Friday, November 13, 2015

Not just a Pet – Two NYP Students Share Their Experiences

Growing up with the trauma of being chased by a dog and scratched by a cat, I always frowned upon pet owners. However, two students I met at school changed my mind about the takeaways and joys of being a pet owner.

Meet Ashley Toh, 19, from the Diploma in Social Sciences (Social Work), an owner of not one, not two… but FIVE cats!

Her earliest significant memory of cats was witnessing a deceased cat on her way to kindergarten.
“It made me so sad and it stuck with me for quite a while.”

Just when we thought that gruesome first encounter would keep her eschewed from cats forever, the reverse happened.  She became interested in the feline community and fostered her first cat at the tender age of seven.

“The first cat I met that I would later adopt was born in my garden in 2003. My family was watching a movie, when we heard meowing outside. We found four kittens, but left them alone as we had no experience caring for cats,” she said. “They disappeared after a while, but their mother left one behind. Not sure why either. In the end we decided to take him in and we named him Alvis.”

Ashley’s first adopted cat, Alvis

Ashley’s affinity with cats did not end with that.

About a year after Alvis was accepted into the family, the gardener in charge of her estate brought a tiny kitten over and asked if the family would like to take him in. They agreed, and the next day the gardener brought another one over!

“They were the same size and immediately took to each other so we knew they were siblings from the same litter. We named the boy Bobo and the girl Chacha.”

Bobo (right) and ChaCha (left)

One day, Ashley’s mother noticed a stray cat following her around while she was doing her marketing. She thought that the cat needed a home, thus she put it into a box and brought her home.

“We subsequently found the cat’s breed was Siamese, so we named her Lili.”


Another cat the family took in just started hanging around outside Ashley’s house.

“We started feeding him and got him sterilised. He was very affectionate and friendly so one day we just opened our door. He walked right in, and never left. We named him Tohby.”

Meet Tohby!

After 7 years, Alvis, Ashley’s first cat, was eventually given to her mother’s friend as a companion for her cat.

Thus, Ashley’s last and youngest cat is Meimei. She got her in Jan 2013 from a lady who takes in stray cats.

Taking care of five different cats requires Ashley to meet the individual needs of each cat. As a cat owner for more than a decade, she understands that all cats have different personalities, so the attention they require varies. With enthusiasm, she elaborates about the different needs of her cats.

“Bobo and Meimei tend to seek more affection from me. Meimei is usually the one to wake me up by biting my toes and snuggling up to me in the mornings. Bobo will sit on my lap while I study, have meals or watch TV. As long as I'm sitting somewhere in the house, Bobo will be close by.”

Bobo “learning” together with Ashley

"Tohby literally follows my mum around the house, and Chacha is the one who will start meowing if she thinks my mum is staying up too late. Lili is mostly content on her own, but she's always close to us when we watch TV or use the computer.”

There was a period of time when Ashley’s mum was not working and was active in caring for the neighborhood cats that wandered into their garden. They would actively trap strays and bring them to the vet to be neutered, which is important in population control and for the well being of the cat.

The cats that appeared suitable for adoption would be named and put up for adoption on the Cat Welfare Society adoption page. In the meantime, the cats would be toilet trained, and get used to being called by name, and learn to be comfortable in interacting with other cats at her home.

People interested in adopting a cat would undergo strict interviews by her mum. Together with her mother, Ashley would pay the potential adopters visits to check the state and safety of their homes before allowing them to adopt the cat. This procedure is mandatory for them, since they are both committed to helping the stray cats find an appropriate and permanent home.

“It was tiring and sometimes stressful for both us and our cats, but being able to help these cats find permanent homes was worth the time, money and effort.”

Contrary to my presumptions, keeping cats is never seen as a burden or distraction for Ashley, whose academic excellence had allowed her to be in the Director’s list award for every semester, an award for the top 5% of the cohort for the semester.

“Having cats is not about just doing it till you're sick of it - pets are for life.”

She is also thankful for having a supportive mother who would join in the venture of taking care of her five beautiful cats.


My other Diploma in Social Sciences classmate, Yap Su Chii, 19, has chosen to care for a dog.  She first received Xiao Hei as a puppy from a family friend.

“When i first received Xiao Hei, he was only 2 months old and I could hold him in one hand! To be honest, I wasn’t very attached to him at the beginning, it was hard for me. I was only 9 years old at the time,” she said.

10 years on, the two of them have become inseparable. They have forged a profound and ineffable bond.

“I like how similar he is to me in terms of our personality. People who have met him always comment on how quiet and calm he is. In a way, he is so much a reflection of me. When I look into his eyes, he just looks so wise and genuine.”

Su Chii is very dedicated to taking care of Xiao Hei. She spends her Saturdays cleaning his cage, bathing him, and making him fresh food. Maintaining his health and grooming is also a constant requirement so she takes special care to make sure he does not get fleas and ticks or fall sick.

“If I had the choice, I would do everything with him. I would bring him to school every day, I would bring him on holidays, I would bring him shopping! But sadly that is not allowed!  What I do now is to walk him around the neighborhood where he may meet his friends, or bring him on car rides to dog cafes. I also host dog parties around my neighborhood, knowing that he likes the company of other dogs.”
Su Chii, at the centre of the picture, grinning from ear to ear

Su Chii also enjoys spending time relaxing with him in the living room. As Xiao Hei is now an elderly dog, he may leave Su Chii very soon.  Su Chii wants to treasure every moment she has left with Xiao Hei.
The pair enjoying each other’s company

“His eyes are getting cloudy and soon, everything is going to deteriorate. I constantly worry about losing him.” I also try to keep him as healthy physically and mentally to slow down the process of ageing by feeding him homemade dog food and supplements,” she emphasized.

According to Su Chii, Xiao Hei was around at every milestone in her life. It is hard for her to think that someday he would not be around.

“The love that I have experienced with him is the purest, most unconditional love I have ever had. Our dogs really see us as their entire world. To come home every day to the sight of him makes me so happy. He taught me to be compassionate, to love indiscriminately and that is the most important life lesson I will ever learn,” she said. “Although my time with him is running out, I just want him to live out the rest of his life happy and healthy.  Knowing his life was spent meaningfully is all that I ask for.”

By Matthew Tan Ser Yung, Diploma in Social Sciences (Social Work)

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