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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

the problems of stray cat management

We have sometimes discussed with some of the friends of Ubi Kuching Project we meet about the issue of raising awareness of our Ubi stray cat sterilisation programmes. The contention is about raising awareness having a possible negative effect, that of humans dumping cats in our neighbourhood because they know that we control the population here through regular neutering.

At Ubi Kuching Project, we feel that raising awareness helps spread the message of sterilisation being a key to population control. Our readers can benefit from knowing by copying our model into their own community-based cat welfare programmes. We can also highlight problems we may face, widening our pool of supporters and sponsors, through the law of large numbers, rather than simply limiting potential sponsors to come from our personal networks alone.

There is definitely the downside, in having new cats being dumped in more efficiently managed zones like ours, be they home cats that owners have fallen out of love with, kittens reproduced through lack of sterilisation of home cats, or even stray cat carers that cannot manage in their own community dumping their strays into ours. We do not know where the cats come from, they could be from all the above.

I have thought long and hard about this and I feel that the long way forward really is to legalise cat ownership, requiring licensing, with name-tagged collars and / or micro-chipping in home cats. Like in Australia for example, where it is illegal for a cat not to have a collar, and where imports of cats have already been ceased. I feel licensing is the way forward, because with licensing, sterilisation can be legally enforced, reducing the incidences of abandonment of unwanted kittens and cats on heat in our shared community spaces. With licensing, we can see who are the cats that are truly feral cats, and who are simply lost or abandoned and can be returned to their owners or placed in shelters for re-homing. Alas, this legislation will probably never be passed because our Singapore laws are so archaic and backward that they will take years to change, if ever. By then, I would probably be in my forties.

In the meantime, I worry about the predicament of the cats on the streets of my neighbourhood, furrowing my brow late into the night thinking about cats that are sick, pregnant, culled or abused because they are a nuisance or simply 'just there', wondering how we can help them here and now. Just tonight we did an excursion of Zone 1. Found out the our Sayang's biological family of some brothers and sisters have all disappeared. That Twister is sick, and so is another tortoiseshell cat. (Twister has diarrhoea, and his third eyelids are showing). That the tabby kitten near my block is pregnant - she is so small. That Spotty is getting skinnier each passing day. All this in just six blocks of Ubi. It keeps me up at night.

We should take more care of the cats in our neighbourhood, but there simply isn't enough funds to bring all the sick stray cats to the vet all the time, and even with simple first aid, there mightn't even be enough resources or volunteers or time to do it all. We should think of our urban communities as a version of safaris and wildlife parks of other countries, where they protect the wildlife which roams within a confined space, administering care when needed. If we see the work of rangers caring for wildlife in parks and safaris as completely normal, why not the care of urban stray cats? It is one and the same. The only difference is that park rangers and the like are paid to do what very few stray cat welfare volunteers are doing outside of their day jobs. And the government wants us to simply shelter all the strays in the country in a plot of land they have so lavishly offered to animal welfare groups. Is that really the progressive way to go?

As for the immediate, tomorrow we will administer some medication to Twister to help him get a bit better, hopefully. We will try to trap the very shy pregnant tabby kitten to bring for abortion and spaying. We will hope the funds will come in for Zone 2 so we can address the issue a few cats at a time. Lobbying is almost useless in Singapore, so this is how we will care for the wildlife - in this case, the cats - in our beloved neighbourhood. I want my neighbours to be happy living in Kampung Ubi, and I want the 'wildlife' to be safe.

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