Lessons from my pets

  • Pet ownership often requires owners to play the role of caretaker, but the relationship is hardly a one-way street — we, too, have much to learn from our furry and feathered counterparts.
  • In light of World Animal Welfare Day on 4 October, TheHomeGround Asia speaks to owners to seek little bits of wisdom they’ve gained from their pets.
(Photo courtesy of @themiyagram)
(Photo courtesy of @themiyagram)

Good things come to those who wait 

Tuti and Yuki are a feline duo with incredible amounts of patience. 

“There’s an area in the house where we do our shoots and make them wear clothes. So when we go there, Tuti and Yuki will follow us and let us do whatever we want to do with them for up to an hour at a time,” says their owner and social media manager, Hani.

Despite Tuti’s grumpy disposition, she doesn’t get impatient or angry, because she knows there’s a big treat waiting for her at the end.

To date, the American shorthair-Persian and Bengal-British longhair have 3.3 million followers on TikTok. Yuki is famously known for her speech-like abilities, accompanied by cleverly crafted subtitles. 

“She’s very vocal. When you say something to her, she’ll just meow back at you,” says Hani. “So we thought, hey, why not just add words? We didn’t expect this kind of response.” 

To some extent, these words may have been inspired by Yuki herself. “Sometimes when I’m crying, she’ll come up to me and just start meowing in my face. I’ve never seen a cat like her before, actually,” she adds.

To stay curious, fearless, and grateful 

Aina, 23, has had parrots in her life ever since she could remember. Now, she’s a proud “parront” of seven feathered friends — the oldest of the lot is even older than her. 

“Perhaps something that people wouldn’t know is that parrots require a lot of attention,” she says, emphasising that it’s not as simple as buying them from a store and leaving them in their cages. 

“They’re very sociable so you have to be very present in their lives, otherwise they can get bored and start plucking their feathers,” she adds. “Their mental health is something that we have to take into consideration.”

According to Aina, these highly curious and persistent creatures often go where they shouldn’t. The social work undergraduate finds these traits to be a relevant reminder in her line of work. 

“Curiosity is an important attribute for social workers. We have to be very attentive so that we can find out more about the client and how to best help them,” she says. 

Her lovebirds in particular approach life with a fearless attitude. “They don’t seem to know how small they are. They could stand beside my red lory, or perhaps even a macaw, and still would have no sense of fear,” says Aina. 

At the same time, however, she highlights that unlike cats or dogs, birds take longer to warm up to strangers. “You can’t expect them to be close to you, or to be able to pet them immediately,” she adds. Being prey, flighty fellows require more trust-building and engagement, even with their owners.

Aina and her two brothers have a nighttime routine for what they now call their kindergarten. They’ll clean the cages and tell them “bye-bye” or “goodnight”. In response, their red lory, Loro, would respond with kissing sounds. 

It’s a two-way conversation. “Some days, I rush home just to clean Loro’s cage, and he would say thank you,” she says. “Him being able to express his gratitude really touches my heart, especially at the end of long days when I’m already very tired.” 

Saving for the rainy days 

Janice’s daughter Cheryl initially wanted a cat for her first pet, but she wanted to teach her responsibility first. 

“A cat has a lifespan of seven years, so we first went with a smaller commitment instead,” she says. They thus adopted a dwarf-winter white hamster from the Hamster Society Singapore

Hamsters have a two-year average lifespan, and they named this one Cherish. “We hope the name reminds Cheryl to cherish the time we have with our loved ones while they’re still around,” she explains. 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, home-based learning has become a regular occurrence over the past year. The family of three has thus bonded over cage cleaning and observing the behaviours of their furball of a companion. 

For instance, they realised that hamsters actually like to store food in their mouths. “This gives me a chance to tell my daughter that we need to plan ahead for the rainy days,” says Janice. 

“Things are extra chaotic now, especially amid the pandemic. We have to take care of ourselves.” 

Stuck together in lockdown 

According to YT, her two dogs are almost complete opposites — but together, they bring her balance and joy.  

