Kathir and Jannah, a happily married couple, are the ‘pawrents’ of three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels — Troy, Cassie, and Maya (from left to right).
They knew for a long time that they did not want to have children, and do not intend to have any children in the future either; an unusual choice for couples in Singapore who generally go down the route of finding a BTO, getting married, and raising kids.
As I sat down with them, I was hounded by these fluffy balls of fur and excitement that sniffed and licked me enthusiastically. I don’t deny the joys of having such furry and warm doggies surround you every day, but I could not help but wonder why rule out having children completely.
When asked this question, Kathir replied with a self-deprecating grin, “For selfish reasons. My biggest passion in life is travelling.”
Kathir shared about the sense of adventure, freedom and anonymity that comes from travelling in a foreign country, and admits that though it would still be possible to travel with children, it would alter the experience greatly.
“Secondly, I’m not at all good with kids, especially infants. I’m okay with teenagers and older children, but I don’t want to be tied down by responsibility. Once you have a child, you’ll be tied down for life.”
“People always ask me what I’m gonna do when I’m alone; won’t I feel lonely? But I won’t,” he assured. “I grew up mostly alone, and I’m genuinely happy chilling alone at home with my pets to keep me company.”
Jannah on the other hand, grew up as the eldest child in a family of six. She had the heavy responsibility of looking after all of her siblings from a tender age, and through that, she knew that she would not enjoy raising children of her own.
Both Kathir and Jannah nodded in agreement. “All the time,” said Kathir. “People take us for a joke. They belittle the fact that we have dogs (and not children).”
“My mom keeps asking when we are going to have children,” he says. “It’s not going to happen.”
“And other people, they always ask us why we even bothered to get married. I don’t get people who think the sole purpose of getting married is to have kids,” said Kathir.
The couple also said that both friends and relatives often question them about their lifestyle, but many end the conversation by asserting that “it’s only a matter of time” before they have a child.
Singaporeans seem to be so caught up in the social norms of having children and ensuring they get enough tuition, get into the right school, right CCA etc, that the idea of not having a child in the first place becomes a bewildering concept.
Is life incomplete or sadder without children in the picture? Probably not, if you’re anything like Kathir and Jannah. The life of having dogs instead of children is not for everyone, but it sure suits this couple very well.
“You never hear us complain because we have dogs. We enjoy whatever we do with our dogs, whether it’s going to the vet, the park, dog cafe, etc.”
“Many times, I hear people who are parents complain a lot about their restrictions when they have a child. We don’t judge people who have kids. But why have a child if you’re only going to complain about them all the time?” asked Kathir.
“We’ll just take care of each other,” said Jannah. “Yeah. Also, the thought of growing old and having kids scares me,” quipped Kathir.
“When you look at Singapore, a lot of the elderly end up in old folks homes anyway,” said Jannah.
What Jannah said is true though, as many elderly people in Singapore today are made to live alone or are abandoned by their families when they become a “burden”. Nevertheless, the future is uncertain, regardless of whether you have children or not.
As such, Jannah and Kathir believe strongly in working hard now and being independent to ensure they will have a comfortable life when they retire.
Kathir has had a dog for nearly every year of his life, and having grown up like that, he cannot imagine living without dogs.
Jannah on the other hand, has never had a dog before, but when she first interacted with a Cavalier King Charles, she was surprised at how gentle they were. Having fallen in love with these natural therapy dogs, she knew that was the breed she wanted.
They also feel that dogs have many qualities that humans often do not have, such as unwavering loyalty and the ability to forgive easily. They bring up Cassie as an example.
Cassie was recently adopted by Kathir and Jannah after being severely neglected by her past owners, to the point that she had a skin disease and an ear infection that led to her becoming deaf.
“Despite what she’s been through, look at her, she’s so sweet and can still trust humans,” said Kathir.
I can’t help but agree with how sweet Cassie is, as the moment I sat on the floor, Cassie plopped herself into my lap and snuggled against me, radiating an aura of warmth. I could tell that she really craves love and affection, even from strangers, and that really melted my heart.
Though it seems therapeutic and fun to live with dogs, Kathir and Jannah tell me that owning dogs is not just about keeping them, but about raising them properly.
“We need to teach them the appropriate behaviours, how to react. When you come in, they don’t jump all over you. And when our friends visit us, they are surprised that the house doesn’t smell bad. That’s because they are toilet trained,” said Kathir.
“It’s not easy to train them. It’s amazing that you can teach a dog not to pee in the house when you can’t even communicate with them using language,” he said.
Having owned a dog myself, I can testify as to how incredibly difficult it can be to toilet train a dog or teach it how to behave around visitors, let alone do it three times over.
“If you leave the dogs just like that, they conform to their defaults. As parents, we need to teach them how to be the perfect dog,” said Kathir. “There’s a huge sense of responsibility that comes with owning dogs, it’s really a proud ‘pawrenting’ moment for us when people tell us our dogs are so well behaved.”
In a society where a nuclear family model is valued above all others, Kathir and Jannah come out as the underdogs when they face snide remarks or stigmas associated with not having children.
Though it may initially seem like a lonely or risky life, talking to this couple has shown me that living with dogs is quite the opposite, and comes with undeniably enviable perks such as greater freedom and a smaller financial strain.
But of course, this lifestyle may not be for everyone. Ultimately, I just hope this article has given people a chance to paws, and consider a life that is different from the one that society tells you to have.