At 68, Irene Ng makes her cutting edge mark across the Eastern and Western hemispheres and is still not done showing the world she has it.
“Sayang, I am still in the UK. Just finished judging Master Groom 2015. Will only be back next month.”
That was Irene’s Ng’s WhatsApp response to my frantic message. I thought I had lost her photographs when my laptop went on the blink. Luckily, my fears were unfounded.
A month back I had met Irene at Rene’s Elegant Pets Salon, her pet grooming business in KL which she started in 1991. Oh, the little dogs that ran around her feet and mine as we greeted each other at the door. She seemed frailer since the last time I saw her but was still her usual chirpy, cheery self, a joy she says she derives from the little everyday things of life.
“Like all my charges here,” she said, beaming at the furballs running around her feet looking for cooing and affection. She obliges, lifting each one up to speak tenderly at them.
“Dogs,” she said while stroking one lovingly. “They are such faithful companions, their love is unconditional, you can depend on them to be there for you.”
Her love for them was evident.
“Even if I get a dog a day, it makes my day because it isn’t everyday you will get a customer that will sit properly for you,” she winked.
I asked her how she was. I knew she had cancer but was now free of it. I asked her how she kept it away.
“Determination and passion for grooming!” she said without hesitation. “Life is how you choose to live it.”
Indeed, Irene is one determined woman whose life is always coloured by adventure and dogs. “Everyday you must ‘hoi sum’ (be happy) because cancer attacks you when you are depressed,” she replied to my query.
She discovered she had rectum cancer in 2005, right after she gave up Rothmans Pall Mall, her favourite cigarettes for 30 years. She had heard the brand was going out of production and was afraid she would get withdrawal symptoms when it ran out.
“I didn’t want to be salivating and drooling when the time came so I quit cold turkey,” she said.
But right after that, she started to feel a discomfort in her stomach whenever she sat down. It wasn’t painful she said, just very uncomfortable. She went for a biopsy and it was confirmed. Then came those endless rounds of chemotherapy, a major surgery that removed her colon and several middle-of-the-night emergencies. But she laughs them all off today.
“Aaih…If I knew I wouldn’t have quit smoking,” she huffed.
“Let me tell you a funny story,” she said, recounting one of those emergencies. Feeling unwell on one occasion, she needed to see her regular doctor, a Dr Christina, oncologist, who worked on the third floor but unbeknownst to her, she was rushed to the wrong hospital and wound up with a Dr Christina, gynaecologist, who, coincidentally, also worked on the third floor.
When the two finally met, they stared at each other for a long time. And blinked.
Mixups and emergencies notwithstanding, Irene did not miss a beat living life to the hilt in between. Such as continuing to go to Crufts in Birmingham every year to follow the world’s largest and most celebrated championship conformation show for dogs.
This was a thing she had kept up eversince she left starry-eyed for London in the heady days of 1990 to pursue the art of grooming from the top UK groomers, sisters Linda Forsyth, International Certified Master Groomer (ICMG) and Angela Caley, (ICMG). Both encouraged her to take the City & Guilds National Certified Master Groomer exam (NCMG) in 1990 itself.
In 2014, encouraged by the same Angela Caley (ICMG), who by now was her firm friend to take the top level exam, Irene braved the challenge with her scissors and is today, the proud holder the title ICMG herself.
Back home, Irene’s own student followed in hot pursuit of her “see foo’s” career path and has now taken the C&G in the UK. The student is now in Seoul, Korea making a name for herself.
Last year, following a similar certification route to the East, Irene went to Taiwan and in January, earned herself the China World Pet Association certification, a rare distinction, as she is only the second Malaysian in the world to hold this certificate. The other was groomer Jamie Sie who also holds this distinction.
In between, she sat in the committee of SPCA and PAWS, travelled to the US, UK and France to participate or judge in grooming competitions, became the President of the Malaysian Kennel Association (MKA) and formed the Malaysian Animal Groomers International Club Sdn Bhd – Magic, which held its first Magic-MKA Creative international grooming competition in March this year. She even wrote a book on grooming and is looking for a publisher who will help turn her book into print.
“It’s for housewives to learn the art of grooming, especially if they have nothing to do after their children leave home.”
Irene is back in KL now from Warwickshire after judging Master Groom 2015. When I Facebook messaged her, she said she was still reeling from jetlag, having barely just touched down. (Yes, I tend to hound people, it’s part and parcel of my job).
So I shall leave her alone for now but I know this lady. The next time I contact her she’ll be answering from somewhere across the world, judging a grooming competition in yet another exciting location. But this is what fuels her passion and drives her on ─ making the beautiful creatures she loves so much even more beautiful through her love for them.