Growing up, Amanda Giese dreamt of being either a neonatal cardiac surgeon or a pediatric plastic surgeon. Cue to the present, the Washington-based Giese, now 35, never got to pursue a career in medicine, but she’s in a similar line of work as a caregiver: she’s the founder of Panda Paws Rescue, a non-profit pet adoption service dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating animals with special needs.

“And here I am, now working with animals that required surgeries, so I was always meant to do some kind of work [involving public service and medicine],” says Giese, who’s also a trained phlebotomist and veterinary technician.

Giese is in town to plug her Animal Planet docu-series, Amanda to the Rescue, which follows her work with Panda Paws Rescue, which she runs with her partner Gary Walters, and her children, Beast, 16, and Jade, 14.

“The show has given me a louder platform for my voice to express to people and educate them on animal welfare rights and legislation,” says Giese who sports a GI Jane haircut and whose body is covered with tattoos, many of them inspired by the animals she'd encountered.

Here, the spunky animal welfare advocate tells 8 DAYS over coffee at the Tiong Bahru Bakery in Holland Village, about the fundamentals of adopting animals, losing her cool while caring for the animals, and why her shelter is called Panda Paws Rescue.

8 DAYS: Welcome to Singapore! On your show, Amanda to the Rescue, you not only save destitute animals but you also try to find homes for them. What’s the first rule of adopting animals?  

AMANDA GIESE: It comes from both sides [the adopter and the pet adoption service]. It’s important that the person adopting does his research about where he's getting the animal from. Make sure that it is a legitimate, good rescue shelter that does health testing, the vaccinations, and the spaying and neutering. If he is purchasing an animal, make sure he's not supporting a puppy mill. Make sure he's [getting it from] somebody that’s doing the health testing and spaying and neutering. And also only adopt from somebody who really wants to know more about you, and make sure that you are someone who is a sound person to adopt. Because not everyone is in the right position to adopt, and so as an adopter, you want those rescue groups to know everything about you; you want them to ask you 100 questions. That’s how you know they genuinely care about the future of that animal. And as an animal advocate, someone who’s doing the rescue, it’s important that I get out there and make sure [I find them] a safe, financially responsible home. Do your research on the people who are adopting to make sure that that animal is not just going to get flipped back around into the system. 

I adopted my cat from the SPCA. Actually, he was the one who picked me…

Yeah! Isn’t that the way to do it? Everyone thinks that they want a puppy, but what’s really cool about adult animals — or seniors — is you know what you’re getting. You know their personality, you know their temperament, and there’s something to be said about letting the dog pick you. Because everybody wants that instant connection, and they would go out and pick their pets based on looks, when they really should be picking their pets on temperament and personality, and how they mesh with their own lifestyle.  Make sure it’s someone that’s committed not just today because they’re impulsive. Everyone should look at the pros and cons [at adopting a particular animal], but for some reason, they tend to ignore the cons and fixate on the pros. But really, you should fixate on those cons. It may not be a con for the animal, but it’s a con if you’re going to incorporate their [traits] into your life. Maybe you want a dog that’s great for hiking and travelling, then you probably shouldn’t get, like, a pug. So really do your research on the kind of animal that you’re going to adopt. 

What are the most difficult animals to take care of?

For me, it's the typical dog because they’re confusing. I’m used to all these hot messes (laughs). But I think the most difficult animal to take care of would be a puppy. Because you got deal with the behavioural training —  puppies are a lot of work! Getting into it, if I had to advocate for adopting an animal, I want everyone to adopt adult animals. Because again, you know what you’re getting into; they’ve already had a lot of the training, and they understand humans. But puppies are a tremendous amount of work; they’re more work than kittens because kittens get litter box-trained. Puppies just require a ton of time, and [that could be tough on] most people that work typical nine-to-five or eight-to-12-hour days. 

Have you ever lost your cool?

I don’t really lose my cool. I mean, there’s really no a point to it. If I get ruffled and start to panic or get angry, [I’d just] put a dog in a kennel and walk away for a minute. It’s just like putting a baby in a crib, walk away while they cry for a minute, then come back once you’re calm. That’s the same thing with animals. If I lose my cool, there’s no way for me to express what I’m trying to teach them. Instead, I'd just redirect, start over, and take a deep breath — they’re animals, and we don’t speak the same language. It takes a while to get on the same page with them, so it takes a tremendous amount of patience to run a rescue group. 

