Cats may be allowed in HDB flats: Tan Kiat How
Cat ownership may finally be allowed in HDB flats but protecting public health, like preventing the spread of rabies through cats, must also be addressed.
Senior Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How said this on Saturday at the Pets’ Day Out event at East Coast Park’s Parkland Green.
He was there to meet pet owners and also to reveal findings from a recent public survey conducted by the Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS).
While it showed close to 90 per cent of over 30,000 responses felt cats were suitable to be kept as pets, some respondents were unhappy cats were also responsible for dirtying their estates.
Conducted between September and November 2022, most respondents supported allowing cats to be kept as pets in HDB flats.
AVS did not disclose this figure, saying it would like to engage the community through a series of focus group discussions starting in June.
This will last several months, involving cat owners, non-cat owners, community cat caregivers, HDB, and representatives of animal welfare groups.
The focus group discussions will include topics like the potential impact of the proposed plans on pet cats and their owners, and community cats and their caregivers.
The ban on cats in HDB flats has been in force since Singaporeans moved into the first such flats in 1960, as part of a blanket ban on all animals, livestock and poultry.
The cat ban endures today, despite a relaxation of the rules on dog and small animal ownership. There were concerns that cats, when allowed to roam indiscriminately, tend to shed fur and defecate or urinate in public areas. They also make caterwauling sounds, which can inconvenience others.
However, the ban is not actively enforced, as HDB only acts against errant homeowners whose cats are a public nuisance.
AVS had said in September 2022 it will work with HDB to explore the possibility of allowing cats to be kept as pets in flats, taking into consideration the feedback received.
Mr Tan said AVS is looking into ways to improve the management of pet and community cats. It is concerned about pet cats being abandoned by irresponsible owners, and abuses of community cats.
Between 2019 and 2021, it took enforcement action against an average of about 60 cases of animal cruelty and abuse each year, with actions ranging from warnings to prosecution for more serious cases.
But he added ensuring public safety was also important, especially in preventing the spread of rabies and other diseases, which can be transmitted through cats to people and other animals.
He said: “If a pet is diagnosed with an infectious disease, we need to be able to swiftly trace the pet’s close contacts to prevent the spread of the disease. Traceability is especially important when the pet has contracted a disease that can be transmitted to humans, such as rabies.”
He said Singapore has been rabies-free since 1953 but added we cannot take this for granted, as countries in the region were still reporting cases.
Mr Tan said: “We need to tackle this matter because of the close interactions between people and cats in our society.”
AVS said it hopes to hear the public’s suggestions on how it can encourage responsible cat ownership and caregiving, and foster greater understanding between neighbours on pet-related matters.
It will also seek feedback on the proposed measures to give households and stakeholders sufficient time and support to adapt to any changes that may be introduced.
Over 80 per cent of the survey respondents agreed that pet cats should be microchipped and licensed, and that licensing could help to improve the health, welfare and traceability of cats.
Close to 80 per cent felt that first-time dog and cat owners should attend a mandatory short course for them to be equipped with basic pet care skills. For example, the simple step of meshing apartment windows would reduce the number of cats falling from height.
Around 80 per cent also said that the proposed Trap-Neuter-Rehome/Release-Manage (TNRM) programme for community cats will be effective in managing the community cat population. As part of this proposed programme, AVS will increase efforts to sterilise and microchip cats in the community.
This will build on the existing stray cat sterilisation programme (SCSP), under which AVS has been subsidising the sterilisation and microchipping of community cats since 2011. So far, an average of 4,000 community cats have been sterilised annually over the past five years.
But some survey respondents were concerned about cats.
One said residents were worried about the mess made from cat food not cleared in a timely manner.
Another said pet cats allowed to roam freely could soil common areas, and it was the cleaners, and not the cat’s owner, who had to clear up the mess. In some cases, cats entered their neighbour’s home.
Said Mr Tan: “Ultimately, it is important for us to create a gracious living environment, where we care for our cats in a responsible manner, without inconveniencing our neighbours.”
Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who has been pushing for a change to the cat ban policy since 2011, said the survey is a huge step forward given that so many people supported cats being kept in HDB flats.
He said: ”I’ve championed this largely because this is a policy that discriminates against people who keep cats in HDB flats. I’m also sure that measures like licensing and microchipping the cats, and meshing up of windows, will solve a lot of cat abandonment issues and disamenities issues we are facing on the ground.”
Should the ban be lifted, he said he will be in tears.
“It has been one of the longest battles I’ve fought, and I know it will benefit so many people and animals.”
Ms Thenuga Vijakumar, president of Cat Welfare Society (CWS), said CWS was encouraged by AVS’ public survey findings.
CWS’ door-to-door surveys carried out in 2022 and 2023 showed over 90 per cent of the 1,400 respondents did not object to the legislation of pet cats in HDB flats.
She said CWS agrees that microchipping and licensing should be part of the requirements for responsible pet cat ownership among other criteria, such as sterlisation and keeping cats indoors.
She added: “We expect the focus group discussions will be completed in the next quarter and take us one step closer to lifting the ban (of cats in HDB flats).”
Members of the public can share their feedback on the public survey findings or the proposed approach to managing pet and community cats with AVS at https://go.gov.sg/avs-cat-management