Champion of animal rights
She once disguised herself as a laboratory technician so she could find out how animals were being used for research in laboratories. Another time she posed as an animal collector and managed to rescue six baby orang utans and two gibbons from wildlife smugglers.
Marjorie Doggett spent her entire adult life fighting for the rights of animals. Born in 1921 in Sussex, England, Marjorie grew up surrounded by animals on her grandfather’s farm. Her activism began when she was 16 and attended a talk at her school about how animals were used in laboratories. She suddenly realised just how much suffering animals had to endure at the hands of humans.
Marjorie moved to Singapore in 1947 with her husband, Victor Doggett, who was posted here by the Royal Air Force. In 1960, a year after Singapore gained self-government, the Doggetts became Singapore citizens.
Soon after arriving in Singapore, Marjorie noticed the plight of stray animals. Together with another expatriate lady, she began rescuing cats from Singapore’s streets. There were few veterinarians in Singapore in those days, so Marjorie would rush injured cats in her car to the sole government-run Animal Infirmary in Kampong Java.
This was the beginning of what is now the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). In 1954 the organisation, then known as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was formally set up with premises at Orchard Road.
Marjorie worked ceaselessly to raise awareness of cruelty to animals. She wrote many letters over the years to The Straits Times’ Forum page about a whole range of animal welfare issues, and was regularly quoted in the media. She built up an extensive library of material about animal welfare, and her knowledge of the wildlife trade and the use of animals in research laboratories made her a useful resource for policymakers.
Marjorie’s contributions to animal welfare extended beyond the SPCA. In 1982, she became the advisory director with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and the Secretary of the International Primate Protection League (IPPL). She also played a role in the formation of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES).
While animal welfare was the passion and work of her life, Marjorie also had a keen interest in photography. She was a talented photographer with an eye for historical buildings. In her first decade in Singapore she photographed many Singapore buildings and in 1957 her book Characters of Light: A guide to the buildings of Singapore was published by Donald Moore. Many of the buildings have since been demolished. Marjorie’s work in documenting Singapore’s history was featured in the 2007 documentary The Invisible City by filmmaker Tan Pin Pin.
In 2005, her declining health kept her mostly at home and inactive. But her interest in animal welfare continued, and when friends from the SPCA visited her she was eager to find out what was happening and to offer her views. Marjorie died in 2010, aged 89.
"The amount of ignorance is incredible. People actually think it is illegal to feed strays and treat me like I committed a crime. That is when you nearly fold up and think, well, I would not do anymore because it is impossible. But you got to carry on. Once you know, you cannot sit back and do nothing."
- Doggett fight against cruelty to animals, The Straits Times, 16 February 2001, Page 12