When four year old Summer spots the school bus pulling up outside the family home in Bukit Timah to pick her up, she cannot contain herself. She spins around in pure elation, jumps on the furniture, and presses her face against the window, her big wet nose leaving a sizeable stain. She’s safely in her crate and all set for travel in seconds, for Summer is a labrador and the much-loved pet of her ‘pawrents’, the Goh family.

It’s no surprise that Summer is excited. Pawsible – Dog Enrichment School in Joo Chiat Road offers the kind of daily timetable and creative fun that would make any human envious. The day starts at 9am, five days a week, with 30 furkids enjoying a relaxed excursion in East Coast Park to stretch their (many) legs. After a short rest, one-on-one classes commence which, alongside learning basic good manners such as “sit” and “stay”, include languages, music, and art. There’s supervised indoor and outdoor playtime, children and animal bonding, and rest periods for canines who can’t keep up with the (literal) young pups. At 3.30pm, everyone prepares for the bus home.

Specialist services

Singapore’s parks and open spaces leave us in no doubt that the Lion City is a dog-loving city-state. According to a Euromonitor International report, the pet dog population in SG during 2023 was around 114,000, up by almost three per cent from 2019. And as the dogs increase, so too does the number of pawrents searching for specialist services to provide their fur babies with the best life possible.

Today there are endless non-traditional pet services that go beyond a simple shampoo and set. Raw diets, staycays, yoga, private plane seats, palliative care, bespoke funerals, estate planning services, and even luxury cruises for dogs are now very much ‘a thing’.
Joy Chia, 43, founded Pawsible in 2012 after a career in the financial industry. “It made no sense at the start as I didn’t want to train dogs, but I was passionate about discovering more about them on a psychological level – who are they, what are they, and what can they do that we don’t already know about?” Joy says.

Joy and Atom practising a doggy duet

After gaining qualifications at the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior (karenpryoracademy.com), Joy opened her enrichment school with the mission to help dogs to grow through empathetic training and a very unique canine curriculum.
“Pawsible’s enrichment lessons came about organically,” Joy explains, sharing that the idea for teaching music developed when she started strumming her guitar during an afternoon nap session. Being careful so as not to stun the animals, she was fascinated by the result. “Some of the fur students would come up and touch the guitar with their nose; a few would tap at the strings; others would confidently strum with their paws.”

Witnessing the intrigue of the dogs, and learning a lot about their cognitive abilities while doing so, Joy began introducing instruments to the one-to-one classes. Macarenas, chimes and tambourines all proved popular. Small poodle Rex is talented on the xylophone. Atom, a Shibu Inu, is particularly into a guitar riff. “Dogs have an amazing sense of hearing so they tend to perk up when they hear a sound, feel psychologically soothed by music, and develop curiosity and confidence through exploring the instruments,” she says.

Connection & trust

Summer on the ‘school bus’

As fur students at Pawsible increased, and more staff joined, it was Joy’s young daughters who inspired her to add art into the school schedule (oh yes, she also had three children while establishing the company). “My girls would return home from pre-school with pieces they’d painted for me, and I realised that dogs could benefit from experiencing artistic expression too,” she says.

Art classes see the dogs doing paw painting and clay work, and Joy likes to set out projects throughout the year. The start of 2024 was spent making Chinese New Year decorations – students dip their paws into paints to make stamp decorations and embellish red packets. They also create pawsome gifts for Mother’s Day, Christmas, and more. “Many dogs dislike you holding their paws to paint, so this exercise is useful to prepare them for getting their nails clipped or going to the vet,” reveals Joy. “It also builds connection and trust between animal and human.”

Languages are also on the enrichment rota. As a bid to bond the dogs with locals who are not so fluent in English, Joy teaches in a variety of languages and dialects including Teochew, Hokkien and Tamil. “From my observation, dogs get a lot of stimulation and satisfaction from being able to do something and get rewarded for it,” she says. “The curriculum at Pawsible offers a lot of mental stimulation which you can visibly see makes them content and happy.”

Doggy gym

The happiness of pets is also the driving force behind Sara Lam’s company, RehabVet Clinic. With an impressive array of treatments on the menu such as massages, herbal medicine, oxygen therapy, laser therapy, acupuncture, and conditioning sessions, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a sanctuary for humans, not for hairy hounds.

Sara, 36, established the company in 2019 due to the fact that while physical therapy and rehabilitation is on tap for people recovering from injuries and surgery, there wasn’t the same care in Singapore for pets. Five years on, she treats all different types of pets, but has around 20 dogs a day who visit for rehabilitation and rejuvenation.

Massages are performed on pooches by trained physiotherapists to decrease swelling and promote circulation. Furry friends are monitored as they wobble atop balancing discs, recline for a spot of light energy laser therapy, or settle down for an acupuncture session to manage conditions such as arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders and anxiety.

Meanwhile, RehabVet’s hydrotherapists assist dogs needing an Epsom salt bath to soothe skin conditions and relieve aching muscles, or prepare them for some healing cryotherapy. Tardis, a six-year-old corgi is a big fan of the onsite doggy gym which includes peanut balls, rocker boards and resistance bands. Romeo (opening pic) loves swimming and the underwater treadmill which not only provides a workout, but also supports joints and improves flexibility.

Sara, third left, with the team at RehabVet

Alternative therapies

Of course, as fun as these activities sound, they are all performed in the name of health and wellbeing. Known as Integrative veterinary medicine (IVM), this relatively new approach to pet care combines conventional and alternative therapies. “Unlike a regular vet, we seek to address the root cause of a pet’s health issues rather than just treating the symptoms,” Sara explains. “We develop individualised care plans that take into account factors such as age, breed, lifestyle, and medical history, to give each pet a brighter future.”

The majority of her patients, Sara says, are suffering from acute or chronic pain in the form of sprains, soft tissue injuries, or nerve pain. “We see a lot of puppies with congenital issues and older dogs with slipped discs, hip dysplasia, arthritis, or who are too elderly for surgery.”

Since opening, RehabVet has treated over 1,500 animals and demand has grown by four hundred per cent since 2020. With a variety of hi-tech healing machines also on offer, it’s the oxygen chamber that’s the showstopper. The human version of the machine – like a large tube you lay inside – has a reported celebrity fanbase including Cristiano Ronaldo and Justin Bieber. With health benefits ranging from increased energy and stamina, better wound healing, improved cognitive function, and pain relief, it’s no wonder that pet lovers are using it to treat their dogs-in-need, too.

The Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber certainly worked for Apple, a 13-year-old silky terrier who was suffering with extreme vertigo. Says Sara, “I’d never seen such a severe case and was losing hope, but after seven daily sessions in a row, Apple began to stabilise and her balance and mobility slowly improved. It was a miracle to witness.” RehabVet’s oxygen chamber is the only one in Asia.

“I believe that through the services we offer, pets can feel pain relief instantly,” Sara shares. “We can visibly see animals easing up and feeling better while we’re treating them. Watching them progress over the weeks or months we work together is an incredible feeling.”

As you can imagine, the pets feel safe and spoilt. “Coming to us is like a fun park for them in comparison to going to a ‘usual vet’,” she laughs. “Animals understand that we’re there to help them feel better. One patient keeps barking at us when we don’t get the laser therapy machine to him fast enough!”

 35 Joo Chiat Road, 427492

 513 Serangoon Road, #01-01, 218154