Are there animals people want to adopt from you but you have trouble letting them go?

That would be Duncan [Lou Who the two-legged boxer] and Groot [the spaniel] in our pack. We have a couple in our pack that initially came into [Panda Paws Rescue], but they just wormed their way right into our hearts and stayed with us. They’re meant to be part of our pack for life. So it does happen. But I always preach to rescue and adopt within your limits. Having five dogs is definitely my limit, but [for others] maybe one a cat or dog is sufficient [for them]. Maybe some person can do six dogs, but I know five is my limit. We need to have a pack because they help to socialise and train the animals we rescued. Realistically, every single time I add a new one to the pack, I can take one less in the rescue and that’s never a good thing, because I want to continue rescuing as many lives as possible.

Speaking of Duncan, he was involved in a car accident last year while you were on a family vacation in Idaho.

Yeah, [our truck] hit a bison, and it spun around before it took out two telephone poles and rolled five times. Actually, if you noticed when we shook hands, (points to her right hand) these fingers don’t really work. That’s the worst of what happened. Everyone else survived. What happened was I tried to grab the [three] dogs as we were rolling; they were coming across me and I tried to grab the dogs, and my arm and head took out the window so there was damage to my arm, back and neck. But it slowed the dogs down enough that when the two of them [Bulldog and Garnet] were ejected from the vehicle, they were okay. They hit the ground and one of them had a concussion, but Duncan went missing. It was a miracle [we found him later] three miles from the crash site because he survived on two legs in bear country overnight for 16 hours. And he had actually passed away twice! A lot of people don’t know this, but he’d died twice before [caused by complications following a surgery which had his fused legs amputated] and [each time] I performed CPR on him. This dog is a cat! He has nine lives.

Are there any shows on Animal Planet you’d like to do crossovers with?

I would love to do crossovers even with HGTV, which is also [owned by Animal Planet’s parent company Discovery Communications]. They have the Property Brothers; I would love to do something with them, where they’d build some really cool thing [for animals]. And obviously, [I’d love to appear on] Crikey! It’s the Irwins. I would love to immerse myself in the Irwins' world and see for myself what it’s like for them behind the scenes with the animals, and have them immerse themselves in ours and see how probably similar we are. They’re working with giraffes and lions, and I’m working with domestic animals. One thing that’s the same is consistency and repetition on reward-based training, positive reinforcement, redirection, and desensitisation. We’re working with the same skill-sets, but we’re just working with different mammals and reptiles. I think it would be really cool to see how everyone else works.

What do you do for R&R?

The beach is definitely where I’d go to recharge. Going to the beach is my [way of staying sane]. Just sitting at the beach, breathing the ocean air for even an hour is a huge recharge. If I can spend the weekend at the beach, that recharges me. Even if that means I have to bring the foster dogs with me, I’d still get recharged at the beach. Also, this was important for me: instead of buying gifts and doing over-the-top things for Christmases and birthdays, I’d ask my children when they were little if they rather have gifts or go on a vacation, and they said they wanted [the vacation for] the experiences and memories. And so, I’ve been taking them on vacations once a year since they were little, and that’s kind of where I recharge. It’s where I step away from the rescue and the animals and just have a genuine vacation. But it always ends with us doing some kind of humanitarian work where we’d bring [some animals] back with us. But it’s true, all my friends and family know that if you go on vacation with me they’ll end up doing something humanitarian (laughs).

By the way, why do you call your rescue shelter Panda Paws Rescue?  

In hindsight, I probably would have thought of something different. But I’m Amanda, and growing up, people named Amanda get called Amanda Panda. So it’s kind of a play on my nickname. But people actually asked if I rescue pandas and I’m like, “Of course, I do! You should see how much bamboo we go through (laughs).” Everyone wonders if we actually adopt-out pandas. It’s very interesting. I don’t, but if I got the chance, I would be all over it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Amanda to the Rescue airs Tues, Animal Planet (Singtel TV Ch 208), 9.55pm.

Photos: Amanda Giese, Animal Planet