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Friday, March 4, 2011

SG SPCA Founder died at 89

Marjorie Doggett, RIP

After arriving from England in 1947 with her husband, Victor, Mrs Doggett co-founded a voluntary service which rescued stray cats from Singapore's streets. That initiative later morphed into the SPCA. — ST FILE PHOTO

SHE was born thousands of kilometres away, in Britain.

But once she arrived here, Mrs Marjorie Doggett took up a cause that was closest to her heart – preventing human acts of cruelty against animals – and left a legacy for Singaporeans in the form of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

On Sunday night, Mrs Doggett died at her Toh Heights home of 33 years, after years of ill health.

She was 89.

Her key achievements after arriving here from England in 1947 include co-founding a voluntary service which rescued stray cats from Singapore's streets, which later morphed into the SPCA.

Thanks in large part to her efforts, the organisation has grown significantly, a far cry from its early days, when funding was scarce and supporters fluctuated due to a predominantly expatriate membership.

Mrs Doggett was so keen on protecting animals that in those days, she did much of the work herself. For example, qualified veterinarians were a rarity here, so she often resorted to rescuing cats from the streets and whisking them by car to the government's sole Animal Infirmary in Kampong Java.

'She started the ball rolling – and was still at it 60 years later,' said Ms Deidre Moss, SPCA's current executive officer, paying tribute to Mrs Doggett's passion, knowledge on animal issues and willingness to mentor younger volunteers.

'She was a walking encyclopedia, keeping so much literature on animal welfare,' added Ms Moss.

Policymakers also had the benefit of tapping into her knowledge on issues ranging from the wildlife trade to the use of animals in science laboratories, noted Mr Madhavan Kannan, former head of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's Centre for Animal Welfare and Control, who first worked with Mrs Doggett in the 1970s.

'She was one of the early pioneers among people who championed the cause of animals,' he said.

She also raised awareness of the issue by writing frequently to The Straits Times' Forum pages about the cruelty dealt to some animals here.

Mrs Doggett's relationship with animals started early. She grew up surrounded by them at her home in Sussex, England. By the time she was in secondary school, she was taking up the cause that would define her life, fighting for the rights of animals.

Mrs Doggett moved to Singapore with her husband, Victor, who was posted here by the Royal Air Force. They subsequently decided to settle here permanently, becoming Singapore citizens in 1960.

Mr Doggett died five years ago after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Besides animals, Mrs Doggett also had a passion for photography, and particularly liked capturing historical buildings, many of which have since been demolished. In 1957, a book entitled Characters Of Light was published, showing some of her collection.

But animals were far and away her first love. The couple's only son, Nicholas, 52, told The Straits Times that even as the end drew near, his mother maintained her fondness for critters, often surrounding herself with the family's seven pet cats.

He said that she had remained fiercely protective of them, even when her capacity to walk was hampered.

'We had a cat who would bully the other cats. She took me aside one night and said, 'you'd better stop that cat from terrorising the others. Otherwise, I will do it, even if I have to crawl out of my bed on all fours'.'

He added: 'She was strong willed in the things she believed in.


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