MR KALAIVANAN Balakrishnan has always had a soft spot for abandoned and stray animals. As a child, he often saw his parents rescue and bring home unwanted pets, so he learnt to love and respect them too.
“I was fond of the stray cats living in my community. My mum used to care for and feed them,” he recalls.
“Once, my dad picked up an abandoned kitten and brought it home. We had a puppy then and it was beautiful to watch them get along and grow old together. They used to play and wrestle each other on our sofa. Those moments made a deep impact on me.”
The 28-year-old bachelor lives with his family in Hougang and now has a cat, terrapin and an abandoned hamster.
So impactful were his childhood memories that he has made rescuing animals in distress and promoting animal welfare his career.
Three years ago, he joined the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) as an animal rescue officer. Today, he is the head of its animal care department, leading the care of 115 rescued reptiles and other wild animals in Acres’ wildlife sanctuary in Jalan Lekar.
Mr Kalaivanan did not actively pursue his passion as a career until 2011.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Product Design (Honours) from the LaSalle College of the Arts in 2010, he worked as a designer in a manufacturing company. Work was enjoyable, but not fulfilling. “I felt something was missing,” he says. “Although I was financially stable, I felt empty inside.”
He quit his job a year later and became a volunteer at Acres, while contemplating his next step. The environment was perfect, so when the local charity offered him a full-time position, he jumped at the opportunity, despite having to take a significant pay cut.
“My family was concerned about how I would cope with my housing and study loans, but some of my friends were supportive and told me to follow my heart,” he says.
In the end, he decided to chase his childhood dream. He says: “I took a calculated risk, made a plan and went all out for it.”
Rescue and care
He has no regrets about his decision because he is doing something he loves now.
He works a rotating shift and takes turns with his team of eight rescue officers to man Acres’ 24-hour wildlife rescue hotline. They are often called upon to rescue injured birds, trapped snakes and endangered species like flying lemurs and pangolins that have lost their way in the urban jungle. To prepare himself for the job, he attended courses overseas to learn how to handle wildlife.
As head of the animal care department, he also plans its operations, from staffing to coordinating the team’s duties. Time is also spent meeting and training volunteers to help out in the rehabilitation of the animals.
Part of his job also requires him to think of ways to enrich the lives of the rescued animals in Acres’ care. Using his design skills, he conceptualises and builds the animals’ enclosures to mimic their natural habitat.
His design background has helped him to solve problems creatively. He says: “As a charity, we are often limited in resources and I’m able to brainstorm viable solutions and make plans based on our resources.”
There is still a lot of work to be done to improve animal welfare in Singapore, he says.
“We can keep rescuing animals but we also need to educate people about the illegal wildlife trade and various other animal welfare issues,” he explains. He has given educational talks here and overseas to increase public awareness of the issue.
“We need to share with people about the abundant wildlife we have in Singapore and how we need to respect and cherish them,” he said.
Following one’s passion also requires a lot of hard work, he feels.
“Pursuing your passion as a career is not a cool or glamorous thing,” he says. “It involves a lot of sacrifices and hard work. It is often more about what you can give rather than what you can get.”
He adds: “It is important to ask yourself how you are able to contribute to the organisation, but at the same time have personal goals to develop yourself and to keep your passion burning.”