Family Pawtraits — Close At Heart


Huey Chien, illustrator, pants from Zara, shoes from Adidas
Alfie, photographer, shirt from MUJI, shoes from Birkenstock, backpack from Timbuk2
Onigiri, female shiba inu

Alfie and Huey Chien have a very unique way of getting around — they pack their dog, Onigiri, named after the convenient Japanese rice snack because of her triangular ears, up in a backpack, and the three of them hop onto the back of Alfie’s Vespa for little adventures around the island. They describe Oni, as she is affectionately known, as cat-like: she keeps to herself, and is aloof even around her humans. “We always joke that our relationship with her is like a one night stand; love me today, don’t know me tomorrow.” It’s clear that Oni has her own mind, and although she doesn’t really respond to commands, do tricks when food is on the line, and drinks out of a bottle instead of a bowl, she’s far from spoilt. She was endearingly well-behaved and calm throughout the shoot, obediently getting into her backpack, and not minding being passed around from lap to lap. Alfie and Huey Chien have a long way to go with Onigiri, and while it might only be a matter of time before Oni opens up even more, we know that the two of them love her just as she is.


Shentonista (S): How long did it take to train Onigiri to get into the backpack?

Huey Chien (HC): It took quite a while; she wasn’t in this backpack, previously, and we had quite a bit of mishaps with that one. Initially she didn’t want to get in, and she puked in the bag.

Alfie (A): She’d pee in the bag. I think she was terrified, because the bag is meant for us to be able to bring the dog out with us, to the park, for example, not for riding on a scooter, so she wasn’t used to it. She’s completely fine now, though. We kind of overdosed it and one day she just got into the bag by herself. That was after we brought her to three parks in one day and she got so tired.

S: You decided to get Onigiri together, as a couple? Was it a childhood/lifelong dream to have a dog?

A: Yes, and no. I’ve always wanted a dog since I was really young, but didn’t have a chance, because of parents and stuff. Now that I’m older and more financially stable, I decided to fulfil this childhood dream.

HC: I’m sort of the encourager and enabler. I didn’t grow up with a dog; my parents, sadly, are not animal lovers. But it was really Alfie’s dream, I was more like, okay lah!

S: Was there a reason you decided on this particular breed?

A: I chanced upon shiba inus some years back, actually, I didn’t know about this breed before. The size was an issue because we stay in a HDB flat, so big dogs were out of the question. We looked for medium and small-sized dogs: chihuahuas, jack russells — probably because of movies like The Mask, which is why I liked them — and after that it was a daschund. It was like, oh, so cute, so small, so long. The personalities of those dogs are all different, and I continued to do my research on these personalities. I looked at apartment dogs and shiba inus came out first, because they’re cat-like. I had cats before, sort of — stray cats that lived outside my house and I would feed them when I was really young. I liked cats, and I felt we could get along.

HC: And shiba inus are of Japanese origin!

A: Yeah, we’re quite into anything Japanese.

S: What were some of the things you considered before getting a dog, or some things that you think anyone should consider?

A: Commitment, and time, definitely. It’s almost a lifelong thing — at least 15 years of your life.

HC: We didn’t realise it was such a huge commitment, until we got her. We really put in a lot of effort and sacrifice.

S: What would you say is the biggest change in your life after you got a dog? Do you think your personalities/lifestyles/habits have changed in any way?

HC: I think the biggest change is actually our diets. We became pescatarian and stopped eating meat. We started to feel more for animals after we began interacting with Onigiri.


S: Do you have a certain fond memory of Onigiri e.g. a time when he/she did something very naughty, very sweet, or got you very worried? 

A: It’s something very sad (laughs). You know how Caesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, is so popular? The way he trains dogs is very authoritative and aggressive. So as a new pet owner, I researched on his methods and I thought they might work if my dog didn’t listen to me. I actually tried that, but it backfired. Onigiri ignored me for a whole week. She would leave the room when I entered it. If I sat down beside her, she would get up and leave. She wouldn’t look at me. I don’t know whether it was because she was terrified, or if she was angry. But to get back that trust, I literally had to hug her to sleep. She resisted me, but I grabbed her and just held her. It’s very disheartening to have your dog ignore you the whole week.

HC: There was once there was thunder and it was raining heavily outside. I was sleeping, and Onigiri suddenly came over and just collapsed on my chest. She’s not an affectionate dog by nature, and when there’s thunder she just likes to be near us, but that one time she just sat there on me.

S: Huey Chien, you’re with Onigiri almost 24/7, at work and off work — do you ever feel like you need some personal space? 

HC: No, I think sometimes she feels that she needs some space! (laughs)

S: In your opinion, do dogs belong in the workplace, or should they be left at home? Why?

