Animals have become an integral part of life within the Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats in Singapore. As more and more residents accept the notion of sharing a home with a pet, HDB apartments have developed into warm homes for both people and a variety of animal friends.
However, there are rules regarding which pets are allowed in a flat under the Housing and Development Board Animal Rules 1989. Currently, HDB only allows one dog from a list of permitted breeds in a residential unit. What about cats, then? They are unfortunately not an option. Cats have been prohibited from being kept as pets by HDB dwellers for more than 30 years, but that may soon change.
In this article, we will be covering:
What is the Cat Ban Law Imposed by the Government?
Cats have been banned since 1989 in a Singapore HDB flat. According to the HDB website, cats are generally difficult to contain within the flat as they are naturally curious creatures. When they are allowed to roam about, they shed fur or urinate in public areas. They also cause a nuisance by making caterwauling sounds which can inconvenience neighbours.
Those who are found keeping a cat in HDB flats are liable to a fine of up to $4,000 under the Housing and Development (Animals) Rules Act. Nevertheless, actions are only typically taken against flat owners if there are complaints regarding their cats causing a nuisance. In such cases, the owners may be required to rehome their cats. Failure to cooperate may then result in a fine.
How the Cat Ban Law May Change Soon
As of September 2022, the Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) is working with HDB to explore the possibility of allowing cats to be kept as pets.
A public consultation exercise was launched by the AVS to seek feedback on improving the welfare and management of the cat population, with a view to eventually permitting cats to be kept as pets in HDB flats. AVS then proposed two strategies for its proposed approach to cat management, which received strong support from respondents.
By including pet cats in the licensing and microchipping scheme
The first strategy is to include pet cats in the licensing and microchipping scheme. A microchip is a tiny transponder, and it is a permanent identification system that is implanted in pets and is read by a microchip scanner. An exclusive identification code is contained in a microchip. The owner will be able to locate their pet cat if they have registered their code in a database.
This is the best method of permanent pet identification. If a pet is lost or goes missing, the chances of getting it back to its owner are increased if it has a microchip.
At the same time, the microchip can be scanned and matched to the cat owner’s contact details, thereby identifying the owner as well. This can combat cat abandonment as owners can be found and held liable.
Abandoning a pet is illegal and can lead to charges of animal cruelty or neglect. Ethically, it is widely viewed as a cruel and heartless act. Furthermore, this may cause disamenities to people, such as cats loitering in corridors.
Microchipping is therefore considered a responsible pet ownership practice because it increases the chances of a lost cat being returned to its owner and reduces pet abandonment as owners understand they will be held accountable otherwise.
With responsible cat ownership, the cat ban may possibly be lifted.
By expanding the Trap-Neuter-Rehome/Release-Manage (TNRM) Programme for stray dogs to community cats
The second strategy is to expand the Trap-Neuter-Rehome/Release-Manage (TNRM) Programme for stray dogs to community cats. The TNRM programme has been successful in controlling Singapore’s population of stray dogs. As a result, AVS is thinking about extending it to include neighbourhood cats.
The Cat Welfare Society (CWS) also advocates the TNRM programme towards pet cats. CWS is a Singapore-based society and charity that oversees the welfare of community cats and kittens. CWS acknowledges that the TNRM programme is a highly effective, efficient, and humane method of population control and management.
Community cats will be caught and sterilised as part of this programme. When possible, they will subsequently be placed in new homes or released into the neighbourhood. By finding new homes for these community cats, they can hopefully be welcomed in HDB flats.
By organising public awareness campaigns
Project Love Cats is a pilot project on cat ownership that was launched on 20 October 2012 in Chong Pang. The programme was designed to test a community management framework on responsible cat ownership and residents are allowed to own a cat in their HDB flats for a two-year period. Details of the owners who kept a cat under the programme are collected as part of the registration process, together with an indication of whether ownership conditions are met.
These conditions include sterilising, microchipping, and keeping pet cats indoors. In 2017, it was stated that the programme had been a success in terms of showcasing responsible pet cat ownership. This determining factor can help with the consideration of HDB lifting the cat ban.
What are the Implications If the Cat Ban Law Changes?
If the cat ban law in HDB flats were to change in Singapore, it would have several implications, both positive as well as potentially challenging.
The first implication is whether there will be limits on the number of cats per HDB flat. Currently, HDB only approves one dog per HDB flat. Hence, there may also be limits on the number of cats allowed per HDB flat.
The second implication is the prevention of abandonment and abuse of pet cats. To reduce the rate of abandonment and abuse, it may be compulsory that pet owners will have to microchip their cats. Tracking of missing cats can be achieved more easily if there are microchips in the animal. This should lower the cat abandonment rate as AVS has the authority to make any citizen liable for their cats.
The third implication is encouraging pet responsibility. When bringing a cat into an HDB flat, there must be commitment to taking ownership by its owner. Below are some ways to practise responsible cat ownership.
How Can I Practise Responsible Cat Ownership in Singapore?
The CWS advocates the following as a minimum standard of responsible cat ownership:
Mandatory sterilisation of pet cats
Cats of approximately 5 to 6 months old in age should be sterilised. The benefits of sterilising cats will help them lead a healthier life, be less prone to diseases and can also reduce certain undesirable behaviours in cats. Moreover, this will help to control overpopulation.
Keeping pet cats safely indoors at all times
Cats should be kept indoors to prevent them from roaming around freely and urinating or defecating in public areas. This will reduce the number of complaints from neighbours. Some ways to keep a cat safely indoors or prevent them from leaving the flat is by meshing windows, gates, and balconies.
Ensuring the health and well-being of the pet cats
Pet cats need to have access to fresh water and high-quality food every day. Additionally, pet cats should receive medical attention as needed. At least once a year, adult cats should receive a thorough examination by a veterinarian.
In general, kittens need to see the vet every three to four weeks until they are about four months old. Denial of medical care is an act of cruelty. Under the Animals and Birds Act, anyone who is found guilty of cruelty to animals, including the abandonment of any animal, can be imprisoned for up to 18 months, fined up to $15,000, or both.
Maintaining a hygienic environment
Pet cats should be provided a clean environment, and one way to do so is by providing litter boxes. Litter boxes should be cleaned at least once daily. Scooping out waste at least once a day will significantly reduce persistent odours and will encourage your cat to keep using it. This can also potentially reduce complaints as there won’t be any smell lingering around.
Microchipping of pet cats
Singaporeans are strongly advised to microchip their pet cats. Microchipping your cat gives them the best chance of being identified and returned to you if they are lost or stolen. Microchips are safe, easy to implant and effective.
A change in the cat ban law would require careful planning, education, and community involvement to ensure a smooth transition and a harmonious coexistence between residents and their feline companions in HDB flats. Moreover, by working together as one community, the cat ban may be lifted soon. Some important steps that would have to be taken towards lifting the ban are practising responsible pet ownership and having pet cats microchipped and sterilised.