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Fw: Part 1, Straits Times article on Marjorie Doggett

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THE FRIDAY INTERVIEW - 16 February 2001

 

Headline - Doggett fight against cruelty to animals

 

Think of animal welfare and the name Marjorie Doggett comes to mind. Just

what makes her jump up so quickly and robustly in the defence of cats,

dogs, primates and other wildlife against man's cruelty and greed? EUNICE

LAU finds out.

 

MARJORIE Doggett is a name that has become synonymous with animal welfare

in Singapore.

 

As a frequent writer to the Forum pages of The Straits Times, she would

rail against man's insensitivity and cruelty to animals. Today, at 80

years, she is frail and suffers from failing eyesight, but has not lost her

sprightliness and clarity of thought.

 

She is best known as the pioneering activist who helped to build the

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) here from a

shoestring operation in the 1940s.

 

Today, the 5,500-strong society, with 23 staff members and 300 volunteers,

boasts of a two-storey building at Mount Vernon which houses 80 animals.

 

Mrs Doggett has retired from SPCA but is still the advisory director of the

World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) based in Britain and the

secretary of the International Primate Protection League (IPPL) based in

the United States.

 

For 50 years of effort in speaking up for animals, she received a plaque of

appreciation from IPPL director Dianne Taylor-Snow last month.

 

In her citation, the director said that Mrs Doggett's efforts 'have saved

thousands and thousands of primates in the region'. Indeed, lesser known to

the public are her exploits in exposing illegal wildlife trading and

cajoling the authorities to act on it.

 

From chimpanzees to orangutans and parrots - she had saved many of them.

 

Born in Sussex, southern Britain, to a grocer and a housewife, Marjorie

Millest grew up around animals in her grandfather's farm.

It was not until her headmistress gave a talk on laboratory animals in her

school, when she was 16, that she realised how much suffering they were

being put through by men.

 

That was a turning point in her life - she decided to champion the cause of

the hapless creatures, she says in an interview with The Straits Times at

her home in Toh Heights.

 

After working as a nurse during the war, she came to Singapore in 1947 with

her husband, Victor, who had joined the Royal Air Force's military band here.

 

Within a few months of settling in, she helped an English woman, Miss Lucia

Bach, re-establish the Royal SPCA. Their work included rescuing injured

animals from the street and transporting them to the government animal

infirmary.

 

One day in 1974, she received a call from Dr Shirley McGreal, a British

primatologist and founder of IPPL, who was in town to investigate

Singapore's role as the centre of wildlife trade in the region.

 

Thus began a partnership that was to last 25 years.

 

Dr McGreal was concerned that animals smuggled from Indonesia and Thailand

were sent to Singapore, where they were supplied with shipping documents

and forwarded to world markets.

 

Posing as animal collectors, they visited the dealers' premises in Rochor

Road and found animals, which were to be exported to Europe and America, in

appalling conditions.

 

The expose attracted a lot of international media attention which helped to

exert pressure on the Singapore authorities to act quickly, says Dr McGreal.

 

Recalling her first encounter with Mrs Doggett, she says in an e-mail:

'Marjorie looked so harmless that she was able to get into all the dealers'

premises and be totally inconspicuous.'

 

Not only had Mrs Doggett built up a good relationship with the Primary

Production Department (PPD) - which later became the Agri-food and

Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) - while working with it during her

years at SPCA, she also won the respect of many officials. Says Mr Madhavan

Kannan, 54, head of AVA's Urban Animal Management: 'She was never

fanatical, but balanced in her views because she was well-informed.' She

often defended AVA against unfair public criticisms, he adds.

 

In 1990, Mrs Doggett exposed the smuggling of six baby orangutans which

were smuggled through Singapore, causing the American trader, Matthew

Block, to be prosecuted in US courts.

 

She maintains that her involvement was not because the great apes are

endangered but because the trade is causing them immense suffering - mother

apes are killed as poachers go for their babies and many of them die in

transit while being shipped to laboratories around the world.

 

'I am not a conservationist. 'I am in it just because of the cruelty,' she

said.

 

Her husband, Victor, who set up the music school, Victor Doggett Music

Studios, in the early 1950s, is retired while her only son, Nicholas, 43,

has taken over the school.

 

The Doggetts became Singapore citizens in 1960.

 

She confesses that she is often chided for paying attention to animals

instead of human beings. 'The amount of ignorance is incredible. 'People

actually think it is illegal to feed strays and treat me like I committed a

crime. 'That is when you nearly fold up and think, well, I would not do any

more because it is impossible. But you got to carry on. Once you know, you

cannot sit back and do nothing,' she says.

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