What will happen to the legacy of the Malay man who loved dogs now that he has passed?
The untimely demise of Pak Mie from a stroke last Sunday left many who knew him in deep shock and sadness. What happens now to Pak Mie’s animal shelter in Kedah? He was the driving force, the heart and soul of that unconventional sanctuary for stray dogs and cats. Muhammad Azmi Ismail, known far and wide simply as Pak Mie, and his wife, Halijah Idris, fondly called Mak Intan, became celebrities when an amateur documentary about their unaided efforts in managing an animal shelter went viral online in 2013. The depiction of Pak Mie lovingly looking after his furry wards – at one point, more than 700 stray dogs and 200 cats – tugged at the heart strings of animal lovers worldwide.
The video struck a particular chord in Malaysia because Pak Mie and Mak Intan are Muslims. Their compassion towards dogs went against the grain of conservative Malaysian Muslims who have been conditioned to look upon dogs as haram – unclean, and therefore, forbidden. But Pak Mie and Mak Intan possessed an extraordinary love for animals from young. They couldn’t bear to see the suffering of homeless, hungry, sick, and unloved strays. “We don’t do this to attract attention,” he once said. “There is nothing glamorous about looking after these dogs – you have to clean them, feed them, pick their kutu (ticks), neuter them … you have to attend to their needs and care for them when they are sick. After all, they are also makhluk Allah (God’s creations) and deserve our compassion and love.”
The couple put the care of the animals above even their own care, giving their all to look after the needs of their four-footed charges. Pak Mie and Mak Intan even stayed over in the shelter sometimes, sleeping in a car, so as to be near the animals and to make sure that no untoward harm – vandals were often a problem – came to them. Pak Mie will forever be associated with his unique shelter and, more importantly, known for his kindness towards dogs. He inadvertently became a symbol of compassion for animals within Islam in Malaysia.
When he collected strays, he said that he looked them straight in their eyes and evoked the name of Allah when he beckoned them to come home with him. There was something touching and mystical when Pak Mie and Mak Intan talked about their relationship with their wards. Their Mother Teresa-like compassion for animals brought them together for, in this, they each found a soul mate and calling in life.
Recently, some of us had discussions with Pak Mie to help him organise the mammoth task of running the shelter more efficiently. It did not come as a surprise when we found out that Pak Mie had encountered difficulties with the authorities and the community – the Alor Star council said he was squatting and had been trying to get him to move the shelter away since 2013.
We felt it was important that Pak Mie, as much as possible and for his own good, work with the system, especially the Kedah State Government and city council authorities, to secure a better future for the shelter. Thus, the name “Restu” (Malay for “blessing”) was conceived for his sanctuary. One of the major problems the shelter faces is that it sits on TOL (Temporary Occupation of Land) government land. We feel it is in the interest of the Kedah Government to allow Restu to continue its operations. After all, it is doing the state an enormous social and public service as far as the welfare of stray animals is concerned.
While we – and many others, we’re sure – would like to invest in the shelter to upgrade it, it is unwise to do so while its premises are in this state of limbo. Unless official permission is given to allow the site to remain where it is, it would be difficult to justify funding. Obviously, it is also in the state’s interest to handle this matter well as – thanks to Pak Mie and Mak Intan’s online fame – Restu is under national and international scrutiny now, especially from the animal lovers’ fraternity.
Now that Pak Mie is no more, the burden of looking after the shelter has been placed entirely on Mak Intan’s shoulders. She has said that she is determined to carry on regardless. However, her resources – financial and physical – are limited, and we anticipate problems ahead. Pak Mie has left us with a memory of a tenaciously dedicated and extraordinarily compassionate individual who was true to his calling till the very end. However, he has also left us with an unresolved legacy in the matter of his shelter for strays, one that remains on the nation’s conscience as far as animal welfare is concerned.
■ Apart from Mak Intan, 68, Pak Mie, who was 57 when he died, is survived by two children and two adopted children.