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a photo of a PawsUp staff member holding three puppies
Brighter Tomorrow,  Featured

PawsUp and Hands Out For The ‘Untouchables’   

Country of Origin: Brunei

“When 20 people showed up at our 0.3 acre property during the 2020 COVID lockdown, I thought it was the best thing that ever happened to us,” said founder Jay Lau as he recounted the start of his organization, PawsUp.

Jay Lau brings some strays home 

Hailing from Brunei, the tropical kingdom in South East Asia known for its oil wealth and small land area, Lau decided one day to run a shelter for strays. After living and working in Australia for 16 years, he came back to his hometown for Chinese New Year. Though stuck due to travel restrictions, this did not stop Jay from choosing basic kindness by bringing stray dogs home in an old Toyota Kijang (a popular four-wheel drive vehicle here). This was the beginning of PawsUp, a last resort and sanctuary for street hounds and abandoned felines. Just as people revile the homeless, they also view strays as untouchable. 

Pioneering animal welfare in Brunei

In a society that largely turns a blind eye to the plight of strays, the journey of PawsUp is a testament to the power of kindness and perseverance.

Lau now works as Chief Financial Officer for a large technology firm in Brunei. His organization’s foray into the world of animal welfare began when he noticed strays around his neighborhood.

Unlike in much of the Western world, where people can pay the city council or shelters to pick up strays, our country of Brunei has no such system. On top of that, we don’t have a public shelter for abandoned pets either. Cultural beliefs like not wanting to spay or neuter cats or dogs also persist, swelling  the population of strays even more. 

The fate of these strays is so often a cruel one as many become the victims of poisoning. Our society is said to hate dogs due to misunderstood beliefs around the ritual impurity of dogs. This spills over into the mistreatment of street hounds. Lau makes sure acts of cruelty to animals submitted to him go viral on Instagram to raise awareness regarding the challenge of caring for strays. 

Instead of ignoring the issue like many others in the city, Lau says we should choose basic kindness. 

Fueled by community support as well as compassion

Starting with just a handful of furry companions in makeshift shelters at five different properties he rented, Lau soon realized the enormity of the task at hand. The challenges were plenty – from financial constraints to societal resistance. Bruneian inhabitants, like those in many other urban centers around the world, harbor a deep-seated animosity toward strays. Yet Lau and his five-person team of full timers have persevered, fueled by the belief that every living being deserves compassion.

As the shelter grew and settled into three stable rented properties, so did the need for manpower. Juggling his demanding job as a financial officer with the responsibilities of running a stray shelter was no easy feat. Lau found himself stretched thin, facing the risk of burnout. It was at this crucial juncture that he sought a lifeline from an unexpected source – Brunei’s own national university.

The University of Brunei Darussalam graciously collaborates with PawsUp by sending two interns every month to help lighten the load of  its overstretched operation. Lau hopes this partnership will go on for at least five more years. 

Members of the public do not understand how the logistics of running a shelter work, Lau says. “Not only do our staff and volunteers cook until 4pm every day to feed our shelter’s animals, we also feed strays until we can spay and neuter them,” he adds. 

“People also text us frequently, asking us to relocate animals they find on the streets. There is also a demand for cheaper spay and neutering services. The latter problem being caused by either poverty or the taboo surrounding such an act,” Jay shares. 

The goal of PawsUp is clear–to continue the partnership with UBD University is one thing, but they also need funding and time. Most of the shelter’s operations come out of Lau’s pocket. He has personally racked up more than US$11000 in veterinary bills that have still to be paid. On top of this, he sees the need for a cheap spay and neutering service for low-income pet owners. Cats and dogs are very popular after all. 

He understands that sustainability is key to the shelter’s longevity and for preventing burnout among his full-time staff. The influx of interns from our national university not only eases the workload but also fosters a community of like-minded individuals dedicated to making a difference.

In a society that often overlooks the plight of strays, Jay Lau stands out as a champion of charity. His journey from a pandemic-grounded accountant to a stray shelter owner is a testament to the transformative power of kindness and good financial responsibility. Through the PawsUp community, he is not only saving lives but also nurturing the next generation of compassionate humans.

His message to others for the new year is for everyone to at least leave street animals alone. Leave them unharmed even if they are untouchable. Now that’s choosing kindness at the very least.

Congratulations to PawsUp’s impactful animal welfare work in Brunei Darussalam. The project was honored by the DG Sentinel Brighter Tomorrow award on January 16 2024, for its efforts in promoting care and sanctuary for stray animals. On behalf of our Brighter Tomorrow team, thank you for taking the time to be interviewed.

DG Sentinel emblem for Brighter Tomorrow

If you are interested in submitting a piece to the DG Sentinel, please visit our submissions page here.

Hello I am from Brunei, a little kingdom in Southeast Asia on the Island of Borneo. I am an avid reader who's into psychology and neuroscience at the moment. Trying to be a better version of myself as a fit writer and editor. All things in the humanities intrigue me. Follow me on Instagram @danialbzl

4 Comments

  • Aasim

    The amount of strays we have in brunei is astounding. Not gonna lie, going back home and seeing stray dogs being treated as if they are objects is heart wrenching. Not to mention, on how some people would actually try to harm them even though the dogs didn’t even do anything. Thank you pawsup cor creating a sanctuary for them, and maybe help them to find a second home!! <3

  • Abu Danial

    Thank you once again for the opportunity to write! We rarely get the chance to talk about social issues meaningfully in Brunei. Hope this gets around.

  • Kim D.

    What a heartwarming story! Jay Lau’s dedication to helping strays in Brunei is truly inspiring. It’s wonderful to see someone taking action to make a positive difference in their community, even amidst challenges. Kudos to Jay and his team at PawsUp for their compassion and commitment to animal welfare.

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