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Despite outrage, Muslim couple are stray dogs' best friends

 

BY LOOI SUE-CHERN
December 28, 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, Malaysia has seen its fair share of events with people who either inspire or bring despair to the country. It has been a year where some feel a sense of entitlement, that it is their way or the highway, that they have to make a name for themselves no matter what and where the little people's hopes have risen and have also been shattered. Yet, there are the few who do good work quietly to help their fellow man, to make Malaysia a better place. Over the next few days, The Malaysian Insider will feature some of them - Malaysia's Inspiring People 2013 - the ordinary heroes who never cease to amaze us with their perseverance, diligence, empathy and vision for a happier nation.

In a country where Muslims abhor dogs for religious reasons, one Muslim couple have bucked that belief to rescue and care for stray and abandoned dogs in Malaysia's rice-bowl state, Kedah.

From their waking hour to the minute they finally retire to bed, the couple widely known as Pak Mie and Mak Intan devote almost every second of their time to care for their some 800 "furry kids" at the Pak Mie Animal Shelter in Tanjung Bendara.


Pak Mie refuses to part with any of his dogs and says spaying will solve the problem of stray dogs. - The Malaysian Insider pix by Hasnoor Hussain, December 28, 2013.

Despite the workload, the couple have no army of workers to help them run the makeshift animal shelter. Only their grandson and a helper assist them.

"We have been doing this for more than 20 years. The job is hard as it is not a nine-to-five job. We do not close up at the end of the day, go home, put our legs up and watch television. We skip meals and lose sleep.

"But we keep going simply because we have compassion. The ability to feel compassion, even towards a sick stray dog, is important," Pak Mie or Muhammad Azmi Ismail, told The Malaysian Insider.

Despite their work with strays, the 56-year-old and his wife, Mak Intan or Halijah Idris, have seen and heard their fair share of condemnation and criticism from others, who cannot accept their affection towards dogs.

The former contractor said even his own siblings could not stand him because he uses his money to feed dogs, something that brought no profit or benefit.

"People have said all sorts of things. They said my wife and I will suffer until we die because we care for dogs.

"So I quit my contractor job and Mak Intan took her pension 23 years ago because we wanted to see how far their words would come true. We refrained from asking our relatives for help. Fortunately, things have ways of taking care of themselves," Pak Mie said of his 66-year-old wife who is an army pensioner.

When they began taking in strays, they had little money to feed the animals and nurse the sick ones. They rented a place to put the sick ones before they eventually built their makeshift shelter.

"For food, Mak Intan and I could eat bread. For the dogs, we needed more. So I went to a Chinese chicken rice shop to talk to the boss, who agreed to let me have all the leftover rice and meat daily. Another left expired sardine cans for us. "But Malay food outlets will sooner throw the leftovers into rubbish bins than let me have them.

"Until today, I am still trying to find out why some Malays look at dogs with such contempt, as if they are worse than the devil," he said.


Mak Intan will stay up all night to nurse an ill dog. - December 28, 2013

Pak Mie said many people, including those from the state religious council, had gone to see him about his dog-saving work but he never gave in or gave up.

"I asked them one question. Show me where in the Hadith says touching, feeding and giving medicine to a dog and even sharing a bed with the animal are sins. If they are, I want to know which Hadith says so.

"God gave us a mind to think for ourselves and do what is right, and of all the millions of creatures on earth, the Quran mentions dogs several times. Not camels, goats or any other animal," he said, referring to an example that Allah forgave a prostitute when she drew water from a well for a thirsty dog.

"God gave us a mind to think for ourselves and do what is right, and of all the millions of creatures on earth, the Quran mentions dogs several times. Not camels, goats or any other animal," he said, referring to references in the Quran to dogs, including one permitting believers to consume animal flesh killed by hunting dogs.

"If a starving dog looks at you when you eat, do you throw stones at it or do you give it some food? Remember we are given minds to think."

Apart from verbal abuses, the couple also face accusations and slander with some people questioning the way he runs his shelter and accusing him of pocketing the donations he had received from well-wishers.

