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Two Paws Up for Dr Dog
An animal-assisted therapy programme based in the Klang Valley and Penang, Dr Dog helps senior citizens, autistic children, the physically handicapped and others in need.
Who would have known that such a thing existed – a birthday gift that keeps on giving. But that is exactly what happened to Salehin Ibrahim, who was gifted two dogs when he turned 40.
And it was this gift that translated itself into a gift for others. His two dogs – Cheeky and Chunky – were soon joined by another two dogs, Kylie and Sammie. It wasn’t long before Salehin realised that people responded positively to their presence everywhere he took them.
When Salehin found out about the Dr Dog Malaysia programme in 2007, he quickly got his dog Kylie, a Golden Retriever, certified to be a “Dr Dog” so that he could share the love he felt around dogs with others.
An animal-assisted therapy programme designed to improve the social, emotional and cognitive functions of the people they treat, Dr Dog Malaysia first started in 2007 with Furry Friends Farm founder Sabrina Yeap and Jill Robinson, founder and CEO of Animals Asia Foundation. Salehin has been the primary coordinator for the programme since 2009, when he took over from Yeap who had passed away that year.
“Dr Dog is an innovative animal-assisted therapy programme,” says Salehin. “It provides people in need with what they need most – a best friend.”
To be a certified Dr Dog, a dog has to have been with its current handler for at least six months. It is then evaluated on basic obedience, endurance and social skills. “The handlers have to have commitment and the time to bring their Dr Dogs for visitations at least four times a year,” adds Salehin. “The handlers also need to be able to continue their services for another year, have to be a people-person and dog-friendly.”
Each Dr Dog session lasts approximately 60 to 90 minutes, and is organised by either Salehin himself or another Dr Dog coordinator. Since he began volunteering, Salehin has brought the cheer of these Dr Dogs to orphanages, old folks’ homes and more.
“Currently, I have two teams of Dr Dog [volunteers], where one handles KL and Klang Valley, and the other Penang,” says Salehin. “The KL-Klang Valley team has eight Dr Dogs, while the Penang one has 15."
While the programme has been a success, Salehin concedes that public education about the role of dogs in therapy, especially under the Dr Dog programme, is still very important.
“Many understand the benefits [of Dr Dog], but by and large they are still worried about hygiene,” Salehin says.
“As part of the recruitment process, all the Dr Dogs need to be vaccinated and have proper medical records. During visitation, our Dr Dogs need to be well-groomed and tick-free. Any sick Dr Dogs are not allowed to do any visitation.”
Besides this, Dr Dog Malaysia also faces challenges in terms of funding and even the number of Dr Dogs.
“This year is our tenth anniversary, and I hope to have more Dr Dogs to provide our animal-assisted therapy programme to more patients,” Salehin confides. “We are hoping to not just be able to do Dr Dog programmes at old folks’ homes, orphanages, autism schools and other places, but [with sufficient resources] we can also attend to individuals at home.”
Today, Dr Dog Malaysia has received a good boost from private individuals who see the value in this programme. The group has been allowed to use a piece of land in Hulu Langat in exchange for looking after the landowner’s fruit orchard. This land, which will be known as K9 Cottage, will soon house the Dr Dog Centre in March 2018, which will cater to groups and individuals.
“The proposed new centre will have [a] therapy swimming pool for dogs, recreation areas for dogs and owners, a camping site and boarding facilities, and a café. We are also planting herbal plants and vegetables for humans as well the dogs.”
But Dr Dog Malaysia is constantly looking for assistance in terms of donations and volunteers.
“For ten years, the programme has managed to be self-funded,” says Salehin sadly. “Previously I was still employed but I have retired early on medical grounds. As such, I welcome all support from anyone.”
To donate to Dr Dog Malaysia or to find out how you can join the programme, visit www.facebook.com/DrDogMalaysia
By A Fadzil
Photos by Wong Yok Teng
Video by Teoh Eng Hooi
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