Public views sought on cat welfare as AVS, HDB mull over allowing cats in flats

Visitors to the Cat Welfare Society’s booth at the Pets’ Day Out event at East Coast Park on Saturday included Mr and Mrs Christopher Sng, with their daughter Nadine. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - A public consultation is under way to improve the welfare and management of the cat population, and when the measures to do so are in force, pave the way for the animals to be kept as pets in HDB flats.

The consultation will revolve around the Animal and Veterinary Service's (AVS) proposed framework, which includes measures aimed at rehoming cats and improving the traceability of pet cats.

Dr Chang Siow Foong, group director of AVS, said building an element of traceability is crucial to protecting not only animal health, but also public welfare.

He added: "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."

He was speaking at the launch of the public consultation at the Pets' Day Out event at East Coast Park on Saturday.

Community outreach programmes were also proposed to raise awareness of issues such as responsible cat ownership and proper caregiving of community cats.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for HDB said 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.

The spokesman added: "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 measures under the proposed framework by AVS include the trap-neuter-rehome or release-manage (TNRM) programme, whereby 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 TNRM programme builds on the current stray cat sterilisation programme, which sees AVS subsidising the costs of sterilisation and micro-chipping for cats under the scheme but does not include the process of rehoming.

Launched in 2018, the TNRM programme currently covers free-roaming dogs. Since then, more than 3,400 dogs have gone through the process, with about 60 per cent of them being rehomed subsequently.

Other measures proposed under the framework include a licensing and micro-chipping scheme aimed at improving the traceability of pet cats. This would in turn allow cats diagnosed with infectious diseases to be easily traced, with information such as close contacts made more accessible as well, enabling AVS to react quickly.

This measure would also help to mitigate potential issues such as pet abandonment.

In attendance at the Pets' Day Out event was Senior Minister of State for National Development and Communications and Information Tan Kiat How, who gave the assurance that any new measures will be carefully studied and gradually implemented.

He said: "For instance, if we proceed with the licensing of pet cats, we will explore ways to give households sufficient time to adjust to any licensing requirements, especially if they have multiple cats."

Ms Aarthi Sankar, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: "Cat population management has been quite challenging for the last few years due to the rapid increase in population. This framework will help to better ensure accountability amongst cat owners, and help us to identify people who abandon their pets and hold them accountable to strict regulations.

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.

Ms Thenuga Vijakumar, president of the Cat Welfare Society, said: "The time is right to show that society is mature enough to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible cat owners."

The online survey will be available till Nov 2. Those who are interested in sharing their views can go to this website.

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