Kiyo, a 12.5-year-old cocker spaniel-Japanese spitz cross has been termed by her loving owner YT as “the OG Good Girl”. “She’s innocent, pretty foggy, and very accident-prone,” says YT. “She’s quite like me in that sense, because I’m very clumsy as well.” 

For YT and her husband Keith, Kiyo was the first dog that they got together, and symbolic of something that they’ve both wanted in their lives for a long time. The realisation that Kiyo was getting older and that she lacked good-quality photos even kickstarted her passion for photography. 

“Kiyo has this live-in-the-moment type nature, which has been quite reassuring. Nothing can go wrong in her world as long as she has the right people around, which are just my husband and me,” she says. 

“It’s sort of naive, but a wholesome way to think. When I’m having a tough day, I’m reminded that we’re still all at home together as a family. And it’s all good,” she adds. 

In contrast, her pomeranian-husky, Miya is careful and selective, in an almost cat-like way.  “She’s very deliberate in her actions, and very smart, and surprisingly active — unlike me!” says YT. 

“Miya was a good way of staying mentally occupied despite being stuck at home,” she says. Having to work within the confines of the four walls, YT was pushed to be a little bit more creative with how to engage the trick-loving 3-year-old.   

“Some days when I’m upset, she would come up to me for no other reason than to rest her head on me. It’s a great reminder for me that life is more than just about the screens that I’m staring at,” she adds. 

Animals can have emotional baggage too 

Owner Lee never knew that dogs could have separation anxiety until she had Horlicks. “I don’t think my previous dog had as many feelings. The way Horlicks sees things is very different,’ she says. 

As a Singaporean living alone in Australia, Lee originally wanted a guard dog for security. But the first day she met Horlicks, he jumped into her car and wanted to follow her home. She took that as a sign and took the 17-month-old golden retriever pup in. 

He was underfed, and very probably mistreated by his previous two owners — seeing as how he would run off and hide when Lee takes out a broom or mop when doing housework. 

When Lee left the house to get groceries, her neighbours noticed that Horlicks sits behind the front door, unmoving until she gets back. “The vet told me that some dogs can indeed have separation anxiety, and for Horlicks, it was probably because he didn’t have a good sense of security after being rehomed thrice,” she says. 

At one point, Lee had to return to Singapore when her mother was unwell. Her dad joked that Horlicks wasn’t going to want to come home with her when she got back after three long months. “That joke actually terrified and worried me, because his sitters really pampered him as well,” she adds. 

But as soon as she saw him again, Horlicks was so excited that he literally wet the floor. The sitters told her that he would get into distress mode when they played a video with her voice in the background, and he couldn’t find her. 

For Lee, it was a good reminder that pets could have emotional baggage as well. “He’s been with me for almost seven years now, but every time I leave, he thinks he’s being rehomed,” she says. “I think deep down he still has deep-seated abandonment issues,” she says. 

It takes courage, but we can trust again 

A passionate foster parent for non-profit organisation Project Luni, Sherrie currently houses a party of five dogs and cats. 

Her permanent adoption, Xena, was found abandoned in an ulu area with no residential apartments in the vicinity. “She was super hungry and skinny when the rescuer found her, and I decided to take her in after the passing of my two previous cats,” she says.

Xena is suspected to have been deliberately abandoned due to her medical issues — pyometra and some stomach ulcers. 

After dedicated love and care, however, she is getting by healthily and happily today. Amid the 30-odd fosters that have come and gone under Sherrie’s foster care, Xena remains blissfully nonchalant. 

All of Sherrie’s fosters came from horrible backgrounds, having either been abandoned, abused, or caged up for most of their lives. Yet, she finds strength in the way they all come out of their shells eventually. 

“The first few days with them will always be a little tough because they might be frightened by unfamiliar environments and people,” she says. “But with love and patience, they all gradually become very sweet and trusting.” 

“It’s almost like the past doesn’t matter anymore. They don’t hate other humans forever just because they’ve had some bad run-ins with some of us,” she adds.

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