Young people open animal rescue centre

May 23, 2021 - 08:08

In the very busy District 2 in HCM City, there is a peaceful place called R House. Opened by three young Vietnamese and foreigners, R House is a home that rehabilitates and rehomes rescue dogs who have been saved by local shelters.


 The three founders of R House: Alex Ward (left), Geneva Marcelino (centre) and JayT, or Nguyễn Hoàng Thiện.

In the very busy District 2 in HCM City, there is a peaceful place called R House. Opened by three young Vietnamese and foreigners, R House is a home that rehabilitates and rehomes dogs that have been saved by local shelters. The house has many dogs and cats. Việt Nam News reporter Thu Ngân talks with Geneva Marcelino, a founder and co-owner of R House about their activities in Việt Nam as well as their suggestions for people who want to rescue animals.

Children play with dogs at R House. — VNS Photo

Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us about R House and its founders?

R House has three founders. The trio shares a common passion but brings a diverse set of talents to R House. 

Our young group of international dreamers met in Bangkok in 2015, and then in Manila and HCM City in 2016; we took a leap and created something totally unique in 2019.

I'm Geneva Marcelino, from the Philippines. I am the one who came up with the concept, visualising the space and the inclusive community it would build. I have 10 years of professional advertising experience, a degree in Fine Arts, and endless enthusiasm for R House. 

Alex Ward, from the US, is the guest relations and operations officer. You may see him chatting with every guest, making them feel at home and learning more about how they found out about R House. On the backend, he works to improve R House’s processes, operations and sustainability efforts. 

JayT, or Nguyễn Hoàng Thiện, from Việt Nam, is the communications, events and local community guru. A professional translator, MC, events and marketing professional, he ensures our mission, vision and effort are understood well and fully appreciated by our diverse community of locals and foreigners. He is the proverbial glue that brings R House together for our growing and diverse community.

Inner Sanctum: What inspired you to establish R House?

R House is a social enterprise with a unique business model and two branches in Việt Nam, the first in HCM City and second in Đà Lạt. Each branch shares the same core mission of rehabilitating and rehoming rescue dogs who have been saved by local shelters. 

At R House, rescue dogs are provided with a loving home where they can fully heal, socialise, and re-establish trust in humans and other dogs. After spending time at R House, these formerly abused, abandoned, diseased and neglected dogs begin to realise that many humans and other dogs are kind and loving towards them. 

By fully understanding the temperament and background of each rescue dog, the R House Team is able to lead guests to closely interact with the rescue dogs in a safe, controlled, and well-educated manner. 

The concept behind R House was inspired by my and Alex’s first few visits to the Saigon Time Shelter in Bình Chánh District in 2019, when we had just moved to HCM City from the Philippines. We wanted to adopt a dog, but finding a match was quite an overwhelming experience as nearly 100 dogs were competing for their attention once at the shelter. It was fate that brought the large, friendly and calm dog “Nox” directly to me and Alex during our first visit, leading to his adoption after three years at the shelter. 

Seeing the incredible work and effort being put forth by the shelter inspired me and Alex to create a welcoming space right in HCM City where people and rescue dogs could interact in a safe, attractive and enjoyable environment, bridging the gap between the shelters and the potential adopters.

In addition to R House, the trio also runs Pawfect Match, a ‘match-making' adoption platform that pairs rescue dogs from our partner shelters with qualified applicants who have undergone a thorough application process. 

Inner Sanctum: How has R House been operating since the day it opened?

We started work on R House in October 2019, with a soft opening for the first six months as we built out the business plan and scaled our operations in modest and gradual ways. R House started as a very small operation, with just a few team members and products/offerings, that has grown into two branches with 20 staff and more than 50 products available. 

We have faced many challenges and learning opportunities along the way -- the biggest, of course, being the totally unpredicted pandemic which had a significant impact on our entire first year of operations, as it happened just three months after we opened. Closing down, re-opening, adjusting operations and finding ways to support our rescue dogs and team throughout was a very trying experience. As a result, we incorporated many new ideas and strategies which serve us well every day and have made us a stronger team.

From the very beginning, all of the income we earn from our operations goes right back to sustaining R House and providing a loving home for our rescue dogs. R House is fully funded by us, and we so appreciate the kind support we receive from our community, who often donate to our mission and cause -- whether it be for vet bills, supporting our shelter partners or otherwise. Any donation or transaction with our beloved community helps sustain the home and mission to benefit abused or abandoned animals.

Inner Sanctum: Can you share some memorable stories?

We have gone through nearly two years of trials, with both blessings and challenges, and it’s not an overstatement to say our whole lives revolve around R House. The dogs, the mission, and the impact on our community is what propels us to find the motivation, energy and focus necessary to give the absolute best support and care to our pack. Like any business dealing with actual lives, we do experience some heartbreaks in the process but the greater mission and passion we have for making the impact will never be diminished.

Our proudest accomplishment is having successfully adopted out 50 dogs and cats, fostered more than 40 dogs, and helped nearly 30 dogs and cats find foster parents in our first 18 months. 

One amazing thing is thanks to R House, some dogs found their forever homes after spending just a couple of weeks at space, after maybe spending years at the shelter. These amazing animals simply need the exposure and visibility to have their lives changed and change the lives of their adopters forever.

There is a great sense of happiness and joy every time we see one of our dogs being so loved and cared for, truly living their new, best lives. Our work is only a small and continued effort that was started primarily by our partner shelters, who have dedicated their lives for many years to the rescue of over 1,000 animals. We are privileged to be able to do what we can in giving these precious animals another chance to live and be fully loved.

Inner Sanctum: What should people do if they want to support and contribute to animal welfare in Việt Nam?

In Việt Nam, we have seen a growing interest and increased awareness of animal welfare. If you are an animal or pet person, you likely have heard stories about the local shelters that are doing amazing work to give unfortunate and even near-death animals second chances at life, or stories about dedicated individuals who are caring for dozens of dogs or cats at their own homes. 

If you want to support animal welfare in Việt Nam -- especially in this case, for home pets like dogs or cats -- let's start with the simple principle of “Adopt, don't shop”! There are so many deserving dogs and cats at the shelters, waiting for their chance to bring love and joy to a forever home. Adopting a rescue animal will also help to prevent the uncontrolled and unethical breeding of dogs and cats in Việt Nam for personal profit. 

If you can't adopt, you can foster; can't foster, you can sponsor; can't sponsor, you can volunteer, donate, or contribute in your own way by sharing information, knowledge or the important value of this work to your network. Every contribution counts!

Inner Sanctum: What are your plans for R House in the future?

Our main focus now is to build the community, routine engagement and sustainability around R House, now that we have two branches in two locations. Once these two branches are fully sustainable, month after month, we can expand our work and impact each day. As a social enterprise, we are in a unique situation to truly connect and contribute to the community, receiving more love and support than a traditional business. We are committed to raising more awareness about animal welfare, supporting the successful adoption of more animals, changing lives of people along the way. 

Additionally, we strive to more fully connect with organisations, leaders and communities with a similar mindset for rescue -- whether that be for animals, mental health, our planet (sustainability), arts and our souls. 

Last but absolutely not least, after R House Sài Gòn and R House Đà Lạt achieve full sustainability, we are dreaming of having an R House in each major city in Việt Nam. If that sounds a bit crazy, well then call us crazy!  VNS