By Jolene Yee Xin Yi (23S03A), Nicolle Yeo Minh (23A01D) and Hsiao Jia Ying (23A01C)
No, not that kind of “teachers’ pet”. We’re referring to the literal furry household companions here. In this Teachers’ Day special, we explore the difficult (but rewarding!) journey into pet ownership by three enthusiastic educators: Mr Derek Tan (Biology), Ms Evangeline Tan (Knowledge Skills, GP) and Mr Patrick Wong (Knowledge Skills, GP).
Mr Derek Tan: Feline Fondness
An avid ailurophile, Mr Tan is parent to two cats – Mimi (female) and Schmokey (female), both of which belong to the same breed of Singapura cats, also known as the fabled “longkang (drain) cats”. He previously had a third cat, Ginger (male), though unfortunately he passed on some time ago.
Left: Schmokey | Right: Ginger
When asked about the inspiration behind his cats’ names, Mr Tan jokingly replied, “[I named her] Schmokey because she looks like smoke; [As for] Mimi, it’s because every other ‘longkang cat’ is called Mimi; Ginger because it’s ginger-coloured, haha!”
As for why he chose cats over other kinds of pets, Mr Tan cited the affectionate nature of cats, and their penchant for wandering about as two reasons. “Cats are very affectionate! They are ready to be cuddled anytime, so they provide quality company […] they are nice mobile decorative pieces too! On the couch, piano, etc.”
But perhaps the most hilarious reason of all is Mr Tan’s self-proclaimed resemblance to a cat. “I have a ‘kitty’ personality […] I have different moods – I am very affectionate but I can be aloof when I feel like it,” he said. Seems like Mr Tan and his cats are a purr-fect match!
Speaking of cats, here are some fascinating facts about your feline friend you might not have heard of, courtesy of Mr Tan:
Firstly, exposing their bellies means exposing their vulnerabilities – so if a cat allows you to stroke its tummy, it means that they really trust and love you loads. (Hence, beware of where you pet a cat!)
Secondly, cat years are different from human years – a one-year-old cat is of equivalent age to that of a fifteen-year-old human; a two-year-old cat corresponding to that of a twenty-four-year-old human; and subsequently, every additional cat year is proportional to four human years.
While the above trivia are applicable to cats in general, each cat no doubt has a unique and distinct set of personality traits and behavioural characteristics. Here’s what Mr Tan has to say about his own cats: “All of them have an in-built calendar and body clock, or an alarm system of some sort.”
He then explained that every day at 6.15 am, they sit on his chest or next to him to wake him up. And what’s more, at 11.30 am during the weekends, they would be waiting for him to feed them canned food. “My cats are very clever – just like me, haha,” he quipped.
On a serious note, however, Mr Tan has some words of advice for all prospective pet owners out there: “Pet ownership is a lifelong commitment […] Once you have a pet, you have to be committed to it for life and not put it up for adoption or ship it to someone else when you become tired of it.”.
He also emphasised the importance of having unconditional love for your pet, and being able to not only revel in the good times, but also be ready to face the difficult times, such as coping with the grief and loss of a pet, as “saying goodbye when your pets get sick and pass away is very, very difficult”.
Indeed, nothing beats this fur-ever special bond between human-animal companions, as evidenced in how pets have become an indispensable part of our teachers’ lives. To end off, here’s a pithy quote by Mr Tan:
“If I can reincarnate, I would like to come back as a cat in my next life – specifically, a house cat (I want to be Derek Tan’s cat!)”
Ms Evangeline Tan: Canine Caretaker
Having just rehomed her first dog over the past few months, Ms Tan is relatively fresh to the tough task of pet ownership. One might expect to notice sagging eyebags and frazzled hair from the additional stress of this responsibility. Yet, when we interviewed her for this article, Ms Tan had a palpable air of energetic enthusiasm, ready to share a gallery filled with pictures of the latest addition to the Tan household – Coco.
5-year-old Coco is a mix of the Jack Russell Terrier and Beagle, described by Ms Tan as “the sweetest, most gentle dog [she] know[s]”. But despite this glowing review and the clear fondness Ms Tan has for her canine companion, she admitted that things were not all smooth-sailing from the start.
Her first steps into pet ownership started four months ago in April, as Ms Tan and her husband began looking for opportunities to foster a furry friend. Although they were turned away from many adoption centres and shelters (on the grounds that they were first-time owners lacking the preferred level of experience), Ms Tan staunchly stood by her personal belief of “Adopt, Don’t Shop”.
