A Boey and His Dog: In Conversation with Daniel Boey on Rescue Dogs, Pet Care and New Book ‘We Adopted!’
As the saying goes, a dog is a man’s best friend. But for Singapore’s ‘Godfather of Fashion’ Daniel Boey, Leia is more than that – she’s family.
More importantly, Leia isn’t just any dog Daniel walked into a store one day and ‘purchased’, but a dog with a tragic past who was rescued from a pet farm, in need of love, care and rehabilitation. “When bringing a dog into your home, you have to make sure you’re the right fit for them and vice versa,” Daniel explains. “I got to know about an adoption drive from a friend, who told me there was this beautiful ‘young whippet’ up for adoption. I met Voices for Animals founder Derrick, who sent me a photo of the dog and I went ‘wait, this ain’t no whippet!’ But when I met Leia (then Elia), there was this instant connection, and it made me realise that it’s the dog that chooses you, not the other way around.”
This was back in October 2017, making it almost two years since Daniel welcomed Leia, a Weimar-Dobe mix, into his home. Rechristening Elia as Leia was a symbolic and important gesture that not only helped strengthen that bond between her and Daniel, but also represented rebirth into her new life. Says Daniel: “I chose the name Leia because it sounds pretty close to Elia, and made the transition process easier for her. Plus, I’m a Star Wars fan anyway!”
The adoption process is never easy though, whether for first time dog owners or even experienced ones. Says Daniel: “For first time dog owners, choosing a dog can be disastrous if they don’t know the challenges of the breed, and end up either mistreating it or putting it up for adoption when they realise they can’t handle it. Especially for a lot of parents, they buy a dog simply because their kids want one, and don’t realise how much effort and responsibility it takes.”
“Even though I’m not a first time dog owner, the last time I had a dog in the house was in 1991, before he passed on. So it’s been over 25 years since I last had a dog, and lots of things have changed a lot from then to now,” Daniel adds. “When I made the decision to adopt Leia, I knew I would have many adjustments to make. When I brought her in, it was a busy period for work, but I knew I had to dedicate some time to help her settle in, so I took a month of leave in December to bond with her, take her to surgery, and care for her after. That initial period is so important that you absolutely cannot miss – time you have to spend together to teach them, bond with them and bring them into your life.”
Throughout our talk, Daniel constantly stresses the importance of self-education and doing as much research as he possibly could in the lead-up to Leia’s arrival to ensure she would receive the best possible care. “There’s no longer any excuse for anyone to be feigning ignorance about proper pet care,” he explains. “We live in a time where information is freely available, and you could go on YouTube and do a quick Google search and everything is waiting for you. I equipped myself with knowledge on everything, from nutrition to training to making my house a safe space, which goes beyond taking away sharp objects she could hurt herself with, but even removing money plants and other potentially toxic plants from my garden.”
Before taking her in, Leia’s condition was severe, having been abused back on the pet farm as a breeding dog and incurring several injuries, such as in both her hind legs, and is still undergoing various forms of therapy even today. Says Daniel: “It’s so important to know your own dog’s past, and whether there’s a history of abuse, neglect or even knowing their breed so you can pre-empt potential health issues. Going up and down stairs is stressful on her legs, and as her carer, I have to make sure she remains muscular. It’s not just for aesthetic purposes – I’m aware that at some point she’ll suffer from arthritis, and she’ll continue weakening in future. I keep her between 22 and 24 kilos so the body weight isn’t so stressful on her legs.”
Comparing dog care methods in the past and present, Daniel expresses regret that when his previous dog Ah Hock was around in the 80s, his family would follow his then-trainer’s advice, putting a choke chain on him, and not allowed indoors. Often, Daniel would even sneak out the back door at night to sleep with Hock in his kennel because he couldn’t bear the thought of hearing him cry himself to sleep. Daniel explains: “In the past, training dogs was all about instilling fear in them, with methods such as an electric collar and physical punishment. But now, that mindset has thankfully changed, and we want dogs to be motivated to do the right thing rather than afraid of doing the wrong thing. Even when they do commit a mistake, my belief is that the dogs must be made to understand what it is they did wrong, so they wouldn’t do it again. With Leia’s difficult past as an ex-breeding dog, I also wanted to help her move on from there without inflicting pain on her.”
It’s evident that Daniel loves Leia very much, and has spared no expense in keeping her in the best shape and that only the best care doctors can give. He says: “Having a pet is a lot like having a baby of your own, where you’d only ever want the best for them, which should apply to owners and their pets as well.”
“People don’t see animals in the same way they do humans; apparently now there’s even this new practice where pet owners who cannot afford to care for an animal full-time ends up ‘renting’ them out to complete strangers who do not have pets themselves. If you want to play with animals, visit a cafe or go volunteer at the shelter, instead of encouraging such harmful initiatives.”
After adopting Leia, Daniel was consistently and continually approached by more dog lovers when he shared her story, introducing him to an entire community of people who genuinely wanted to help dogs or were rescue dog adopters themselves. Listening to their stories and spurred on by his own experience in adopting Leia, Daniel ended up collecting these tales into a single anthology of stories. Titled We Adopted!, the collection features inspiring, deeply personal accounts of local rescue dogs who found salvation in caring owners, each one a miraculous tale of resilience as they bounced back from the brink of death and start life anew, learning to trust humans once again.
Says Daniel, who is already the published author of two books: “All three of my books are non-fiction, but of the three, this one is the one that’s closest to me. Across all three, I discuss issues of my eczema, fashion and my love for dogs, but it’s only in this book that all three were well-balanced and came together in a way that I really wanted. Partially, it’s because I’ve had such a good editor I could trust in and believes in me, and a lot of autonomy over the design and content of the book, coupled with the lessons learnt and experience gained from working on the other two books prior.”
