Driving up to KL Pooch Rescue (KLPR) is a mission in itself. Down a small gravel backroad hidden just round the corner of a Chinese temple, you’d almost think you’re at the wrong place if it wasn’t for the sound of excited dogs barking and scrambling around. “Oh, they bark at everything!” Shannon laughs, “trees, leaves blowing, people. Everything.” When you drive up to the rescue centre, the first friendly face to greet you is a brown/orange stripey dog aptly named Tigger - a stray who stumbled upon KLPR, decided it was home. Walk in a little bit further to the source of the commotion and you’ll meet the pack of boarding and rescue dogs jumping to see who the new visitor is. In the centre of it all, just finishing up a swimming session with one of the pooches, is Shannon, smiling broadly from ear to ear.
Shannon Lam, co-founder of KLPR, is the kind of person that has passion permanently sparkling in her eyes. Her firm handshake, broad shoulders and caring nature might be a bit of an unexpected combination for some, but her heart is clearly for taking care of the pooches around her. Shannon had always grown up with dogs; from the strays that her family fed at her childhood home, to Fluffy the Pomeranian (“Very original name, I know” she laughs) and White Foot the mixed mongrel. Her very first rescue after she moved back from Australia happened as she was driving along the road and noticed a little puppy that the bigger street dogs were bullying. They named her Suki. Shortly after, Shannon started volunteering at an animal shelter and eventually found herself rescuing more strays and bringing home dogs which required more care.
“It kinda started just as a casual thing. There was no real decisive point in sitting down and saying well let’s do this”, Shannon tells me. At that time, she was juggling her part-time job as a copywriter, volunteer, and caring for the dogs at her home. “Eventually I started spending more and more time doing the rescue because it is a consuming job. Naturally I cared more about that because I love animals - I have my whole life. So it eventually started to take a lot of my focus and a lot of my emotions and a lot of my drive and passion. And then I guess, the decision was when we were surrounded by 20 over puppies and dogs in a terrace house and I was getting no sleep; it was just noisy and we were always afraid that the knock on the door would be neighbours complaining or the MPKJ come to take away our pack.” She talked further about taking a long term approach to the decision, and soon enough, they were sourcing the internet for land.
I asked her about what scared her the most when she decided to make the move over to an independent organization, “When you start something, the biggest fear that any entrepreneur can tell you is 'failure'," she answered. “You fear that you won’t be received in the correct way, you fear that the investment you put in won’t be worth it, and it’ll just flop. At the same time I never really felt that it would not be a success, because I know that if you really love something and you're passionate about it, people will notice and appreciate that.”. Alongside Shannon is her partner Maury, who works with the dogs daily from bathing, to swimming and feeding. “The one person who is the most kind on a daily basis, is my partner Maury. She moved over here, and uprooted her life to come to Malaysia to work with us because she believed in our goals and our vision.”
It wasn’t always a smooth road for KLPR; their first contractor took a large sum of their money and vanished without a trace. “That was pretty devastating. We couldn’t believe that someone would do this to a charity or people that were trying to do the right thing.” Shannon said. But here she is, sitting upright and smiling cheek to cheek after everything. “You live you learn. You learn how to trust the right people and make the right decisions, and we have to take responsibility for making mistakes as well.” She shrugs it off easily and continues, “Lots of people came to help us and lifted us out of it. I wish I could take credit for it, but we’re just fortunate enough to be surrounded by the right people.”
Shannon believes in kindness through the kindness that she and Maury have both received over the years of starting up and running KLPR. She tells me about the people who have helped make KLPR what it is today through both big and small acts, “It’s hard to single any one name out because there are so many people who demonstrate small and big kindnesses to us everyday since we started. My mom would definitely have to be one of those names. She has supported us emotionally and financially since the beginning and we could never be in this position without her.”
At the same time KLPR is unique as an organization that is almost self sustainable. About 70% of the running costs are covered by the money they earn through providing quality services of boarding, grooming, training and swimming sessions to customers. “We knew that we had to have funds coming in that didn’t rely on public goodwill because there are so many charities out there; and I’m sure that people have the heart to give, but you can only give so much. We don’t want people to have to choose which organization they give to. I’ve always preferred to work for my money instead of putting my hand out and say ‘feed me’. From the beginning we decided to work hard, and provide great service to people, and use those funds to provide something good.” She said, and so she did.
The numbers in KLPR remain small with only 80 plus rescue dogs and another 20 to 30 boarding dogs. Each of the generous enclosures for the rescue dogs have their names, pictures, along with funny quirks and characters listed on the gate. It’s easy to see the amount of effort that Shannon and Maury put into taking care of the pooches, and they are both strict on quality above quantity. “I believe that if you take on more than what you can handle the standard of care goes down. For us that really contradicts the initial motive which is to provide animals with care.” She tells me about the fresh food that they make for the dogs that they get twice a day, and of course with the swimming pool it’s practically all a dog could ever ask for. The shelter also provides for dogs with special needs, and has a gym outfitted for physiotherapy sessions. It was amazing to witness first hand, what KLPR’s care brings out in the pooches. The dogs are happy and energetic whether with four legs, or three legs, or even two.
“We like to lead by example. We hope by showing that even the dirtiest most tick ridden stray deserves the best care, and by people coming here and being inspired by the way we look after every single animal, whether it be a purebred or a mongrel, or have two legs or three legs or one eye, they’ll start to see that every life is sacred.” Shannon talks about their slogan ‘Save one life, Save the world’ and how small acts do make a change. “We always like to encourage people to do a step more than what they're doing at the moment. So if you’re walking past hungry dogs, what about throwing some food on the ground? If you’re already throwing food on the ground for one, then why don’t you see if you can get your community to start feeding the dogs in your area? If you’re already feeding dogs in your community, why not take it one step further and start spaying and neutering those dogs in your community?” For KLPR, their one step further is working towards setting up a trust fund where all excess profits will go into. Shannon intends for the KLPR Foundation Trust to be able to support independent rescuers as well as organizations looking to run events or campaigns to support strays.
At the end of the interview, we couldn’t help but smile listening to her story. There is a certain patience that Shannon possesses when she works with the dogs, in those moments she looks truly at peace. “I use to run a sales and marketing company for six years, and although I don’t regret a second of it, I also walked away from that understanding that money, even though it’s nice to have, doesn’t buy happiness. It really doesn’t. At the end of the day I walked away feeling empty. Now, I drive beat up ol’ truck, I’m up at 6.30 in the morning when the paralyzed dog starts crying, and I’ve got to wipe his bum; but look at the smile on my face! I've never felt that in the six years doing sales. So I really wanna urge everyone to just consider what’s important in your life. Do what makes you happy. It’ll be worth it.”