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“Do you have the myResponder app on your phone?”

That was one of the first questions Dr Kenneth Tong asked me when we met.

Even though I was the one armed with the questions, it was the 42-year-old vet who stopped me in my tracks, making me ponder about what I am doing with my life, volunteer-wise.

You see, Kenneth is a volunteer. That was why I was interviewing him.

But while most of us would be happy with the occasional home visit or regular sessions with needy households, Kenneth takes volunteering to the next level.

Volunteer hero

Aside from being a community first responder (which is why he has SCDF’s myResponder app), the founder and head vet at the Animal and Avian Veterinary Clinic volunteers his professional knowhow at several organisations.

With his more than 15 years of veterinary experience, it’s no surprise that Kenneth volunteers with the SPCA. But on top of that, he is also an honorary Deputy Superintendent of Police with the Volunteer Special Constabulary. In this role, he is the chief vet for the Singapore Police Force’s K-9 unit, where he provides veterinary services pro bono.

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Kenneth also volunteered as an advisor during the initial exploration and delivery of the diploma courses in veterinary study at Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic, having taught these courses at Temasek in 2010 and 2011.

On weekends, the grassroots leader in Chong Pang, where his veterinary clinic is, works as a community volunteer with NEA, going out to spread the anti-littering message.

Covid-19 Vaccination Programme
Image Source: Kenneth Tong

He even volunteers with MOH’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, encouraging people to get vaccinated and helping senior residents sign up for their shots.

He says: “I wanted to give back to the community and I’m happy to see familiar faces when I’m involved in grassroots activities, given the proximity to my clinic.”

With so many hats to wear, Kenneth often ends up using his network of contacts to further the causes of the programmes he volunteers with. He says, “I just leverage the network I have. Through my connections, I can get the word out.”

Bone Marrow Donor Programme
Being one of the faces for the BMDP Ambassador Programme. Image source: BMDP

One such programme that he is especially passionate about is the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP).

He explains: “The more people there are on the database, the higher the likelihood of finding a successful donor. When I give lectures about my job as a vet to the SCDF, SPF or in schools, I also spread the BMDP message. Even if there aren’t sign-ups, at least people are aware. I even talk about BMDP at the Singapore Veterinary Association!”

Volunteering as a first responder

His work as a volunteer, while tiring, isn’t without its fair share of drama, says Kenneth.

For example, since he signed up as a community first responder in 2010, Kenneth has administered CPR four different times, each potentially saving a life in the process. The last time was a day after our interview!

In 2018, he tells me, he was on his way to hospital when he stopped to administer CPR to a taxi driver who had lost consciousness. I was impressed, even more so when he recounts with a laugh that he was actually on his way to hospital because his wife Jean was going in for a caesarean section for the birth of their son Theodore!

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When I ask him about her reaction to that incident, he tells me: “She didn’t mind. She said, ‘Oh wow! How was the person you helped?’”

Kenneth shares how he wouldn’t be able to do his volunteer work without Jean’s support. Nevertheless, he takes care to ensure that he does not overdo volunteering work at the expense of other aspects of his life.

Volunteering with animals

Vet Volunteer
Kenneth has spent a lot of time with animals in his 15 years of being a vet. Image source: Kenneth Tong

It is his time with dogs that Kenneth looks back on with fondness.

He says: “During in-camp training, I worked with the dog unit. I felt like I wasn’t going back often enough and I wanted continuity in treating the dogs. So, I volunteered to do more because I enjoyed it.”

Kenneth has been volunteering with the K-9 unit since 2013. Any time they require his help (he’s available round the clock), he does a teleconsultation over Whatsapp.

He explains: “I wouldn’t be able to do it by myself. I work with a team of para-vets at the K-9 unit and I train them to treat the animals. We guide new officers in their roles and they can study for a veterinary science diploma to help them with their work.”

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When he is not looking after police dogs, Kenneth lends his veterinary expertise pro bono at the SCDF’s uniformed volunteer unit, where he is a lieutenant in the Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) K-9 search platoon, caring for the SCDF’s search and rescue dogs.

Kenneth says with a grin: “I am the go-to guy for Home Team dogs.”

Caring for dogs doesn’t stop at Singapore’s borders either. Kenneth volunteers with the International Search and Rescue Dog Organisation (IRO) as part of an international network of dog trainers and vets.

“In 2019, I went to Taiwan to train handlers on how to give first aid to search and rescue dogs. These dogs look for survivors in disasters and we train the handlers to look after the welfare of the animals.”

Vet Volunteer
Kenneth training rescue dogs and their handlers in Taiwan in 2019. Image source: Kenneth Tong

As part of his work with the IRO, Kenneth also conducts training and assessments to ensure that dog handlers are ready to respond effectively when needed. On such assignments, Kenneth’s transport, accommodation and meals are paid for by the IRO, and he provides his veterinary expertise free of charge.

Kenneth sometimes hops on a boat with other vets to vaccinate dogs in kelongs off the coast of Singapore. They do this voluntarily at the request of Npark’sAnimal and Veterinary Service (AVS).

“We do this to protect public health. If a dog has rabies, it can infect a human, and we don’t want that. This is our way of giving back to the community.”

Another way he gives back to the community is not only by volunteering with SPCA, but roping in the five full-time vets at his clinic as volunteers too.

He says: “I can get woken up at 3 am in the morning to treat cases brought to my house. I keep emergency supplies and medication in my car and can treat the animals on the spot.”

Balancing act

Vet Volunteer
Kenneth with his family. Image Source: Kenneth Tong

By now, you must wonder how Kenneth balances all this volunteering with work and family.

Jean, 40, is also a vet and they have a daughter, Alyssae, 7, and a son, Theodore, 4. The family is expecting baby number 3 in a few months’ time.

“It’s about teamwork,” he says. “I cannot do all this volunteer work without my wife’s blessing. She’s understanding and I do my part by not going overboard with all these activities. I appreciate her support.”

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The couple work as a team in caring for their children.

“I send my daughter to school and back. I also send my son to kindergarten before going to work. My children and I have quality bonding time during the commute. When I am working, my wife takes over with the children.”

Kenneth also acknowledges the support from his colleagues at the clinic, who take care of things on the work front when Kenneth is called away. “Even my clients understand when their pets have to be treated by a vet other than me.”

Surely there are sacrifices to be made in such a busy life?

Vet Volunteer
Kenneth in his clinic with one of his patients. Image source: Kenneth Tong

Kenneth confesses that he does have an odd way of saving time.

“I don’t eat lunch. I save one hour a day to do some volunteer work. I love to eat and I eat really fast. With the pandemic, it has become difficult to play golf so that saves me 4 hours. I use that time to do something else instead and make the best use of every adversity.”

Making a positive difference and urging others to do the same is a running theme in the interview. Kenneth isn’t pushy about promoting volunteerism. His earnestness is enough to make me wonder if we could all lend a hand somewhere.

Having shared the myriad ways in which he generously shares his time and knowledge, Kenneth sums it up in this simple statement, “I do a lot of volunteer work. I enjoy volunteering.”

No kidding.

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Top Image: Image Source: Dr. Kenneth Tong