Adeline with her therapy animals. All photos courtesy of Adeline Wong.

The little bird moves around the cage using its beak to grip the bars. It is a sight at once funny and forlorn. Born with legs too deformed to hold up its little body, the lovebird is one of a pair of siblings. Its brother, also crippled from birth, had long since died.  

“My heart went out to him the moment I saw him,” said Adeline Wong, 46, founder and director of HIM (Human-animal bond in Ministry).

It was Skye’s resilience in the face of deformity that drew Adeline to him.

HIM incorporates animals in its support of those affected by crime – prisoners, ex-offenders and their families – as well as the marginalised.

“My heart went out to him the moment I saw him.”

The bird was living in Christian half-way house The Hiding Place. Adeline, who had brought a client whom she was counselling to admire the aviary there, was so moved by the little bird’s resilience, she asked if she could adopt it.

Now Skye is part of the menagerie Adeline has as part of her social enterprise.

“Skye is a unisex name because I can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl. I named it Skye because it was without a name and I wanted a name that shows resilience.

“Birds are supposed to fly in the sky. Even though it can’t, it still found a way to move around.”

Helping the wounded move on is something Adeline personally understands and why she started HIM.

Called to care with animals

Adeline was about 30 when she found out the truth about her father. She had never met him and had been told by her mother that he had died of an illness. In reality, he had been hanged for trafficking drugs for a friend. It was only after his arrest in 1976 that her mother discovered she was pregnant with Adeline.  

“Animals is one of my passions.”

Emerging from the shadow of secrecy and shame, Adeline developed a deep empathy for those impacted by incarceration.

In time, she found a job at the Family Care Ministry of Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS), attending to the families of inmates.    

Then God started speaking to her about starting a social enterprise during an annual silent retreat. At first, she thought it would be something done under the auspices of PFS.

“I never thought of leaving the ministry because it was my family.”

At her silent retreat the following year, God impressed upon Adeline to do animal-assisted therapy, a form of therapy that involves pets in the recovery treatment of people.

Working with animals is nothing new to Adeline. In her 20s, she and a friend ran a pet grooming salon that also sold pet products.

“Animals is one of my passions. I’ve loved animals since young. But I only had pets when I started working.”

Participants in HIM activities get to be up close and personal with Adeline’s animals as part of the programme.

Rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, fish, a tortoise, a cat and a dog – she had a mini zoo at home. Still, using animals in therapy is vastly different from caring for pets and Adeline had to get herself certified as an animal-assisted psychotherapist.

In 2021, more than seven years after God first spoke to her about starting her own social enterprise, Adeline left PFS to start work on HIM. The social enterprise provides animal-assisted psychotherapy and activities, as well as substance abuse counselling.   

The Emmaus Room

Even before HIM officially started, Adeline saw providence at work. 

“My new place would be where people would meet Jesus and be healed.”

In 2020, she received a letter to tell her that her Build-To-Order (BTO) flat was ready.

She had planned to use her new home to host cell group meetings as well as visiting pastors and missionaries. But being 2020 and the beginning of a global pandemic, there would be no meetings and no overseas guests.

“Then God spoke to me from Luke 24, the passage on the Road to Emmaus, about hope, healing and recovery. The two disciples walked to Emmaus and met Jesus along the way. They were sad and in despair. Their world was down and hopeless.

“The turnaround came when they realised that Jesus was the one they were speaking to. Encountering Jesus was where the healing and recovery took place and life was transformed. 

Rabbits are included in HIM’s activities for the elderly.

“I realised my therapy place would be where people would meet Jesus and be healed. That’s why I call my new place the Emmaus Room.”

Her animal friends

Then came the therapy animals, one by one, all for free.

“When I adopt an animal, the important thing is the bonding.”

“All my animals came to me through God’s orchestration. At first, I thought to import a trained and certified therapy dog. But it was during COVID and to import one would cost up to S$50,000.

“So I prayed about it because I cannot have no animals and one of the most powerful animals for therapy is a dog.”

