Cat woman to the rescue

Ms Lily Low, 46, starts each day in the shelter before the sun is up, disinfecting the cats' living quarters, cleaning their drinking bowls and making sure they are fed and healthy.
Ms Lily Low, 46, starts each day in the shelter before the sun is up, disinfecting the cats' living quarters, cleaning their drinking bowls and making sure they are fed and healthy.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

She gave up job, survives on one meal a day and gets by on donations to care for 150 cats

For months on end, Ms Lily Low went without food for two days at a time just to make sure that more than 80 rescue cats were cared for.

Eight years later, she is still struggling to feed herself and around 150 cats, although things are a little better now.

The 46-year-old survives on one meal a day and gets by with the support of family, friends and donations from other animal lovers, who learn of her private cat shelter through social media.

"Before I went into being a full-time rescuer, I had money to do what I wanted and buy clothes that I didn't need," said Ms Low, who used to work as a personal assistant in an advertising company.

"But ever since I gave up these things and went into rescue work, I've found life to be more fulfilling."

THE CATS COME FIRST

When rescuers ask me for help, most of the time, I don't turn them down although it's more work for me. My priority is the safety of the cats.

MS LILY LOW

Despite not being a "cat person", she took in her first rescued cat 17 years ago. One became two, and soon she had around 80 cats in a three-room flat in Tampines, where she lived with her brother. She started pawning her personal items for cash to feed her cats.

After receiving complaints for keeping the cats there, she moved and eventually wound up in the basement of a shophouse.

Now, she keeps the cats in a shelter in Pasir Ris Farmway, where there are other private shelters.

Her work took a toll not only on her finances, but also on her relationships.

"When my late mother came to see where I was (spending my days), she was heartbroken," said Ms Low. "It took many years for my family to accept what I'm doing."

They finally started supporting her a few years ago with a small allowance and her elder sister, who lives in Malaysia, started doing rescue work there as well.

Ms Low's work has not gone unrecognised. She is a familiar face to the animal rescue community and seldom turns away any appeal for rescue. "When rescuers ask me for help, most of the time, I don't turn them down although it's more work for me," she said. "My priority is the safety of the cats."

Besides helping to re-home rescued kittens, she takes in older cats as well, many of which have trouble finding new homes as most people prefer kittens.

She starts each day in the shelter before the sun is up, disinfecting the cats' living quarters for hours, cleaning their drinking bowls and making sure they are fed and healthy. In the afternoons, she cycles out to a nearby supermarket to buy supplies.

On social media, she shares her work and appeals for donations in the form of cat food, litter and money to pay for rent and the vet's bills. This can amount to around $8,000 in total.

"Sometimes, (donations for) the food do not come in. Many times, I owe my supplier up to $2,000 just for dry food," she said.

One of her suppliers is Mr Chan Chow Wah, 42, owner of pet supplies shop Animal Human Alliance, who allows people to donate cat food and supplies to Ms Low by buying them through his online store.

When Ms Low receives food donations, she acknowledges the donors on her social media page.

"That's how people come to know her, trust her and help her in different ways," said Mr Chan, who has worked with her for over a year and is also involved in animal rescue.

People often share stories of abandoned or abused cats online and rejoice when they are taken in by shelters like hers, he said.

"But people like Lily have to walk the whole journey with the cat when taking it in. It can be very lonely and emotionally demanding."

Ms Low has no regrets about the life she has chosen for herself. She intends to run the shelter for as long as she can.

"It is fulfilling to be able to save lives," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2015, with the headline 'Cat woman to the rescue'. Print Edition | Subscribe