Is it time for HDB to allow... Cats in flats?

Sisters Vera (left), 11, and Victoria Chern, 13, with their two-year-old maltese Momo. Their father Oliver suggests that dog ownership rules could be adapted for cats. Ms Jocelyn Tan, seen here with her one-year-old cat Cookie, says responsible owner
Cat ownership has been banned since the HDB's inception in 1960, but those who live in public housing can own dogs of approved breeds. Some cat lovers cry foul over what they perceive as a double standard, and hope that the rules will be relaxed. Residents in certain Chong Pang blocks can already keep cats under a pilot programme called Love Cats. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Sisters Vera (left), 11, and Victoria Chern, 13, with their two-year-old maltese Momo. Their father Oliver suggests that dog ownership rules could be adapted for cats. Ms Jocelyn Tan, seen here with her one-year-old cat Cookie, says responsible owner
Ms Jocelyn Tan, seen here with her one-year-old cat Cookie, says responsible owners make sure their cats are not a bother to others.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Sisters Vera (left), 11, and Victoria Chern, 13, with their two-year-old maltese Momo. Their father Oliver suggests that dog ownership rules could be adapted for cats. Ms Jocelyn Tan, seen here with her one-year-old cat Cookie, says responsible owner
Sisters Vera (left), 11, and Victoria Chern, 13, with their two-year-old maltese Momo. Their father Oliver suggests that dog ownership rules could be adapted for cats. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

After the success of Chong Pang pilot scheme, animal-loving MP hopes ban will be eased

In Singapore, a pet cat can legally live out its fabled nine lives in a Housing Board flat only if its owner lives in certain blocks in Chong Pang.

Since October 2012, those residents have been allowed to keep cats under a pilot scheme called Love Cats. It is managed by Cat Welfare Society with the support of government agencies like HDB and the Ministry of National Development. Elsewhere, cat ownership has been banned since the HDB's inception in February 1960.

The reasons given by the HDB revolve round the potential for cats to be a public nuisance, due to their tendency to wander, caterwaul, shed fur and defaecate in public areas. But flat dwellers can own one dog of an HDB-approved breed.

This apparent discrimination against cats has been a bone of contention for animal lovers for years.

The issue has cropped up again, in letters - both for and against the ban - last month in The Straits Times' Forum page.

BAD OWNERS MAKE BAD NEIGHBOURS

If we look at the reasons for the ban put forward by HDB, all of them occur as a result of irresponsible pet ownership.

'' DR JAIPAL SINGH GILL, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, on the argument that wayward cats can be a public nuisance.

But are bigger changes afoot?

Yes - if MP for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng has his way.

Mr Ng, founder of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), told The Sunday Times that the pilot in Chong Pang was successful and that he intends to bring the issue up in Parliament soon.

He said: "We are hoping to expand, if not nationalise, the programme."

Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the ban was "not based on reasoned arguments".

"If we look at the reasons for the ban put forward by HDB, all of them occur as a result of irresponsible pet ownership," he said.

Many whom The Sunday Times spoke to also deemed the HDB's reasons insufficient to warrant a ban, as dog ownership brings similar problems.

Mr Alexander James Fonseca, a 21-year-old waiting to enter university, said: "I think cats may not have the social nature of dogs and are hence harder to control, but they still seem to be trainable."

Mr Oliver Chern, who is in his 40s and works in marketing, said: "The regulations for dogs are quite reasonable. Perhaps a similar system could be established for cats, to hold their owners accountable."

When asked why cats do not have a registration programme as dogs do, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said that it requires licensing of dogs for traceability during the outbreak of diseases such as rabies. Thus, its requirements are targeted at dogs rather than cats.

Taxi driver Aaron Liu, 54, dislikes cats but he, too, finds the ban bizarre. "While stray cats can be very loud when they fight, pet cats should not be an issue," he said.

Administrative and finance executive Jocelyn Tan, 42, who has cats under the Love Cats programme, said: "Even my next-door neighbours have never seen my cats."

She said that responsible owners mesh their windows and litter-train and sterilise their pets.

But Mr Peter Khaw is less optimistic about the effectiveness of rules on cat ownership, compared with an outright ban.

The retired aviation consultant, who is in his 70s, does not believe the rules will be adhered to.

"We still have problems with littering and obstruction of corridors in Singapore, (so) I am not sure if pet owners will really cat-proof their homes."

Some families in Jurong West have cause for concern. They have been living with flies and a bad smell for nearly two years, after a neighbour with more than 20 cats moved into the block.

"It is like living above a sewage plant," said retired teacher Dominic Wee, 57. HDB has taken the owner to court, but the problem persists.

"If there is a rule against keeping cats in HDB flats, how can my neighbour get away with this?" he asked.

Veterinarian Joyce Lauw noted that in most cases, pet hygiene is not a problem. Though both dogs and cats can spread rabies and worms, Singapore is rabies-free.

"Vaccinations can also prevent the spread of diseases," she said.

Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection transmitted by cat faeces and dangerous to foetuses, is also rarely seen here.

Dr Christopher Chong, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital, said: "Domesticated cats are healthy and they are less likely to have the infection that can be passed on to humans."


Note: This story has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Is it time for HDB to allow... Cats in flats?'. Print Edition | Subscribe