A pastor friend who had adopted a poodle encouraged Adeline to try adoption. When she visited the animal shelter, one dog walked right up to her. She had been rescued from a puppy farm that had used her to breed puppies and had not wanted her anymore when she got older.

“When I petted her, she just stayed with me. When I carried her, she was calm. I felt she was the one.”

Cleopas, named after one of the two disciples who walked to Emmaus, became the first therapy animal at HIM.

Adeline trained her following an online course and even had an evaluator flown in to Singapore to get Cleopas certified as a therapy dog.

Cleopas the mini poodle was the first animal Adeline adopted for HIM.

Three cats, four rabbits, six guinea pigs and Skye, the lovebird, have since joined the HIM team.

All are adopted and have their own redemption story. All have also had their temperaments assessed to ensure that they are suited to socialising with people. 

The various animals of HIM.

“When I adopt an animal, the important thing is the bonding. I need to know them and they need to know me.

“I spend at least three to four hours a day on pet care – feeding, grooming, cleaning.”

The way God moves

Another major challenge has been funding. The care of the animals and operating costs come up to a five-figure sum every month. But each time Adeline thinks she cannot make ends meet, supporters show up.

One of the most miraculous provisions has been the van Adeline uses to transport the animals.

“I have witnessed how God provided for His ministry.”

When she started out, she rented her ride. But she soon realised the company did not allow their cars to be used for transporting animals. Getting her own vehicle would cost at least $1,000 a month, money she did not have.

“But I trusted God for His will and provision for the ministry needs in His ways and perfect time.”

A week later, a couple friend visited HIM to find out about its work and was so moved, they pledged to support the ministry. The amount God impressed upon them to give was exactly what Adeline needed to have a van of her own – $1,000 a month.

Another friend offered her an interest-free loan for the cost of the van, saving her more than $8,000. Even the seller of the van helped out, giving her an almost $900 discount.

“I was so amazed to witness how God’s intervention and provision can come in such ways and timing for the need of the ministry.

“Ever since the step of faith into an unknown, I have witnessed how God has provided.” 

For Him alone

HIM is not merely an acronym for the work Adeline does. It is also a reminder that all she does is for God, the ultimate “Him” in her story.

HIM works with people of all ages, including the elderly.

In HIM, all Adeline’s experience with animals and at PFS has found a fitting outlet. HIM works with individuals, churches, charities, schools, homes, halfway houses, senior centres and PFS.

“It has been a big step of faith for me.”

The animals either sit in during the therapy sessions or are brought to larger group events where participants can pet, groom, feed and play with them. 

“The animals form a bridge during therapy sessions. Like when I worked with a mother and a youth, caring for the animals and doing activities with the animals helped them develop a bond with each other. It helped them move out of their comfort zone.

“It’s been scientifically proven that when someone pets an animal, oxytocin hormones – also known as love hormones – are released. This helps reduce anxiety and stress.

“Animals don’t see our past or our flaws. Our clients feel that they are being loved and accepted without judgement. The animals’ vulnerability and gentle side also draws out the same from the boys and ex-offenders we work with.”

Beyond that, the animals are used for object lessons to draw out certain truths or principles.

Youths participating in HIM activities getting up close and personal with Adeline’s rabbit.

“If I’m dealing with someone with depression, the issue may be that they don’t see certain strengths in themselves. To draw out their strength, I had a client interact with a rabbit and asked what strengths can be observed in a rabbit.

“So a rabbit may have strong hind legs to kick and run for safety. This made the person realise that even she has strengths, and then reflect about herself and the strength she was not even aware of.”

Every therapy and every activity, therefore, requires planning and creativity to match person to animal.

Studies have shown that petting an animal can reduce stress.

Apart from animal-assisted therapy and activities, HIM also offers animal-related services and training including pet photography, grooming, creation of pet food and treats. It sells animal-related and animal-inspired products as well. All these go towards funding the work Adeline does.

The two-year journey has been challenging but she has had no regrets.

“It has been a big step of faith for me. My faith has grown seeing how God keeps providing in His perfect timing.”


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.