PG 46 PEOPLE AND THEIR PETS
These babies and furkids are best friends fur life.
Having furkids at home might seem like a handful, but these supermums add a human jellybean to the equation. Here’s how dedicated paw-rents Janelle Phua and Lee Jia En juggle pets and motherhood.
BY GILLIAN LIM
Having felines in the house was always on the cards for Janelle Phua—before she got married to 35-year-old education officer Ray Tan, and even when she was expecting her baby girl, Shervelle. In fact, the 32-year-old executive wasn’t too concerned about how Shervelle would fare in a household with five cats.
Janelle has been fostering cats since 2012, so she knows how to keep the household safe for the entire brood— from trimming the cats’ nails regularly to minimise accidental scratches to making sure that Shervelle doesn’t accidentally eat
kitty food or litter.
As Shervelle grew older, she became more inquisitive about her furry siblings and inadvertently grabbed their fur, rolled over them, or stepped on their tails. To ensure the well-being of her felines, Janelle installed cat shelves for the furry five in her living room.
What precautions did you put in place before Shervelle arrived?
I started telling them that there’d be a new addition to the family soon, and I found treats and feline pheromone sprays like Feliway to calm them down. Another drill I went through was to broadcast newborn crying sounds, and to hold a doll in my arms while walking around, as if I was trying to soothe a crying baby. I gave all my cats access to explore and even utilise the baby stuff, like the rocker, cot, drawers, so they wouldn’t be intimidated by all the new objects popping up around the house.
What kind of relationship do you want Shervelle to have with your cats?
I hope the cats can be her lifelong buddies, playmates and confidantes that will be there for her through her ups and downs.
Were your cats or Shervelle ever stressed or uncomfortable around each other?
Not my daughter. (laughs) Usually she’s the source of the cat’s discomfort, especially if she grabs their fur or tails. But my cats will escape to another part of the house or stay on higher ground when that happens.
Any accidents so far?
They’re unavoidable… there were a few instances when my daughter grabbed the fur or the tails of the cats when she was learning to crawl, and the cats beat her to release her grip before running away. Even when my daughter was sleeping, she fell victim to cats chasing each other and got scratched as they ran past her.
Out of the five cats, is there one that’s Shervelle’s favourite?
Yes. Fyllis was adopted to be Shervelle’s cat from the very beginning. They’ll snuggle together to sleep as if they’ve been best friends for the longest time. Shervelle loves to play fetch with Fyllis’ favourite mouse toy—when she finds the toy, she will go looking for Fyllis. No matter how Shervelle pulls her tail or fur, this silly cat will still return to her side.
What do you feel are some benefits of having pets and babies grow up together? I see a significant difference in her immunity as compared to her peers who don’t have pets. Prior to her enrolment into preschool when she was 18 months old, Shervelle was never down with cough or flu despite our family having a history of allergies and childhood asthma. Plus, Shervelle’s picking up skills such as compassion and being mindful of her surroundings. She’s learnt that fighting is wrong, so she will now “scold” the cats when she sees them fighting. (laughs)
As a first-time stay-at-home mum and paw-rent of seven-year-old Silky Terrier Kairi, Lee Jia En struggled to find a balance between both of her charges. When twoyear-old toddler Carissa was younger,
Jia En had to be with her constantly as she was a very needy and difficult baby. As a result, spending time with Kairi was a challenge, and taking her out for long walks was close to impossible. “You have to constantly remind yourself to give your pet some love and attention every now and then,” she shares.
Having grown up with dogs herself, she knew how colourful life could be with a furry one in the house. Before she brought Carissa home from the hospital, she told her husband, Qifeng, to bring a piece of Carissa’s clothing home so Kairi would become familiarised with her scent.
For the first few weeks, the hyperactive pooch was wary of the oblivious newborn babe and seemed confused. “She’d often hide in the corner of the room and it really broke my heart to see her like that,” says Jia En. “It took about a month or two for Kairi to become comfortable with Carissa. But now they really enjoy spending time with each other. Carissa loves to play pretend, so Kairi will sometimes be Carissa’s food taster when she’s a chef, or her patient when she’s a doctor.”
Describe the first interaction that Carissa and Kairi had.
I allowed Kairi to sniff Carissa the moment I brought her home from the hospital. Carissa, being a newborn, was asleep and unaware of whatever was going on. Kairi was excited yet rather apprehensive.
She wasn’t too keen on interacting with Carissa after that first meeting so I gave her space and time until she was ready.
Were you ever worried that the two might not get along?
I wasn’t worried about Carissa because I myself grew up around dogs. I was actually more concerned about how Kairi would feel with a new addition to the family as she had always been my “baby”. (laughs)
What did the rest of the household think? Thankfully, both sides of the family didn’t have anything negative to say. My side of the family have always been dog lovers, and my in-laws are very easy-going people. They give us the freedom and space to parent Carissa the way we want, which I am very thankful for.
Were there any accidents?
No major ones. There were a few times when Carissa would accidentally step on Kairi’s paws, but Kairi would just walk away. I always keep a close eye on them when they’re together, and I often remind Carissa to look out for Kairi when she’s running about lest she accidentally steps or trips over Kairi.
How can you tell they like spending time with each other?
They’re always very comfortable around each other and Kairi likes to be in close proximity of Carissa—especially when Carissa has food. (laughs) Carissa also occasionally asks for Kairi when she wakes up in the morning or when we’re out without Kairi. Sometimes she’ll look for Kairi just to give her a pet on the head.
Were there any interactions between the two that surprised you?
Kairi went for her sterilisation surgery just a few months back and before I went to pick Kairi up from the vet, I reminded Carissa not more than twice to avoid touching Kairi when she’s home as she’d be in a lot of pain. I didn’t know if Carissa understood, but I was pleasantly surprised when I brought Kairi home and Carissa really didn’t touch her! She just kept telling me, “Kairi see doctor. Kairi pain pain.”
The next day, she asked me if she could touch Kairi and when I said yes, she was so gentle with her!
Do you plan on getting more pets? Definitely! In fact, I’m already planning to get Carissa a pet of her own when she’s older. Some time back, I told her that I’d get her a guinea pig when she’s older and she replied with: “Thank you, Mummy!”
Please share three tips on how to successfully run a household with both babies and pets.
1. Always supervise your furkid and baby when they’re playing together.
2. Involve your pets in your day-to-day activities with your kids as much as possible, and vice versa. Your kids will learn a sense of responsibility and your pets won’t feel like they’re being neglected. 3. Be a good role model to your kids. Always treat your pets the way you want your kids to treat them—with gentleness, love, and respect.
Janelle, Shervelle and Ray with their felines (from top, left to right) Chaffy, Bucky, Olive, Fyllis, and Eyoru. JANELLE PHUA, 32, EXECUTIVE RAY TAN, 35, EDUCATION OFFICER SHERVELLE TAN, 21 MONTHS BUCKY, 9, DOMESTIC SHORTHAIR CHAFFY, 9, DOMESTIC...
Qifeng, Jia En, Carissa and Kairi LEE JIA EN, 30, STAY-ATHOME MOM HO QIFENG, 32, CHEMICAL ENGINEER CARISSA HO WEN TING, 26 MONTHS KAIRI, 7, SILKY TERRIER