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Singapore public housing tenants celebrate new cat ownership rights

Image Credits: UnsplashImage Credits: Unsplash
  • Singapore has lifted a 34-year ban on owning cats in public housing, effective from late 2024.
  • New regulations include mandatory microchipping, licensing, and a free online pet ownership course.
  • Measures are in place to prevent the abandonment of pets and ensure responsible pet ownership.

For over three decades, cat lovers in Singapore's public housing faced a stringent ban on keeping their feline friends at home. This long-standing restriction, which began in 1989, is finally being lifted, marking a significant shift in the city-state's pet ownership policies. The new regulations, set to take effect in late 2024, will allow residents to own up to two cats per flat, provided they adhere to specific guidelines aimed at ensuring responsible pet ownership.

The Historical Ban and Its Implications

The original ban on cats in Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats was implemented due to concerns about the animals' behavior. Cats were considered difficult to contain within the confines of an apartment, often roaming freely, shedding fur, and causing hygiene issues in public areas. The Housing Development Board (HDB) stated that cats "tend to shed fur and defecate or urinate in public areas, and also make caterwauling sounds, which can inconvenience your neighbors".

Despite these concerns, many residents flouted the rules, keeping cats discreetly in their homes. The lack of active enforcement meant that unless neighbors lodged complaints, cat owners could often avoid penalties. However, the risk of a hefty fine of up to S$4,000 (US$3,000) loomed over those who were caught.

The New Cat Management Framework

The new cat management framework introduced by the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) aims to balance the needs of both pet owners and non-pet owners in HDB flats. Key components of the framework include mandatory microchipping and licensing of cats, as well as a requirement for first-time cat owners to complete a free online course on responsible pet ownership.

Residents will also need to take measures to prevent their cats from roaming or falling from high-rise windows, such as installing mesh or grilles. This is particularly important given the frequent reports of cats falling from heights, with many not surviving the falls.

Public Response and Support

The decision to lift the ban followed extensive public consultation, with about 90% of respondents supporting the idea of allowing cats in HDB flats. This overwhelming support reflects a growing recognition of the benefits of pet ownership and the importance of responsible pet care.

Thenuga Vijakumar, president of the Cat Welfare Society, expressed her approval of the new regulations, stating, "I think responsible pet cat owners deserve to own their cats without fear of scrutiny if they adhere to the conditions of responsible ownership and licensing. This will put them on par with dog owners who have had the benefit of regulations".

Addressing Concerns and Ensuring Compliance

To address concerns about the potential increase in stray cats and abandoned pets, the AVS has proposed several measures. These include offering free sterilization and microchipping services for pet cats belonging to low-income households and extending the Trap-Neuter-Rehome/Release-Manage program for community cats.

Aarthi Sankar, executive director at the Singapore Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, highlighted the importance of these measures in preventing the abandonment of unwanted animals. "We are perpetually at about 70 to 80% of our shelter's limit," she said, emphasizing the need for responsible pet ownership to reduce the strain on rescue centers.

The Road Ahead

As Singapore prepares to implement these new regulations, the focus will be on educating pet owners and ensuring compliance with the new rules. The AVS will continue to work with animal welfare groups, veterinarians, and the public to refine the framework and address any emerging issues.

For many cat owners, the lifting of the ban represents a long-overdue recognition of their right to keep pets in their homes. As one cat owner, Adam, put it, "Normally for cats, they're not a problem. Maybe a dog– they're noisy, and if a dog bites you're in trouble".

With the new regulations in place, Singapore's public housing residents can look forward to a more pet-friendly environment, where responsible pet ownership is encouraged and supported.

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