HC: Dogs belong in the workplace, definitely! I feel that they are a positive distraction; they make you feel less stressed about work. And you might stay longer at work because your furry companion is there. Some dogs tend to be quite disruptive, and require a lot of attention, but Onigiri is not like that. I don’t really find barking to be disruptive, actually, because it’s their natural instinct to bark at strangers, and once they know that the danger is over, it’s okay.

A: I think the more you try to stop it, the more irritating it might be. Of course, I would love for dogs to be allowed in the workplace, but I think it depends on the kind of work. If you’re working in a high-risk-activity job, I think you wouldn’t want to bring your dog. But in the creative industry, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be allowed.


S: Huey Chien, you now run your own independent design studio, Ordinary People. How did you come to be doing what you’re doing now? Was this something you’ve always wanted to do?

HC: I think it took a lot of courage and sacrifice. There’s always uncertainty, but this was something I’ve always wanted to do, and I will persevere and make it work. I was in a design agency for two and a half years, previously, and when I was there, I honestly really enjoyed my work too. My bosses were encouraging and nurturing, and they gave me a lot of guidance, so the transition wasn’t that hard; in fact, everyone, including Alfie, my family, friends, and ex-colleagues have given me tremendous support and encouragement to pursue Ordinary People. Especially Alfie.

S: How about you, Alfie?

A: My story is longer and draggier. (laughs) I came from a different industry initially — finance, basically doing sales and marketing — and I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. So I did a career switch and I went back to study computer graphics for a year. While I was studying one of my classmates was the assistant to this photographer named Joel Low, who needed one more assistant, so I joined him. Before that, photography had mostly been a hobby, nothing professional. I’m still his assistant now, and I feel like I’m still not quite where I want to be, but at least I’m in the circle so it’s baby steps. I’ve been interested all along, but I’m lucky that I can do this for a living for now — assisting, and doing my own freelance photography projects.

S: What would your ideal workplace be like?

HC: My studio now is how I had dreamed my workplace to be like. There’s a lot of light, and the ceilings are very high. It feels cosy but at the same time, inspiring.

A: There’s a positive aura about it. It’s very bright and spacious, not very cluttered.

HC: It’s not the usual office space that is very cubicle-like and dreary. It feels like a home away from home; you feel very comfortable in it.

A: It’s become a lifestyle, not a workspace.


S: Did you have to be more careful with the things you buy and where you leave your shoes/clothes?

HC: Onigiri loves socks, but clothes and shoes, she’s alright. I don’t know why she likes socks!

A: She has her own stash of my socks that have become her’s.

S: If you had to wear a uniform of sorts for the rest of your life, what items would your outfit consist of, and why?

A: Definitely basics. A white shirt, chino pants, sneakers or sandals. I’m not a “colour” person. Given my profession, black and white is the way to go. I only like blue because it’s always been my colour. My red socks today are a touch from Huey Chien! She said it would stand out and would be nice, and I agree, but it’s definitely something new for me.

HC: I think it’s very hard for me to decide. I guess it would be a well-fitted, basic top; patterned pants, and sneakers. I’ve always wanted to buy colourful stuff, or printed, patterned stuff, but when I go shopping it always turns out to be from the same colour palette!

S: What are some of the items in your wardrobe or on your dresser that you can’t live without?

HC: Definitely my sunblock. And contact lenses, maybe.

A: I’m quite a simple person — I don’t think I have anything!

S: What’s the one thing you think you should be doing more of, or that you wish you had more time to be doing?

A: Personal projects. I still have a full-time job, so I should be doing more things for myself and for my personal development.

HC: I feel that I should do less worrying. I just worry a lot, over nothing!


This is a Shentonista project in support of Save Our Street Dogs Singapore.

The next SOSD adoption drive will be the SOSD Flag Day on 28th February 2016, at *Scape Youth Park, in hope of raising funds for when SOSD’s lease expires in two year’s time. The event runs from 9AM-6PM, with the drive running from 11AM-5PM.

If you would like to contribute to SOSD and support their cause of giving stray dogs a loving, caring home, please visit here. Kindly reference ShentonistaxSOSD when making your donation. The dogs thank you!

Here are two of SOSD’s dogs that are looking for a new family:


Male, not HDB-approved

Rocky is only 3 months old and has some way to grow. He has an easy-going, non-aggressive disposition, and as puppies usually are, he is playful, active, and friendly. Rocky is food-motivated, but low-key as he is, he doesn’t mind sharing his food with other dogs. He stole all our hearts as he obediently sat — as long as he could manage — for his photo.

Update (25/02): Rocky has found a forever home.


Male, not HDB-approved

Danzel is 6 months old and is already a pretty big boy. He’s usually low-energy, and is a sweetheart around people and puppies, but he’s scared of cars and loves chasing cats. He and Rocky seem to have become the best of friends!

shentonista-rocky_&_danzel-240116-uniform SHENTONISTA-Rocky_&_Danzel-240116-UNIFORM-3

View more of our furry friends looking for forever homes on the Shentonista Facebook, here.

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