The 'Community Cats' of Singapore
Singapore lies at the end of the Malay peninsula, just one degree off the equator. Forget what you know of Asian cities – Singapore is different. While one of the most densely settled places on earth, Singaporeans have a diverse culture, and the third highest GDP ($82,000) per capita of any nation on the planet. A careful campaign by the government has created many green spots and parks. Also, unlike most cities Singapore does not have a stray cat problem.
This is because Singaporeans do not regard the cats as a problem, and they do not call them 'stray'. Instead these are called 'community cats' because, in the words of the Singapore SPCA:
Community animals, usually cats and dogs, are those living within our environment, whether in the urban areas, or outskirts of Singapore. For many of them, they know no other existence but the streets and housing estates. While concerned individuals may feel that living on the streets is not safe or desirable, this is where many of our community animals are happiest – being free to roam, but having a food source and caregivers nearby.
Note the last line 'having a food source and caregivers nearby'. In Singapore the cats are not strays but regarded as having an extended home which is the community including the spaces and people within that community. The cats even have a Facebook page, in which people give names to the cats in their neighbourhood, and enquire anxiously about particular feline friends which have gone missing.
A recent post shows the 'petting areas' on a cat's body (head 'awesome', base of tail 'hell yes!') with suggestions about how to fraternize with a street cat. Those who want more information can go here to a page which lets readers know the correct etiquette for caring for and helping these independent animals.
According to a recent article in the BBC:
Every city has its strays, but here in Singapore, they are little different. Not scrawny and vaguely whiffy, but glossy and groomed and known affectionately as 'community cats'. By day, they are fed and watered by a small army of dedicated volunteer feeders - office workers heading home, hipsters heading out, ageing 'aunties and uncles'.
The BBC article was written because, outraged at a spate of cat killings, Singaporeans organized themselves into community patrols which roam the streets at night specifically on the lookout for animal abusers. The cat welfare website in Singapore includes a FAQ on 'What should I do if I see a cat being abused?' (Answer: Photograph the abuser, document his activities, report to the police and remind them of their duty to take action under Section IV of the relevant Criminal code.)
Another frequently asked question is 'How do I organise a citizen patrol to help catch cat abusers?' Again the website gives plentiful information, and according to the BBC report, citizens have been signing up in droves. It appears after two men were arrested, cat killings have virtually stopped.
The Singaporeans are aware that not every cat automatically needs an owner. They discourage those who want the cats to all be adopted to solve the 'problem' by arguing that removing the cats simply creates a 'vacuum effect' which means that other cats will be attracted to the now cat-free territory. Instead, the cats are neutered and ear-tipped and allowed to get on with their lives in the place of their own choosing. (Ear-tipping is the practice of cutting a quarter-inch off the top of one ear-tip. It is the international sign that a feral cat has been neutered and there is no need to trap and check that cat again.)
Singapore is by no means a paradise for cats living on their own. Cat shelters are at capacity and thousands of cats are put down every year. Many regard the cats as noisy nuisances, and as we have seen, some actively go out of their way to attack them. Nevertheless, with its active Cat Welfare Society and the caring attitude of so many of its citizens, the 'Singapore Model' makes the city-state a world leader in understanding how best to care for feral cats.
Image courtesy of pixarbay