Our mascot Ocean Blue searches for causes around the world that she thinks are worth barking about!
FEATURED CAUSE: THE WHISKERS' SYNDICATE IN BANDUNG, INDONESIA
Describing founder Josephia Liem as a super woman is an understatement. The Whiskers' Syndicate is a an animal welfare organization in Indonesia whose mission is to rescue the street animals of Bandung. Even workaholic Ocean Blue is amazed by Josie's relentless efforts to care for street animals everyday and also manage a sanctuary for rescued cats - even if it means building one with her own hands. Read on and be inspired by the story of Josie and her pussycats!
Tell me about the animal crisis in your country and your vicinity. How does the cause relate to the country's culture?
As the breeder capital of my nation Indonesia, Bandung is overflowing with unwanted animals of all breeds, and the stray management is often, if not always, too gruesome to be true. Sadly, the self appointed "big nation" has no animal welfare laws, and conservation efforts are tainted by fearless corruption. Our country is still behind in terms of animal welfare and nature conservancy. Biodiversity is still considered a mere resources or tools of trade.
Devoid of any protection, animals in Indonesia are victimized by poachers, illegal trade, excessive milling, and all types of abuse. Be they household animals, farm animals, or those in the wild, they are treated as “things”. Breeders take out a kitty-mill cat from inside a motorcycle baggage cabin (that tiny, airless space under the saddle right at the side of gas tank) or they will tie dogs to an open truck and drive them miles away to the vet if the dog is not able to produce a litter. And if the vet discovers the dog is ill, owners are not willing to pay for care.
Share a little background about yourself.
I was born into generations of an animal loving family - my grandfathers, my parents, and my siblings. I was partially raised by a German shepherd named “Boy” who my grandfather rescued from the streets in the chaotic post-Indonesian war for independence, where there were countless other homeless animals.
When I took a job offer in Bandung 2008, I had no idea of the dark sides of this resort town dubbed “Paris Van Java”. The way humans treated animals, the environment and each other disgusted me, but it also taught me ever so strongly that I needed to be the change for these animals deserving better lives.
I was a full time executive officer in a large company by day and an animal rescuer by night. My passion for animals took over me, and I answered its call without hesitation, leaving behind my material world. I still look back now and then, but I never regret being where I currently am.
When did you decide to make a difference for animals?
Honestly? I don't remember. I followed my grandfather and my father around rescuing animals and as soon as I start having my own income at 12 years old. I always found myself among paws and tails (and wings, and claws, and what not) - street and tormented wild animals. Although I grew up to be like the mainstream kids - going to college, then climbing the corporate ladder - going home to me has always been about reuniting with my family that included my animals.
Tell me about your decision to start a rescue and to tackle this cause. What convinced you to do so, and what did it take to actually create the organization?
I lived in a boarding house during my first year in Bandung and my landlord had a pregnant pet cat. Her toddler son was fond of tormenting her. To get away, the cat would run away to my room. She gave birth right beside me on my bed! My life has never the same. I named her Grace.
When did you officially start? Tell us about the changes The Whiskers' Syndicate has made in your community, both in the lives of humans and the animals?
I started The Whiskers' Syndicate at the end of 2008, and I have not stopped since. As of today, I have rescued more than 168 cats and a few dogs from the street of Bandung. Some were adopted, some unwillingly threw in the towel as a result of the harshness of street life, most still live on the streets but underwent TNR (Trap Neuter Release), and those who otherwise could not survive the streets stay with me. During the first years, we lived from one rented boarding place to another, until I managed to buy a property in 2012 which is now home to The Whiskers' Syndicate.
98% of Bandung residents are backyard breeders, including the vets. In terms of the impact we've had towards humans, my natural connections with vets around Bandung has successfully sparked awareness. It goes to show the effect that can be accomplished by a single person. Information about TNR was known only to the younger vets, while vets of the older generation still believe that Spay/Neuter is sinful mutilation, and that breeding is necessary to keep pets healthy (otherwise they turn crazy, get sick or die), and there are many other false myths they still believe. Five years into the establishment of Whiskers' Syndicate, I see more vets suggesting TNR to commoners who pick up stray cats and dogs (out of pity), and recently l learned that more younger vets are offering discounted rates to people who bring in strays to get spayed and neutered.
