Haoting Chow is a veterinarian, entrepreneur, and author based in Singapore. In this episode, Haoting discusses personal growth, as well as ethics in animal medicine. A leader in Singapore’s veterinarian circles, Haoting has also authored numerous books on personal growth and productivity.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
KrASIA (Kr): Can you share with us your personal and professional interests?
Haoting Chow (HC): I’m a veterinarian, author, and entrepreneur based in Singapore. I spend half the week working as a private vet, and other days at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA)’s Community Animal Clinic. I’m also a committee member of the Singapore Veterinary Association. In my free time, I write self-help books that can be found on Kindle, exploring human psychology and the meaning of life.
Kr: Talk about what your hometown means to you.
HC: The first thing that comes to mind is relationships. I cherish my family and friends very much. Born and bred in Singapore, I studied veterinary medicine in Melbourne, Australia for six years but returned to practice and spend time with family here.
Kr: Do you apply what you’ve learned in veterinary studies to other aspects of your life?
HC: I would say I learned more along my journey to becoming a vet, rather than the course material itself. Vet school fees were not cheap and took a toll on my family’s finances. There was a period of time where I almost had to drop out of vet school because of the costs.
That is how I started exploring ways to earn my own money. I really learned how to expand the mind, pick up useful skills, and maximize my personal capabilities. I also took insights from thought leaders, including the application of the 80/20 rule. All of this was to ease the financial burden on my family, in the process of becoming a vet.
Kr: You’ve written, “So many of us are merely living an empty shell under the influence and pressure of modern society. When truthfully, we are actually capable of so much more.” Could you elaborate on this point?
HC: It’s got to do with being brought up in an Asian society. There are just certain rules governing how we are supposed to think and behave, and what we are supposed to do. In Singapore, we are taught to strive for high-paying jobs, eventually leading us to material goods and luxury. We even have the 5 Cs as listed – cash, car, condominium, credit card, and country club membership – material items that people value the most.
But I think we should all take a step back and think. Do I really need all this stuff? What did I wake up this morning for? As I work every day, is it just for the paycheck to spend on material goods or can I find meaning in this job?
It ties in with my career as well. When I talked about being a vet, my parents had their doubts. We did research and knew that school fees would be expensive, career prospects were not super amazing and the life of a vet would not be easy. But even with the question of whether it would be “worth it,” I’m glad that my parents chose to support me all the way. Being a vet was something I really wanted for myself and I’ve accomplished my career goal now.
Kr: Is this sense of direction and positivity something that you’ve developed over the years? Or was it something you always had?
HC: When I was young, I didn’t actually think much about what I wanted in life. I was just going with what my Asian family and parents expected of me. But as I served National Service around the age of 20, I was lucky enough to attend a seminar by Anthony Robbins, sent by my mother – which turned out to be “life-changing” for me. His words were so impactful that I remember them even now. And he changed my perspective of life in different ways.
He rightly pointed out, “Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year, and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade.” I’m typically an impatient person so I tend to expect a lot in a short amount of time. But I fail to consider the bigger picture or the long-run outcomes at times. So this quote truly resonated with me.
It made me realize that I needed to think long term, rather than focusing only on short term rewards. I needed foresight and forward planning, to have my own direction in life. I needed to find my passion, set my goal, and work towards it.
Direction aside, having a goal also meant I needed positive energy to work towards it. Much of the positivity arose from my personal experiences. As mentioned, vet school fees were exorbitant to my family – a whopping SGD 300,000 in total – and we were struggling to pay, by the semester. It was facing difficult times that taught me that the bigger the obstacle and the bigger the dream, the stronger I need to be in terms of mindset and skillset.
Kr: Where do you think we have failed in protecting animal rights? What are the key areas we should focus on?
HC: Speaking of animal rights, one of the hotly debated topics would be euthanisation. There’s no clear-cut answer to such an ethical issue. Even for human euthanisation, different countries with their healthcare and judicial systems treat it differently.
There was a particularly controversial case in Singapore earlier this year. A dog was euthanized due to behavioral issues and severe aggression towards its owners. Being a vet and dog lover, I felt it was a very sad situation. But I understand that there was a need to protect human beings around the dog as well.
Not everyone holds the same view. In fact, many dog lovers in Singapore were outraged by the act of euthanisation. They took it online and even tried to “hunt down” the vet who performed the procedure. The situation was extremely chaotic. Even now, the government engages industry thought leaders every week, including vets and animal welfare groups, to discuss and create a better framework for the protection of animal rights. It’s an ongoing process.
Kr: How did this incident pan out and what are your views on “healthy euthanasia”?
HC: As part of the Singapore Veterinary Association committee, I was actually involved in the investigation for this particular case. We had to obtain more information, understand the rationale behind euthanizing that dog, and undergo further rounds of discussion. Eventually, the conclusion was no foul play.
Nonetheless, I understand where animal lovers are coming from, and why they are concerned about the euthanisation policies. Apart from determining if it is right or wrong, there’s an element of monetary reward that we should consider. People have accused vets of performing euthanisation procedures for the profits. It’s possible, but not necessarily the case.
In reality, the pet care and grooming fees contribute so much more than a procedure worth SGD 200. After six years through vet school, with many studying overseas before returning to Singapore, I would say that vets are not always just money-minded.
Ultimately, I do believe that “healthy euthanasia” is one that disregards any profit incentive, but focuses on the needs of the animal that has to be put down. We have to consider the rationale for euthanizing very seriously. For instance, a behavioral issue like aggression usually stems from an underlying medical condition, which could be a result of another medical condition, and so on. There are many layers to uncover. Upon determining the root cause of the problem, there is also an element of judgment, whether it can be resolved via treatment, with euthanisation as a last resort. Therefore, “healthy euthanasia” is an ongoing discussion for all of us.