Yeah, yeah. We all know that animal shelters are very noble and charitable for taking in and caring for needy animals. Ask anyone and they’d agree that they respect the work of these animal welfare groups and their volunteers.
But being bombarded with donation appeals with graphic images can get old. Every charity — cancer, dog, human, maid – is fighting for the public’s attention and donations. Yet, many remain apprehensive to part with their money.
“Why are they always raising funds? How much money do they need, exactly? Will my donation make a difference?”
Derrick Tan, 38, founder of Voices for Animals Singapore, sheds some light on what it really takes — especially financially – to run an animal rescue in Singapore.
Note: This is meant as an educational piece on the breakdown of costs required to run a dog shelter in Singapore. It is not meant to be a preachy post trying to guilt trip you, but if you do end up donating even a dollar or two, I have no regrets.
A brief background of Derrick and Voices for Animals Singapore (VFA)
Derrick runs a doggy daycare called Sunny Heights, and is the founder of VFA. Helping him run the operations of the dog shelter are what he calls his “team of hard core volunteers” who help day in, day out.
In general, VFA takes in dogs that were rescued from breeders, abandoned animals and animals that were given up by owners. They also work with the local authorities to bail out animals that are impounded or surrendered by owners.
At any one time, they usually have around 100 animals under their care.
About rescuing ex-breeding dogs
Having just adopted an ex-breeding dog myself, I am aware that there is some controversy surrounding the rescue of these dogs from puppy mills. Some dog lovers feel like by rescuing them, we are indirectly supporting their business by giving them a channel to offload their unwanted dogs.
When asked, Derrick clarifies that while there is no specific agreement between him and the breeders, many of them contact VFA when they want to retire their animals. “In general, they want to give their retired dogs a nice home too. Plus, with the legislation we have now, breeders have to stop breeding their dogs after a certain age.”
According to the Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) guidelines, female dogs must be above 1 year old and under 6 years old for breeding.
Running costs of VFA = $20,150 monthly
According to Derrick, this is a rough breakdown of the monthly expenses:
|Rental (for the shelter)||$5,500|
|Utilities||$500 to $800|
|Food||Sponsored (costs around $1,500 to $2,000)|
|Medical bills||$10,000 and up|
The biggest money-suckers are the medical bills, which can go up to $10,000+ per month. The exact figure depends on the health of the dogs they take in, but because they usually rescue the sick ones, it’s typically around $10,000.
They’re quite lucky to have a food sponsor, but that only relieves them of 10% of their expenses (about $1,500 to $2,000 a month).
VFA’s start-up cost = close to $0
Thankfully for Derrick, the start-up costs were relatively low.
At the beginning, VFA depended on fosterers to take care of the rescued animals. Then, by a stroke of luck, one Derrick’s friends gave him a place to start a shelter — for free.
“I was able to start VFA because one of my friends offered me a space to house our rescued animals at no cost,” explains Derrick.
Medical bills (VFA’s largest expense) = $10,000+ monthly
Yet, although he did not need to pay for a space at the start, as the rescue group’s operations grew, so did their overheads. Other than the usual expenses like space rental and food (which they have a sponsor for), there are some unexpected costs that the public often take for granted.
Namely, medical bills.
“Many people don’t realise that the animals we rescue actually need a lot of medical attention. Medical bills can go up to $10,000 or more because the dogs we take in are usually the sick ones,” says Derrick.
And although VFA works closely with a few vets who give them discounted rates, the bills still chock up to 5-figure sums.
On top of that, some of them also require special diets and supplements to nurse them back into health, so they’re “adopt-able”.
Adoption fee = $250 per dog
How much money VFA receives every month largely depends on how many animals get adopted. The adoption fee is $250 per dog, and they typically adopt out 10 to 30 dogs monthly.
That comes up to $2,500 to $7,500 per month — not very much, considering they bleed about $20,150. “It’s always a loss we’re making,” says Derrick, adding that people often complain about the adoption fee, not realising that it is their main source of income to support the animals.
“Usually, we explain to them the running costs that we incur, and most people then agree to it. But there are some who still refuse, saying that buying is cheaper than adopting because we only have older animals and they require more medical bills,” he says.
… Wah, this one I hear also angry. Even if you’re just looking at dollars and cents, what is a $250 adoption fee compared to a $3,000 price tag at a pet shop? Your puppy will eventually grow old too right?!
So who pays for the outstanding balance?
Derrick and his team absorb most of the outstanding costs of running the shelter. If there’s a need to, they also seek help from the general public through fundraising.
While AVS (previously AVA) has done a lot for animal welfare in terms of building up shelter space in Sungei Tengah and sterilising stray animals, most shelters run solely on donations. From what I researched, there are government grants for human charities, but none for animals. (Please correct me if I’m wrong, and I’ll be glad to add them in!)
When asked what would happen if they run out of money, he says simply that they would continue to appeal for help on Facebook, as they’ve always done.
Ready to help? Here are some useful things to know
If you’ve made it this far and have decided you want to help offset the running costs of VFA, you can:
1) Write a cheque to “Voices For Animals” and mail it to 59 Sungei Tengah Road, Block S, unit #02-37 Singapore 699 014, or
2) Make a bank Transfer to DBS Current 106-903657-7 and drop VFA an email ([email protected]) with the transaction number, contact number and your name.
Here are are some additional tips:
1. Can I check what the shelter is doing with my donation?
Unfortunately, it won’t always be possible for you to track where the money goes. Most of the smaller animal welfare groups either post photos of their receipts online or keep an informal record of their donations and expenses.
If you want a detailed breakdown, then donate to the bigger ones (like SPCA and SOSD, for example) that publish their annual reports.
2. Do I get tax relief for my donations?
Sadly, you don’t get tax relief on all donations; only those made to Institution of a Public Character (IPC) charities.
Until 31 Dec 2021, your tax deductions will be equivalent to 2.5 times your approved donation. This sum will be subtracted from your income when assessing the amount of tax payable for the year. Remember, you’ll need to ask for a receipt to be eligible.
3. What if I don’t want to donate cash?
If you are still hesitant because you can’t see where the money goes, you can still help out in other ways. Consider volunteering at the shelters on the weekends (or any other free time you have) or make donations in kind. You can speak to the shelter and ask for what they need before going ahead to buy the supplies.
If you’re looking to adopt a furkid, make sure to follow VFA’s Facebook page for updates on the monthly adoption drives.
Are you surprised by the running costs of a dog shelter in Singapore? Tell us in the comments below.
In-article image credits: VFA’s Facebook page