Walk me through a typical day for you.
You will see my head poking from behind my bedroom door at 3 am. Some of the cats are still sleeping by then. When they wake up a few minutes later they will find me cleaning the litter boxes, washing their cage's trays and clean the house. When the sun rise at 6 am the cats will have their breakfast. Then I will be occupied by my various side jobs. If I am not working in day shift, or if I can work at home I will be handling the sanctuary's accounting/finance/banking, replying emails, handling social media, blogging, or tending to our charity shop in Etsy. Other times, I am doing the laundry or rushing cats to the vet. In the afternoon, I roam the streets of Bandung distributing food to the strays. In the evening, I am often visiting the cemeteries where abandoned cats or dogs ghoulishly call grave sites their home. I usually call it a day at 11 pm, but on days when I need to respond to with grant writers or charity givers from abroad, I skip my sleep all together so I can properly handle all the raised issues.
What are the best marketing strategies you employ today?
Be a human being, be yourself. While larger communities or organizations make a deep impact, there's this unseen connection between grass roots animal rescues worldwide. We grass roots people might not have the power of a million dollars, or the spotlight to do so, or the voice of a celebrity, but we are closer to the animals than even the smallest established organization and it is that direct connection to the animals that make us one.
As a grass roots animal rescue, people look at you - the person behind the scenes, the face behind the product. They do not look up to the unattainable sky. They look right in front of you - and you'd better be there to meet them eye to eye. They are human, they relate to your pain, the share your vision, they live with the same heartbeat, they have your passion. That also moves us together as one, no matter how much world is between us.
What are your greatest achievements to date?
The Whiskers' Syndicate was chosen the Shelter of The Month in August 2012, awarded by SPCA International. We are also The Charity of The Month for December 2013 by Etsy For Animals, a group of handcrafters who sell their products on Etsy to benefit animal charities around the world.
What would you like to accomplish in 2014?
Currently we are home to around 60 cats and kittens inhabiting 1,000 square foot. Following the unfortunate brush with Typhoon Haiyan last November 2013, our sanctuary was flooded and damaged, forcing all 60 cats to crumpled into a tiny 387 square foot space.
During our bout with the typhoon, five minutes into the rain, our backyard was already under water. The cattery was completely soaked.
My biggest goal right now is to repair the sanctuary so that the resident "mobsters" can have better living conditions. We've managed to raise enough funds to start the repair, but we are still in need of replacements for all the toys, cat trees cat towers, and bedding that were damaged in the flood. I am sure the cats would love to have beds and cat trees again!
The second goal, after all the repairs, is to restart our TNR operation. I am using every opportunities to approach communities around to adopt TNR in place of culling. Since animal welfare has not yet exist where we are, we do not have funding from government or communities and have to fund the operation ourselves. I hope to be able to raise enough fund for these TNR in the hope that what we do will be a living example of humane stray management.
What does it mean to you to be an animal rescue advocate?
My life as animal advocate had shown me the saddest places, the most gruesome practices, the desperation, the negligence... but it also shows me - in the forms of friends and supporters, as well as fellow animal advocates - the shining core of humanity. I cannot be more proud to be part of that shining race, the race that is worthy to hold itself as those created in God's image.
JOIN THE CAUSE!
Animal Rescue Marketing wants to help The Whiskers' Syndicate in a big way. We have been following the plight of the repairs and reconstruction efforts for the sanctuary, and we ask you, fellow rescue advocates, to please use your animal rescue marketing know-how to get more donors and supporters to help Josie and The Whiskers' Syndicate raise more funds to replace the cat trees, bedding, and toys. Are you interested in hosting a Causes or Rally.org page? Or something clever that can get this message to go viral? Contact us with your ideas and to let us know that you can help! Thank you!