The Singapore Government is contemplating overturning a 34-year ban on cat ownership in Housing and Development Board (HDB) households.
Senior Minister of State for National Development, Tan Kiat How, announced the proposal during the Pets’ Day Out event at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park organized by the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) on Saturday (2 Dec).
The proposed change aims to strike a balance between meeting residents’ desires to own cats and maintaining a harmonious living environment for all HDB flat residents.
Tan Kiat How stated that under the proposed cat management framework, HDB households would be allowed to own up to two cats per flat. This decision comes after years of advocacy from cat owners against the ban.
To ensure responsible ownership and mitigate potential issues, pet cats would need to undergo mandatory microchipping and licensing.
This would enable authorities to respond more effectively to health outbreaks and hold owners accountable.
Tan Kiat How emphasized that a two-month public feedback period would precede the implementation of the framework in the later part of 2024.
During the two-year transition period following the launch, all pet cat licenses would be issued free of charge.
Currently, HDB residents face fines of up to S$4,000 for violating the ban on cat ownership, which was under the HDB Animals Rules 1989.
The ban was primarily due to concerns that cats, being naturally curious creatures, are difficult to contain within flats. When allowed to roam, they can shed fur, urinate in public areas, and create noise through caterwauling, potentially inconveniencing neighbours.
However, this has not actively been enforced, even though many residents have been rearing cats in their residences over the decades as HDB only acts against errant homeowners whose cats are a public nuisance.
Under the same rules, HDB allows one dog of an approved small breed to be kept in each residential unit.
An AVS survey in May revealed widespread support for allowing cats as pets in HDB flats. The proposed limits for HDB premises include two cats (and one dog of an approved breed) per flat.
However, the authorities acknowledge that some households may already exceed this proposed limit.
For those with more than two cats, Tan Kiat How explained that applying for a license would be possible, subject to AVS approval.
The authorities aim to ensure the welfare of the additional cats and prevent any disturbances to neighbours. The proposal also addresses the concerns of cat fosterers, with plans underway to support them within the proposed framework.
AVS stressed the importance of responsible pet ownership, outlining measures such as keeping cats “under control” in public spaces and protecting them from indoor and outdoor hazards.
All first-time cat or dog license applicants would be required to complete a one-time free online pet ownership course, covering basic pet care skills and responsible ownership in multiple languages.
To address unintended cat breeding, owners are encouraged to sterilize their cats. Sterilized cats licensed during the transition period may receive free lifetime licenses, while fees may apply for unsterilized cats after the transition period.
“While we also plan to license unsterilized cats for free during the transition period, this license will need to be renewed regularly following the transition period and at a higher fee,” he said.
The proposed framework extends beyond individual pet ownership. It involves expanding the Trap-Neuter-Rehome/Release-Manage program for free-roaming dogs to include community cats.
This initiative aims to manage the community cat population in a humane and science-based manner.
The initiative will expand upon the current effort to subsidize the sterilization and microchipping of community cats since 2011.
Additionally, there are plans to increase funding support for trapping and boarding community cats, aiming for holistic and humane management, following the successful model applied to free-roaming dogs, as stated by Mr Tan.
Cat Welfare Society (CWS) president Thenuga Vijakumar expressed optimism about the positive developments, emphasizing the importance of licensing and microchipping to hold owners accountable.
She also welcomed plans to enhance funding support for community cat programs.
Nur Faezah Mat Aris, a 42-year-old cat owner with three cats, expressed that the initiative to microchip and license them could facilitate reuniting lost cats with their owners. However, she holds mixed feelings about the proposed two-cat limit per flat.
“I would think that is very subjective because it doesn’t mean if you have two cats, you are a good pet owner (or) that if you have six cats, you cannot manage. I hope that in time to come, with more experience, this may be reviewed as well,” she said.
The public is invited to provide feedback on the proposed framework through an online survey until 1 February 2024, at go.gov.sg/cat-framework.
The government hopes to address concerns and refine the proposal based on public input.
In 2000, the late MP for West Coast GRC, Mr Bernard Chen, asked in Parliament: ‘If the Minister of State is in agreement that we should control cats, why do you not license them so that at least we do not shoot the wrong cats, to begin with, and whoever is the owner will have a responsibility in making sure that the cat does not stray around, but is confined to the flat?’
Then, the Minister of State for National Development, Dr John Chen Seow Phu, replied, saying he did not think licensing is the solution to stray cats. “The cat can still move around and create nuisance, or scavenge for food, scavenging on food, and so on. So I do not think there is a need, at this point in time, to license cats.”
Later in March 2007, former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong asked the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of National Development whether he agreed that if pet ownership is permitted, subject to sterilisation and the need to keep the cats within the flats, then many problems attributed to stray cats will be resolved.
Then-Permanent Secretary Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman replied: “This issue of pet ownership, cats especially, in housing estates has been discussed several times. There are two groups effectively – one, the pet lovers who feel that it is okay for pets to be in housing estates. As long as they are sterilised, they will be able to manage and live among HDB dwellers. However, there is also the other group of HDB dwellers who are very particular about the nuisance created by pets of this kind.”
“The policy of HDB has been that we do not allow cats to be kept in HDB flats because cats are nomadic in nature and are difficult to be confined within the flat. They have also given rise to problems such as defecation, noise and shedding of fur, which will affect the living environment of our housing estates. Having said that, I think we continue to try to engage the pet lovers group to try to bring both parties together. I think what is important is a sense of appreciation of each other’s side and to see if, at some point in time later, they will come to an agreed position.”
“As of now, I think we receive a significant number of complaints from HDB dwellers with regard to nuisance created by cats. Therefore, at this point in time, the position of the HDB remains the same – cats will not be allowed in HDB flats.”
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