It’s the most wonderful time of the year: our favourite Christmas songs play on loop in malls, supermarkets and cafes, the streets in town are decked in festive paraphernalia, trees and baubles of all sizes imaginable and a palpable sense of joy lingers in the air.
It’s a good time to spread holiday cheer to those around us and this Christmas we’d like to shine the spotlight on a particular group of furry dwellers in the community who are in need of more love and attention – dogs.
For this special series, we speak to celebrity dog owners as they share stories about their adopted furry best friends.
Last week, we spoke to Chantalle Ng, who told us about the ‘mum guilt’ she feels when she has to leave her dog alone at home for the entire day. This week, Belinda Lee shares her story with us as the actress opened up about the way her Japanese Spitz, Man Man, was so important to her that she wanted her to walk down the aisle with her.
Their story began in October 2016, when Belinda went to the Voices For Animals (VFA) shelter to film variety series Hearts and Hugs.
“I took a chair and sat down in the middle of the place where many of the dogs were housed,” Belinda recalled fondly when Toggle spoke to her at her home last month. “There were plenty of cute dogs, of course. I wanted to bring all of them home! But realistically, I knew that I could only care for one because of my schedule.”
Just then, Man Man caught her eye. “She wasn’t the prettiest, or the most excited one out of the bunch. The smaller dogs wanted to get closer to me but couldn’t because they weren’t tall enough, so Man Man came near me, lay down, and let them step on her to reach me,” the actress explained. “I was amazed. It was the first time I saw her, but she was so gentle and giving that I knew that she was the one. She was content just to be physically close to a human being.”
The name Man Man (which means “abundance” in Mandarin) that Belinda picked for her couldn’t be more apt. Man Man was an older dog who was abandoned at the shelter after she was no longer useful as a breeding dog. Having lived most of her life in a tiny cage, there was a lot that she didn’t know about the world.
For one, potty training was something that Belinda was determined to take on. “A volunteer at the shelter told me that I need to be prepared that she will never be able to be potty trained, and that she would pee or poop wherever she wanted in the house,” the 42-year-old said. “I was adamant that Man Man would be able to learn, and that she was fully capable of doing so.”
A few weeks later, during which Belinda dedicated all her time to familiarising Man Man with the house and giving her a sense of home, the Japanese Spitz was fully potty trained, and would only go to her designated pee tray to do her business. It might have taken time and effort, but Belinda shared that it was worth it.
Another aspect that Belinda warned potential adopters to keep in mind is the underlying medical conditions that their furkids might have.
“When I first brought her home, I didn’t know how bad it was. She had black patches all over her skin, and it took two years of vet visits for her to become healthy again. There were a lot of other things, such as her ears, which weren’t in good shape because the breeders just don’t care about how the dogs’ health are, so it was definitely something that reminded me of the realities of how these farms think of the dogs – mere money-making tools,” she explained.
Man Man became such an important part of Belinda’s life that her heart broke when her furbaby was diagnosed with cancer in July.
“The vet told me that it was sarcoma (cancer which affects the connective tissues), and that she wasn’t going to make it. I was heartbroken,” she recalled. “I really miss her, so very much. She is family to me.”
Belinda’s wedding venue, a Peranakan restaurant at Keppel Club, was chosen because it was the only restaurant that would allow Man Man to be ring bearer, walk down the aisle, and dine at the restaurant with them.
“When we booked the venue, I didn’t know that she was sick. She passed away in September, and it all came so quickly and it was a big shock to me,” she said. “I could see from her eyes that she wanted to stay strong and fight, but her flesh was failing her and she couldn’t hang on for too long.”
Knowing that she gave Man Man a good quality of life until the very last moment, Belinda chuckled that her furkid is probably in heaven with her mum, having a ball of a time together.
With no regrets having spent three precious years with Man Man, Belinda added that she will always have her door open to any dogs who need her help, such as those who need a temporary home to live in. However, she won’t be considering adopting another furkid just yet as she wants to dedicate the next couple of months to her husband, American architect David Moore.
She smiled, “We both love dogs, and we talk about Man Man all the time. We talk about her all the time, and one day, when the timing is right, we’d love to welcome another dog to the family again. Even then, I’m sure Man Man will live on in my heart for the rest of my life.”
Share the love this Christmas, find out more about VFA here.