Although the exact process and timing have not been easy to trace, it is safe to say that cats have been domesticated for a very long time. Records of the first ever pet cat dates back 9,500 years, way before cats were revered in Ancient Egypt.
I’m using “domesticated” loosely because cats are, well, cats.
Cat-lovers and animal-lovers alike in Singapore were recently taken aback by the sudden revelation that cats are prohibited as pets in HDB flats. Judging from the reaction to a widely-circulated letter in which the housing board ordered a flat-owner to remove his pet cat, this is apparently a ruling that not many knew about.
Many asked, “If dogs are allowed in our HDB flats, why aren’t cats?”
Well, according to HDB’s website, “Cats are not allowed in flats. They are generally difficult to contain within the flat. When allowed to roam indiscriminately, they tend to shed fur and defecate or urinate in public areas, and also make caterwauling sounds, which can inconvenience your neighbours.”
Although a blanket ban seems harsh, there is some truth to the reasons given for why cats are not allowed in public housing estates. Understandably, as solitary creatures, cats are difficult to contain within the flat given their independent streak and penchant for wandering.
However, when it comes to issues of shedding, defecating and urinating in public spaces, cat lovers have some grounds for feeling unjustly targeted. The logic seems lacking to ban cats for these reasons when their dog counterparts are equally prone to the same behaviours.
Dogs, like cats, are furry mammals and they, too, shed fur. And shedding does not follow a schedule. When they shed, they shed. Indoors, outdoors or wherever they might be.
As for defecating and urinating, cats actually have a habit of covering up their excrement as it masks their tracks in the wild and hides their unique scents from other would-be predators.
On the contrary, whether it’s a lack of nature or nurture, dogs are commonly seen to defecate and simply walk away. Yet despite this, there isn’t a blanket ban on dogs in HDB flats. Instead, responsible ownership is encouraged, where dog owners are actively educated to clean up after their fur kids.
In this case, why can’t the same solution be extended to cat lovers?
It could take some work, but there are many steps a responsible cat owner can take to care of their escape artist pets. From installing a wire mesh at the gates and windows to keeping a closer eye on the curious kitty, some are already actively trying to keep their cats in check lest they inconvenience others.
As an animal lover, I’m for removing the ban on cats. I think it’s time for the authorities as well as the community to relook this archaic regulation. And in a development that’s sure to bring a smile to the faces of cat lovers, the authorities are showing some signs of being open towards softening their stance on the issue.
A pilot programme in Chong Pang , dubbed Love Cats, had first been launched in 2012 as a scheme that allowed flat dwellers to keep cats as long as they were registered, sterilised and microchipped, as well as kept indoors. Four years on, the programme spearheaded by Cat Welfare Society (CWS) has 105 households registered and is in talks for expansion to other neighbourhoods, only on hold due to the lack of funds. It seems that responsible cat ownership within a supportive community is the way forward for our feline friends.
With the advocacy of animal welfare groups like CWS, cat owners can pick up actionable steps to better look after their pets and avoid inconveniencing their neighbours. These may include confining the cats indoors and toilet-training them.
How we can make it work for our furry friends
There are only so many times one can step on surprise poop or to clean up furballs strewn at their doorstep on a daily basis before losing their patience.
And as it stands, the ban is not actively enforced and the authorities only act when a complaint is made against a HDB cat owner. Whenever we do not see eye to eye with our neighbour and turn to the authorities to resolve neighbourly disputes, chances are that a cat or dog will have to be rehomed.
Instead of seeking out the authorities whenever we encounter an errant cat and its owner, what’s stopping us from taking a few steps next door to have a chat with our dear neighbour? Rather than set store by the “black and white” of HDB’s regulations, cat owners would appreciate having an honest conversation that comes across as a friendly reminder to keep their cats in check.
On the other side of the fence, keeping a pet comes with great responsibilities.
I keep a close eye on my cat if he roams outside. None of my neighbours knew of my cat until the day they saw my cat in a carrier on the way to the vet.
Our neighbourhoods are communal spaces; there are animal lovers and there are others. Living in a community, it is important that we respect the differences among us, and work together to create a place we can all call home.
If others would make the effort to take a few steps to the next house to initiate a chat about our pets, the onus is on the pet owners to be sensitive to their neighbours’ concerns.
Or, if you have had a bad experience with a neighbour’s pet, highlight this to the owner in a tactful manner.
If we allow the 62 breeds of dogs in HDB apartments, we should allow cats as well. It is only fair to remove the blanket ban entirely. There is only so much regulations can do to ensure neighbourly peace (pets included), why not leave it to residents to figure out what works for them?
Or has the cat got our tongue?