New minister brings fresh hope for local cats
SINGAPORE, 6 June 2011: The new minister installed at the Ministry of National Development (MND) after the general elections last month, Mr Khaw Boon Wah, has brought in sweeping change to the local feline scene by promising to look at how the feral cat population can be managed without the use of culling.
Sharing that he himself has pets, he said last Friday that he would "weigh in on AVA to seriously consider reviewing its culling programme for cats. Stray cats are a source of complaints in HDB estates but killing them is not the best way to go. The right thing is for cat lovers to own the problem, eliminate the nuisance created by irresponsible behaviour, and sterilise the cats to control their population. Where there are enough cat-lovers out there willing to own this problem, we can avoid culling in those estates."
Definitely a welcome positivity from a government official, this stance by the minister under whose purview the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) - the agency tasked with trapping and culling cats - falls, has signalled a move away from the age-old official position that the most effective management of cat population is systematic culling in 'problem' areas.
The unsolicited announcement has taken cat-lovers across the island by (pleasant) surprise with little negative reaction from the general public. The Cat Welfare Society (CWS) - which has for years lobbied for a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as the most effective manner of population control - welcomed this fresh willingness to solve the problem at its root cause instead of treating the symptoms.
In a statement released yesterday, its Vice-President, Ms Veron Lau, reiterated that responsible cat ownership involves sterilising their pets, keeping them safely indoors, and taking effective measures to secure their safety in high-rise flats. In fact, a facebook page created by the CWS to encourage cat-owners to 'come out' (of the proverbial closet) and openly share the existence of their cats living with them in their Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, has now gathered over 1,000 individuals (500 had joined within the first 24 hours) in just a few days.
Looking ahead, the CWS identifies education as the key and will seek to work with the HDB, AVA and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals (SPCA) to bring the message of responsibility to all cat owners. At the same time, CWS has renewed its proposal for a responsible cat management programme in HDB estates and is pushing for the reinstatement of AVA’s stray cat sterilisation scheme - where sterilisation of community cats was funded by the AVA - that was terminated in 2003.
Pointing to an active volunteer community at its disposal, the CWS revealed that there are more than 500 volunteers (or caregivers, as they are referred to among the cat-loving community) who spend their own time and resources over the years to sterilise community cats, educate people in the community about responsible cat management and ownership and individually work with local Town Councils to mediate and resolve complaints. In extreme cases, these volunteers have also sometimes taken it upon themselves to help cat owners sterilise pet cats so that future problems of pet abandonment can be avoided.
This position of the CWS is not new however, and is something the group has been advocating and working towards since its inception in 1999. What has clearly changed is the receptiveness of the government agencies - under the fresh leadership of Minister Khaw. Many animal welfare proponents are very encouraged by this open-minded approach to this issue and much positive change is expected to ensue.
Hot on the heels of this revelation by Minister Khaw, Chong Pang constituency, will officially unveil its Animal Welfare Programme on 18 June. Having organised Singapore's first-ever animal welfare public forum in collaboration with the Animal Concerns, Research & Education Society (ACRES) on that day, the details of the Chong Pang Animal Welfare Programme will be revealed during the forum. A notable component of the programme though, is the end of the culling of cats in the Chong Pang constituency in favour of humane cat management.
Indeed, the Animal Welfare Forum has attracted much interest and is largely anticipated to be a groundbreaking event for the local animal welfare scene. Members of the public are invited to participate and share their views on the issue, with representatives from the various agencies, such as the local Town Council, AVA, SPCA and CWS.
The Public Forum on Animal Welfare Policies will be held at Chong Pang Community Club (21 Yishun Ring Road) on 18 June 2011 from 2pm to 5pm. More details are available from the facebook event page created by the ACRES team.