When asked more about this topic, Ms Tan elaborated that “adopting or rehoming would be ideal”, as it was “very sad to think about dogs, who genuinely like being around people, no longer [having] a family to take care of them”. Additionally, she explained her practical reasons for rehoming Coco, as the starting cost of buying a dog is very expensive in Singapore.
Eventually, Ms Tan came across the opportunity to rehome Coco in the form of a Whatsapp message advertisement, forwarded to her by a friend. Coco’s previous family was moving houses and weren’t keen on retraining her to a new environment, hence the call for volunteers to take her in. Ms Tan and her husband reached out instantly, and that was the start of a lively friendship with Coco.
However, it still took a while for Coco to settle into their new home. “She was very anxious and reactive at the beginning”, Ms Tan confessed, as she had to weigh the pros and cons of different “schools of thought” when it came to house-training. Her initial approach of strict discipline was unproductive, but a carefully-considered change to positive reinforcement training quickly reaped results in getting Coco to open up.
“We’ve really come a long way since then,” she reflected, elaborating on how her own daily routine has improved due to Coco’s needs. From being more mindful about her working hours so as to spend more time with Coco, to her weekend plans “revolving” around bringing Coco along for outdoor activities, it truly appears that Ms Tan has fully settled into life as a proud pet owner.
“The best thing about having dogs [is that] they’re always so happy to see you home!”
Mr Patrick Wong: Serendipitous Encounter
Mr Wong never actually wanted to be a dog-owner – all his life, he’d been ‘very much a cat person’, and had even thought dogs were too noisy and rambunctious. Yet today, he’s the proud owner of two dogs…and zero cats.
Explaining this perplexing turn of events, Mr Wong shared that the decision to bring a dog into the family had not been his. “It was not me; it was my boss – my wife!”, he insisted vehemently. His wife’s long-standing love for dogs and empathetic nature had meant the Wong household had quickly expanded to include Sugar and Tyler, who had both been given up by their previous owners.
Of course, Mr Wong had not been without apprehension while facing the daunting task of being a first-time dog owner. “I clearly remember the day we brought Sugar home, I thought it was going to be so much trouble,” he admitted candidly, even comparing the task ahead of raising Sugar to that of raising another child.
“But while I was putting on a jazz record that day, she came and looked at me and just fell asleep on the floor (listening),” Mr Wong recounted fondly, with a growing smile. “And then I realised, this is my dog.”
This was the moment that foregrounded the special relationship that would come to develop between him and Sugar, whom he now calls his ‘nature companion’. Mr Wong and Sugar often go on long treks together, finding kindred spirits in each other while exploring the green spaces of Singapore. She has become almost like another one of his children – just that “when I come home, none of my kids will greet me, but she will come.”
Mr Wong also openly acknowledges that the addition of Sugar and Tyler has benefitted his whole family. Sugar is emotionally perceptive enough to comfort the children when they’re feeling upset or distressed, and walking the dogs has allowed him and his wife to reconnect by having 40 minutes of “us time” every evening. Undoubtedly, all of these added benefits were unexpected to Mr Wong – “I thought I would hate dogs, really, but I think Sugar just kind of changed my heart.”
As for Tyler, the former showdog’s withdrawn and reserved personality became the spark of inspiration for Mr Wong’s comic strip featuring both his dogs. “I needed something to do with a pen other than marking,” he quipped, “and I thought (the relationship between Tyler and Sugar) was really a very ripe thing for a comic strip.”
Now, almost a seventh-year pet owner, Mr Wong has no regrets about how things have turned out, and has now even ‘switched sides’ to become a dog person.
When asked what advice he would give to pet enthusiasts hoping to own a pet, he shared that “you need to be able to change your life for the pet”, and “there must be some level of sacrifice” for responsible and sustainable pet ownership. Pets have much propensity to enrich our lives beyond imagination – it is only right that we also take good care of them.
Our teachers are not only dedicated caretakers (of their pets), but also devoted mentors and educators to all of us. On this special occasion, let us all take the opportunity to extend our gratitude and appreciation to our beloved teachers who have held our hands, opened our minds, and touched our hearts in the course of our educational journeys.
Wishing all teachers a very happy Teachers’ Day!