ST Explains: Why cats are banned from HDB flats, and what lifting the ban would take

The ban on cats was imposed because the animals are generally difficult to contain within a flat, says the HDB website. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - The current ban on cats being kept as pets in Housing Board homes could soon be lifted, as the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) conducts a public consultation exercise to improve the welfare and management of the cat population.

Why ban cats as pets in HDB units?

Put in place from 1960, the cat ban was part of a blanket ban on all animals, livestock and poultry in flats.

This was when these residents, many from kampungs, were moving into the first flats.

The ban is still in place because cats are generally difficult to contain within a flat, says the HDB website.

It goes on to assert that cats, “when allowed to roam indiscriminately... tend to shed fur and defecate or urinate in public areas, and also make caterwauling sounds, which can inconvenience" other residents.

HDB said on Saturday that it is working with AVS to explore the possibility of allowing cats to be kept as pets in flats, and will take into consideration feedback given during the consultation phase.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, an HDB spokesman said that its primary consideration for maintaining the current ban was to preserve a pleasant and harmonious living environment in HDB estates.

"We strive to balance the interests of residents who are pet lovers and those who may be affected by disamenities as a result of irresponsible pet ownership," the spokesman added.

What will the public consultation cover?

The consultation will revolve around a proposed framework, with the public asked for their views on such areas as pet cats in the licensing and microchipping scheme, expanding the trap-neuter-rehome/release-manage (TNRM) programme for free-roaming dogs to include community cats, promoting responsible community cat caregiving, adoption of cats, and responsible cat ownership through engagement and outreach.

The public consultation phase will run for six months, till March 2023. Feedback, which will go towards refining the recommended framework, will be gathered through a two-month online survey open to the public, alongside dialogues and focus group discussions with relevant stakeholders such as animal welfare groups and veterinarians.

What steps will be taken before the ban can be lifted?

The ban is still in place because cats are generally difficult to contain within a flat, says the HDB website. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Dr Chang Siow Foong, AVS group director, said on Saturday at the Pets' Day Out event at East Coast Park that traceability, through the use of microchips embedded under the the animal's fur with information linking cats to registered owners and addresses, would be key to ending the ban.

"Traceability can be applied to very important things like managing diseases, disease outbreaks, protecting public health... and, also importantly, protecting the welfare of the animal.

"We will be able to hold owners accountable if there are any reports of abandonment, cruelty or neglect," said Dr Chang, adding that this would "also allow us to reunite lost pets with owners because we will be able to trace each pet back to the owner".

He said: "We cannot just put a cat into a home and expect everything to be all right. Once we are able to achieve a balance of both animal and public welfare, then we can start exploring whether cats can be allowed in HDB flats."

What is the TNRM programme?

The traceability framework would dovetail with the rehoming of cats under the TNRM programme to ensure that public health, animal health and welfare elements of cat ownership were being managed properly, said Dr Chang.

Community cats will be trapped, sterilised and rehomed with the help of animal welfare groups where possible. Cats deemed unsuitable for rehoming will be released back into the community, where they will be under the care of community caregivers.

The programme builds on the current stray cat sterilisation programme, which sees AVS subsidising the cost of sterilisation and microchipping for cats but not the process of rehoming.

Since its launched in 2018, more than 3,400 free-roaming dogs have gone through the programme, with about 60 per cent of them being rehomed subsequently.

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