HIS LIFE TO CARING FOR DOGS
Their dog rescue journey began late last year.
Things picked up gradually and at one point, Mr Alan Chiam and his wife Peline looked after 36 dogs.
"My husband never hesitated. We have both elderly and young (people) in this house," said Mrs Chiam, 44, whose parents live with them.
"Despite knowing that the dogs may bite, nobody in the family objected."
Back then, they lived in a Tampines HDB flat converted out of a three-and four-room flat.
They started renting the terrace house only last month after complaints from their Tampines neighbours.
Mr Chiam said: "Someone complained to HDB. I had to move here because of my dogs."
In February, Mr Chiam quit his job to care for dogs full time.
He wanted to lead a more meaningful life, partly due to an accident in 2011.
He said: "I was in intensive care unit and on life support for 11 days. I'm now on lifelong medication."
The couple refused to reveal his exact ailment.
Mrs Chiam said firmly: "I don't want people to think we are trying to win their sympathy."
Harder Mr Chiam also found it harder to juggle his job, which he refused to disclose, and dog rescues.
"I gave it very serious thought since the accident in 2011," he said.
"I decided to walk out of my comfort zone. I took a gamble.
"To commit myself to these animals, I'd rather quit. I'm very lucky my family are all supportive."
Since then, his days have been devoted to dogs - developing recipes, preparing their food, bathing and grooming the dogs.
EDUCATION IS CRUCIAL
Anyone in the pet industry - retailer, groomer, trainer or boarding operator - should be educated, said Dr Kang Nee.
This means graduating from a properly accredited or reputable school that follows international standards of animal welfare and ethics, said the certified dog trainer and animal behaviourist who has a PhD in Zoology from the National University of Singapore.
They should also be certified by independent and reputable organisations with internationally acceptable standards, and also continue to keep up with the best practices in their field.
"In other words, working with animals needs to be regarded as a proper profession, where education, credentials, ethics and such are crucial.
"Unfortunately, many people think just because they've had dogs, love dogs or trained a dog to 'sit' qualifies them to be in the profession. It doesn't," said Dr Kang.
As for Mr Alan Chiam, who was shamed online for his actions towards his husky, she believed that the dogs in the videos showed many signs of stress, which could be from the environment.
But the husky was clearly stressed by what the man did, Dr Kang pointed out.
"While he thinks he didn't hurt the husky physically, he did not account for stress, which the husky and the golden retriever showed in their body language in the videos - rounded back, tucked tail, closed mouth, avoidance, stiff posture, ears back."
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