SINGAPORE: In a Facebook post on Tuesday (12 Dec), the People’s Action Party shared:
‘HDB residents will soon be able to welcome furry felines into their flats. Our MPs have continuously spoken up on this and we support the move from the recent announcement. This positive development of allowing cats in HDB flats reflects the changing needs of our community and acknowledges the growing appreciation for responsible pet ownership. It is a statement to how Government policies can adapt to meet the evolving aspirations of Singaporeans. Let’s continue to build a compassionate society where responsible pet ownership thrives!’
The post was accompanied by photos of parliamentarians Murali Pillai, Louis Ng, and Gan Thiam Poh, advocating for cat ownership in HDB flats.
This comes along with the recent announcement by the Government that it is contemplating overturning a 34-year ban on cat ownership in Housing and Development Board (HDB) households.
While PAP’s post seems to suggest that the matter of cat ownership in HDB flats has recently been raised by its MPs, it has been a subject of parliamentary discussion since the implementation of the HDB Animals Rules in 1989.
Presently, HDB residents risk fines of up to S$4,000 for violating the ban on cat ownership, while small dogs are allowed to be reared in HDB flats.
The ban stemmed from alleged concerns about cats’ natural curiosity, which makes them difficult to contain within flats. They can cause disturbances by shedding fur, urinating in public areas, and caterwauling, potentially inconveniencing neighbours.
Despite this, enforcement has been lax, with many residents keeping cats without facing repercussions over the decades unless their pets cause public nuisances to neighbours.
The PAP FB post suggests that PAP parliamentarians played a key role in this policy shift, but a review of historical debates paints a different picture.
In 2000, the late MP Bernard Chen raised a poignant question in Parliament: ‘If the Minister of State agrees that we should control cats, why not license them, so we do not shoot the wrong cats, to begin with, and the owner will be responsible for ensuring the cat doesn’t stray but is confined to the flat?’ However, Dr John Chen Seow Phu, then Minister of State for National Development, replied that licensing was not a solution, as it would not prevent cats from causing nuisances or scavenging for food.
Former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong, in March 2007, queried the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of National Development on pet ownership policies. Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, the then-Permanent Secretary, reiterated the HDB’s stance against allowing cats in flats due to their nomadic nature and potential nuisances, such as defecation, noise, and fur shedding.
In 2012, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang asked the government to streamline regulations regarding pet ownership in light of how dogs are allowed in HDB flats. However, the matter was seemingly brushed away without much consideration and forgotten.
In 2015, Mr Png Eng Huat hoped that cat lovers could adopt the community cats legally and take them home to feed and care for them as pets while the response to him was the government was going to take a look at the results of the pilot when it is over in its on-going review of its animal-related policies.
In 2018, Mr Murali Pillai asked whether the rule disallowing cat ownership in HDB flats may be abrogated and replaced with rules promoting responsible cat ownership, in response then Minister for National Development, Mr Lawrence Wong, sidestepped the question and talked about the cat housing project in Chong Pang.
In January 2020, Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang sought clarification on the rationale for prohibiting cats in HDB flats. Mr Wong emphasized balancing the interests of pet lovers and non-pet lovers, citing the nuisances caused by cats.
And while Mr Wong pointed out the need for a balance of views of cat lovers and haters, the disparity in public opinion on this issue is evident from two contrasting Change.org petitions.
The government has been looking into the lifting of the ban at least since 2011, and the parliamentary exchanges listed above suggest that the PAP government’s historical stance has been a significant barrier to lifting the ban on cat ownership in HDB flats, not the reluctance of the community or HDB residents.
One might hypothesize that the impending general election, coupled with the PAP’s diminishing popularity, could be influential factors in the decision to revisit this policy, which, according to many, should not have been enacted in the first place.
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