Pilot begins for retired sniffer dogs to get new homes in HDB flats

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SINGAPORE — Meet Moss, a seven-year-old male Cocker Spaniel and the first retired police dog to become a dweller in a public housing flat.

For three to four days after it was relocated to its new home last week, the dog — which used to detect narcotics at Changi Prison as part of its job — was sniffing around the flat as if it was still “on mission”, its new owner Toh Thaksin said.

Mr Toh, 21, who was born in Thailand but now a Singaporean, was Moss’ handler for more than a year when he was serving as a full-time national serviceman in the K-9 unit of the Singapore Police Force. He loved the dog so much, he would turn up in camp earlier or stay back hours after duty to play with it. 

Even after he completed his National Service in March, he would call his former colleagues to find out how Moss is doing and look through old photos of the times they had together. 

Now, thanks to a new pilot scheme by the Government, the dog has moved in with him.

Former SPF NSF Thaksin Toh and his dog Moss, a retired K-9 dog rehomed to a HDB flat. Photos: Jason Quah

Launched this month, the scheme is a one-year expansion of Project Adore, a programme started in 2012 to assess the acceptance of mixed-breed dogs in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates. 

The latest pilot allows dog handlers from the K-9 units of the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), as well as the Singapore Armed Forces’ Military Working Dog Unit (MWDU), to adopt their retired canine friends, if they live in HDB homes. 

So far, about 15 people from the police unit, such as Mr Toh, have expressed interest to come under the scheme.

TODAY understands that about 60 dogs from the police unit, four from the SCDF unit, as well as 10 to 15 dogs from MWDU have retired or are retiring this year. Out of the lot, three dogs from MWDU qualify for the pilot scheme, but no figures are available on the number of police dogs that are suitable for rehousing in HDB estates. As for the SCDF dogs, they have already been rehomed in private estates before June.

Handlers and former handlers who have ended their service within the past year and who live in HDB homes can adopt their retired canine friends, if the dogs are a Labrador, English Springer, Cocker Spaniel, or Pointer, the authorities said. 

Schedule II breeds — dogs deemed potentially dangerous or fierce — such as German Shepherds and Belgian Shepherds are not included in the pilot.

Project Adore is managed by three parties: the Ministry of National Development, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and HDB. The authorities will assess applicants through home visits, interviews with neighbours, and an initial home stay with the dog, before the adoption is formalised.  

Mr Toh, who lives with his father in a four-room flat in Geylang Bahru, said that he is glad that Moss can truly “enjoy retirement life” and be “given the life it deserves” after serving the nation.

Private Eugene Wang, 25, who is now serving National Service with SCDF, is excited about being to adopt Ted, a search-and-rescue Labrador he had handled for eight months. The dog is due to retire by June next year when it turns eight, and Private Wang hopes to house it in his four-room flat in Jurong East. He lives with his wife, two-year-old son, his father-in-law and brother-in-law, and the family already has an eight-month-old mongrel.

Recalling how he once had to carry the 34kg Labrador and run as part of his training, Private Wang said: “We both can ‘ORD’ at about the same time.” He was referring to how he will complete his National Service next August, shortly after Ted retires. 

Ted, which was just two years old when it arrived from the United Kingdom about five years ago, is trained under the SCDF to look for casualties in a disaster. To prepare for work, it puts on a “uniform” — a fluorescent vest with the word “Rescue” — and then trots off unleashed on its “mission” when it gets two pats on its side. It is trained to search under piles of rubble, and will stay and bark when it finds any human or animal.

“Ted is a hardworking and sociable guy and seldom gets angry,” Private Wang said. “You can trust Ted to do its job properly (like) how I trust a colleague to do his job. I see Ted more often than any of my colleagues. Ted doesn’t take leave, but my colleagues do,” he quipped.

SCDF’s Private Eugene Wang and his K-9 dog partner Ted. Photo: Jason Quah

Urging that members of the public need not be alarmed by the K-9 dogs, Senior Staff Sergeant Bernard Tan, a para-veterinarian with the police K-9 unit, said that they are “not fierce as you think they are”.

“They listen to commands (and) receive training throughout their five years (in service),” he added.

SCDF’s search platoon commander Ho Sze Sien also said that these dogs “know that their mission is to serve”.

Given that the owners had already worked with the dogs and understand their temperament and health conditions, they would know how to manage the dogs well, Captain Ho said.

Right now, just 62 toy breeds of dogs, or their cross-breeds, are allowed in HDB flats. Only one dog, standing at 40cm at the shoulders and weighing 10kg or less, is allowed per flat. 

With Project Adore, HDB dwellers can adopt larger dogs, which are those up to 50cm in height, and as heavy as 15kg.

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