Commenting on the unique cover design, Daniel explains: “The cover was designed by artist Samantha Lo, and it takes inspiration from classic fashion magazine covers, like Vogue’s illustrated covers with a masthead prior to Diana Vreeland and Anna Wintour’s dramatic photo aesthetic. Sam admitted she’s never designed a book cover before, but I had full confidence in her, telling her to maintain my sensibilities while surprising me, keeping it quintessentially Singaporean but still accessible to an international audience. What eventually happened was that I showed Sam a bunch of photos of Leia, and asked her to pick the image that most inspired her. She ended up picking an accidental photo, when Leia was at her most casual lying on a tiled floor, and it just worked.”
With less people reading physical books these days, We Adopted! was designed to be easy to read for just about anyone, that one could simply pick up and read bite-sized stories at their leisure. The unique contents page also helps – listed alphabetically and not by chronological page order, readers can direct themselves immediately to whichever dog’s journey they wish to read about without having to make their way through the entire 280-page hardcover tome. Not that it’s difficult to read – each story is told in Daniel’s signature exuberant, sassy style of writing that makes the narrative voice clearly his, and a breeze to enjoy over a single afternoon as a whole.
“The book itself represents an evolution of ideas, and the more I talked to dog owners, the more the stories I heard ended up shaping this book and its structure,” says Daniel. “The biggest challenge was figuring out how to make reading sexy again, and encourage youths, who live in a time where reading is limited to 3-5 minute articles on Facebook, to pick up a book. So I consider this book a product of the internet age, where each story ends up easy to read on its own if you just flip to it. Traditional books are read from cover to cover, but for my book, I made sure that it could be read in any order, with the contents page especially ordered not by page number, but alphabetically according to each dog’s name. This puts the spotlight on the dogs, and makes it easy to find a specific story if you’re looking to read about one particular dog.”
Like his previous books, Daniel incorporates his love for fashion into the content itself, with every story accompanied by stunning editorial fashion spreads, bringing beautiful models with equally beautiful dogs. The twist? Each dog is actually a rescue dog, with their own histories of abandonment and abuse, now recovered and styled to perfection.
“The photos in the book actually came about when I was asked to do a fashion spread by a certain magazine,” says Daniel. “They wanted to showcase dogs and models, and I told them that I would only work with rescue dogs for the shoot. Their response was that rescue dogs ‘do not cater to our demographic of readers’. There was a lot of fighting on my part where I even suggested to showcase a mix of pedigree and Singapore Specials, but to no avail. In the end, without telling them, I went ahead with my plan anyway, and it was virtually impossible to tell which were the pedigree dogs and which were the Singapore Specials. They never used the photos, and I kept the rights to them, and here we are.”
These photos are also linked to SPCA’s 2018 edition of Tux For Tails, an annual benefit gala committed to raising funds for the SPCA Clinic, where Daniel conceptualised a fashion shoot starring 14 rescue dogs and 5 dog loving Singaporean models for the souvenir magazine and runway show. It was this photoshoot that was also key to the idea behind publishing We Adopted!
Says Daniel: “My involvement with Tux For Tails happened quite coincidentally. The organiser, Brandon Barker, first introduced himself to me one day when we were both catching a show at the theatre. But we never talked to each other at all thereafter, until he found out that I adopted Leia. He messaged me and told me that he was chairing Tux For Tails, and asked if I’d like to be involved. We talked it out and decided that it wasn’t a case of just sitting around and hearing sad stories about dogs. Instead, it’s about being celebratory, about bringing people together and having a ball of a time, specifically, a fashion ball – which was Brandon’s idea.”
Coming back to the idea of adoption, Daniel hopes that the release of his book will help encourage more people to look towards adoption as a viable and more attractive option these days as opposed to simply buying. Says Daniel: “I think the word adoption has changed a lot in recent years. It used to be a lot more negative because rescue dogs would be considered second-tier to pure breeds, who would be bought as a status symbol and a source of bragging rights.”
“Adoption is now a badge of honour,” he adds. “When you adopt, you’re saving a life, which is way more reason to brag than walking into a pet shop and proving you have the means to buy a dog. You have more empathy, and become a better person when you adopt. Of course, not everyone can or should adopt, but you must be responsible even when buying puppies, and ensure the breeder is a trustworthy one.”
Says Daniel: “I have this tattoo of Hock, which was designed by Gabriel de Souza of Caracal. But I’m not getting one of Leia just yet, because I think tattoos of significant people are to act as memories. Leia is very much still well and alive, so I’m going to be celebrating her each and every day without having to brand her onto me.”
Daniel concludes: “When a dog comes into your life, it is not their privilege, it is yours, because they’re a blessing. Leia has had a profound impact on my life. I’m known for my temper sometimes, but after Leia came into my life, I realised that I just needed a sounding board or someone to talk to before just chilling out at the end of the day. And that someone wasn’t necessarily a person. I’ve apparently stopped scolding people as much, and people have even commented that I’m smiling a lot more now.”
With the release of We Adopted! then, Daniel celebrates the existence of the entire community of dog lovers in Singapore, opening their hearts and homes to these canines and the unbreakable bond each adopter shares with their adoptee. Each story inspirational in its own way, there are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the collection, and hopefully, every reader who picks up a copy of the book becomes motivated to be continue being good pawrents to their dogs and spread that generosity and unconditional love to all creatures great and small.
Photos from Daniel Boey and Leia’s Instagram @look_its_leia