He said some people have claimed that he gets US$85,000 (RM280,000) a month from international donors and he was "thankful" that people thought he was rich.

"I am a millionaire now then. Why would I be doing this still if I am now so rich? I can just pay other people to care for the dogs.

"Mak Intan and I can go on holidays. This is one of the reasons I never wanted publicity for the shelter. People will start talking.

"When we started, we tried to keep things quiet because a Malay couple rescuing and adopting dogs can become an issue. I never gave interviews to the media until last year when the local council wanted to confiscate my dogs," he said, adding that he hoped his critics would lodge police reports against him so he can open his accounts for investigation.

He said it takes between RM40,000 and RM50,000 a month to run the shelter, which has no proper running water or electricity for now, and donations came in form of cash, food and medicine.

There is a group called Pak Mie Animal Shelter Hell on Facebook and some blogs that attack the couple over what they do.

Pak Mie said some people take one look at his shelter and start criticising before trying to understand the hardship and commitment required to run the place.

"Some have lodged complaints with the local veterinary department. The officers here came to inspect the shelter, hear my explanations and left satisfied.

"My critics were still unhappy and even took their complaints to Putrajaya but we are still here.

"It is always easier to talk than to do the actual work. They should try rescuing strays themselves, set up a better shelter and outdo me.

"Show me a good example and I will follow. It will do a lot of good if others also start rescuing the animals."

In recent months, Pak Mie and Mak Intan's furry kids were also looking at an eviction.

The Alor Star City Council had ordered the couple to get out of the government reserve land and a plot belonging to Indah Water Konsortium beside a river in Tanjung Bendahara, which they had been occupying for years now with their simple makeshift shelter.

This happened around the same time Pak Mie was told he could not relocate his animals to the rural Kuala Nerang some 37km away, where he had bought a piece of land and started building a new shelter.

He had already invested more than RM300,000, which partly came from a donation, on the project.

"The land in Kuala Nerang was a good place as it was not near any residential area but some villagers started to object.

"I had allowed veterinary students to conduct operations to spay 10 of my dogs there. The villagers came, saw what was happening, and lodged complaints.

"We had planned to move there in September but now I have to sell the land. I cannot pursue it any more to avoid problems and tensions with the locals. It would not be safe for my dogs any more."

With assistance from Alor Star MP Gooi Hsiao Leung, the couple were given a reprieve until the end of this month.

However, the authorities have recently granted permission to Pak Mie to keep his shelter in Tanjung Bendahara with the condition that he builds a more proper place for the animals.

"I was directed to set up a proper shelter with a septic tank so the animal faeces will not flow into the river, and also cement the ground.

"I have no idea how and when we will finish building the new shelter. We can only work on it bit by bit when we have some money," he said, as he gave The Malaysian Insider a tour of his shelter.

Pak Mie, who refers to himself as "ayah" (father) when he talks to his dogs, said he and his wife just want to be allowed to care for the animals they rescued from the streets in peace, and that he would face even cannon if anyone tries to take his animals.

"They are precious to us and we have made many sacrifices. Mak Intan even took time to learn from veterinarians how to treat the animals for minor illnesses and injuries. She doesn't go home to sleep if she has to care for the sick animals."

Pak Mie said he hopes the authorities will find a better solution to control the stray population than catching the animals and destroying them.

"Putting a dog to sleep sounds humane but why kill a perfectly fine animal when the stray population can be controlled by spaying?

"If the Government does not want to spend money to set up shelters, then think of a way that does not involve taking an innocent animal's life."

Pak Mie said he and Mak Intan would keep on saving dogs and caring for them until they die, even though age has already caught up with them.

"We are training our grandson Alif Affandi to take over from us. I have told him that if he does not do well, he would be dishonouring the both of us."

On why he does not allow the public to adopt dogs from his shelter, he said people who wanted to be kind to dogs should rescue strays from the streets themselves. "There are many out there to be saved and given a home. That is how they can truly help."  – December 28, 2013.




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