Christine Yu, the Creative Director and Founder of Ipa-Nima accessories brand, opens up about her life with four children: two dogs and two cats
I have always considered myself an “accidental” pet owner. Brought up in Hong Kong, we barely have enough space for humans, let alone pets. I remember I used to see pets in cages in apartments and felt so sorry for them. So, it had never occurred to me that I would be a pet owner. As it turns out, I now have a mini zoo: two schnauzers and two cats.
In 2009, a couple of friends came over to our house for a farewell dinner, they were moving to Scotland. They mentioned that they would have to give their cat away. With a couple of drinks down and getting quite inebriated, I jokingly suggested to take the cat. My husband, Mark, was not pleased because he didn’t like cats. When we returned from our Tet holiday we heard this cat screaming for his life from 100 meters away—our friends had organized the cat to be delivered to us zipped up inside a backpack on a motorbike for 20 mins. This is how I ended up having my first pet—a white cat that I named Yoda (he looks exactly like Yoda in Star Wars). He is not the friendliest cat (can’t blame him because his transition to us could not have be more unpleasant) but he likes to sleep between us in the wee hours of the morning, especially in the winter in Hanoi when we lived there.
Several years ago when we moved from Hanoi to Saigon, Mark decided we needed a dog because we lived in a house, and possibly better to have a guard dog because we heard stories about burglaries happening in An Phu. I was not keen on a big dog as I did not think I could handle an animal as big as me so his father recommended a schnauzer. I found a professional breeder online in Hong Kong. He sent us a photo of his only puppy, which was at the right age for rabies shot and we could take her out of the country. We bought the dog by email and made the necessary arrangement with Cathy Pacific Cargo. My husband then went to Hong Kong to pick her up after all the vaccinations had been completed.
Life sometimes moves in mysterious ways. On the eve of having the first dog in my life, I was bitten by my friend’s dog and ended up spending an entire day in a hospital. Unbeknown to me at the time of the accident, the dog had bitten another person a week before. What upset me the most about the accident was that the owner did not put a leash or a muzzle on the dog. He could not control the dog and, worse, he dumped me at the hospital and left. I had eight rabies shots and was in and out of the clinic for four weeks. My crab claw arm cost me more than USD2,000 and my friend became my enemy. What I learned from this experience is how important it is to be a responsible dog owner.
Jazzie and Max
When I finally met my first dog named, Jazzie, I was super nervous and I could only pat her with one hand. Although she was a small dog, I felt vulnerable from that dog biting experience.
In preparation to be a dog owner, Mark probably watched hundreds of episodes of Cesar Millan and learned that exercise, discipline and affection are the ultimate truth for dogs. We even hired a dog trainer, Adrian Ramos, who used to train rescue-and-search dogs in the Philippines, to train Jazzie. I would say this is possibly the smartest thing we have ever done.
A year later, we bought Jazzie a boyfriend named Max, a black and white schnauzer, so they can play together when we are at work all day. Max is not as smart as Jazzie but super loving.
In a way, having dogs are like having kids that never grow old. They can give you a lot of joy but they also come with responsibilities. We try to spend time with them every day, no matter how late and how tired we are, to give them affection.
My most recent pet Buster was also an “accident.” We were at the vet—both our dogs had ticks—when Dr. Nghia mentioned that he had an abandoned cat that was dumped with him for over six months and he could not contact the owner. He asked whether I was keen to adopt, but with three pets in my house, I was hesitant. I asked to see the cat, and this Persian fluffy thing with a warped nose just climbed onto my lap, sat on me and started purring. And, unlike Yoda, he is the friendliest cat that we have ever seen and, funny enough, have behavioral patterns like a dog.
Now when people ask us whether we have any kids, I would say four. They will normally look at me in an astonished way until I explained. They are like my kids except they don’t talk back and don’t ask for my iPad. They welcome me with open paws when I come home, follow me around the house, protect me and bark like crazy when there is a stranger at the door. They know me when I am sad, happy, agitated, annoyed and the best thing is that they give me a lot of oxytocin (a love hormone that is produced by the brain when one pats a dog or a cat) which generates feelings of relaxation, trust and psychological stability. Now, how many mothers can say that about their kids?
This article is an edited excerpt from Me Thu Cung, Vietnam’s first pet magazine.
Text and Images by Christina Yu