AS a disabled activist, I’ve been privileged to have been invited to attend a number of seminars, forums and workshops.
Sometimes I’ve been asked to be speaker of such events. And on rare occasions I’ve even had the thrill of organising one or two of them.
One of those unique experiences took place only a few weeks ago.
The Canine Advisory Team (CAT) – a special monthly committee by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) to look into animal issues – decided to have a first-ever Dog Forum organised by the local council in Petaling Jaya.
As Chairman of the group under the MBPJ’s Health Department – and a Councillor for MBPJ – it was my job to naturally assume my post as the leader of the organising team.
I was incredibly blessed to work with all of them who gave me their unflinching support.
The purpose of the forum was to bring together pet lovers and non dog owners.
This was to help both sides of the divide appreciate the role of canines – and at the same time, try to find solutions to the many genuine problems dogs present to people without canines.
The forum itself proved to be a howling success.
We managed to cover a range of issues from the responsibility of pet owners to pet rights, canine cruelty and abuse, and even animal-assisted therapy.
However, to me these were not the only winning points as to why the forum proceeded swimmingly that day.
The fact that people with disabilities and the elderly were also visibly present and participating in the half-day weekend forum turned the occasion into a truly meaningful one for everybody at the end of the day.
I received feedback from some of the participants – all of them able-bodied – that they were rather surprised to see the disabled and elderly participating at the event.
Some of them admitted that when they first entered the meeting hall they thought that they were somehow in the wrong place.
The sight of several wheelchairs and people with white canes (the blind) made them wonder if they had stumbled into a “disabled association’s event.”
One pet lover who had never had a disabled friend in her life blurted out that she had no idea that pets, especially dogs, played a key role in the lives of the handicapped.
In fact, a chief issue raised at the forum was a request for free dog licenses for the disabled and the elderly from all the local councils in Selangor.
The reason for the forum’s request was so that the special waivers would serve as the local councils’ recognition of the unique therapeutic role that dogs play in the lives of vulnerable groups.
Someone with a progressive condition like Parkinson’s disease would, for instance, benefit a great deal more by taking his or her dog out for a walk in the park instead of sitting by their television set all day.
An unmotivated paralysed accident victim lying in bed 24/7 will be able to channel his mind positively on his pet rather than entertain suicidal thoughts.
When VIPs for the occasion Selangor State Executive Councillor Ronnie Liu, forum keynote speaker Dr Chandra Muzaffar, president of the NGO JUST, and International star dance doyen Ramli Ibrahim threw their support behind the special waivers, there was a thunderous applause from all the participants.
(Currently, only Shah Alam provides free dog licenses for disabled dog owners whilst the elderly are given 50% off.)
One dog-owner who is paralysed from his neck down told me that he lives in constant fear that his local council might suddenly come to his house and confiscate his dog one day because he hasn’t got a license.
“I’ve been jobless since I became disabled and every sen now counts. Besides I have no one to go to the council to get a license for me,” he added, pointing out that his only pal now is Tiger, his mongrel.
Two of the speakers at the Dog Forum were persons with disabilities. The souvenirs of thanks given to the VIPs and speakers were presented also by persons with disabilities.
Two of them were profoundly disabled people who are paralysed from their necks down. They were pushed by able-bodied volunteers to the stage so that they could personally present the tokens to the VIPs.
A third person who was blind was led by a sighted volunteer.
Our Cat team made sure that disabled parking nearest to the entrance was reserved for drivers with disabilities.
The security guards were also instructed to assist the handicapped when they got there.
This was in addition to some of the volunteers that were invited specially to assist the disabled.
I have no doubt in my mind at all that all of us came away having learnt something new that day.
For some it may have been about animals and our need to respect their rights and coexist with them. For others it may have been about how NGOs and local councils function.
And for others still, how a simple and small step of support can go a very long way indeed for some truly extraordinary people.
PET+BLOGSPOT is the official online blog of the Malaysian Animal-Assisted Therapy for the Disabled and Elderly Association (Petpositive).
Our blog which was first established in October 2007 currently has more than 30,000 hits. Kindly take note that views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of Petpositive.
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