The cat in the flat: Singapore lifts ban on pets in public housing – The Guardian

Public consultation found widespread support to allow cats in the city’s Housing and Development Board flats, in which 80% of the population live
Tommy is, without doubt, the head of his household. If he wants the air conditioning switched on, he simply glares at the unit on the wall. If he wants an early night, he’ll miaow for the TV to be silenced.
But, until now, he has been living in violation of a law that bans cats from much of Singapore’s housing.
This year, the 34-year ban will be overturned, allowing the city’s many fugitive cats to breathe a sigh of relief.
Tommy’s owner, Adam, 42, who spoke under a pseudonym because he is breaking the regulation, says he can’t understand why the ban existed in the first place.
“Normally for cats, they’re not a problem. Maybe a dog [could be a problem] – they’re noisy, and if a dog bites you’re in trouble,” he says.
The ban, which carries a fine of up to SGD$4,000 (US$2,970) and the risk of a pet’s eviction, is widely flouted in Singapore, a city state otherwise known for its law-abiding culture. “Since I’m young, I’m seeing a lot of people having cats,” says Adam.
While the rule is rarely enforced, owners can face problems if neighbours complain.
The ban applies to high-rise blocks that fall under the Housing and Development Board (HDB), which was set up in 1960 to solve a housing crisis that saw many living in overcrowded settlements without proper sanitation. Today, more than 80% of the population live in HDB flats.
The cat ban was imposed for HDB flats in 1989, with the agency saying they are difficult to contain within the flat and that “they tend to shed fur and defecate or urinate in public areas, and also make caterwauling sounds, which can inconvenience your neighbours.”
The change in policy may have been influenced by Singapore’s citizens. A public consultation found that the vast majority of people – about 90% who answered the survey – believed cats should be allowed as pets in HDBs.
Under the new regulations, residents will be allowed to own up to two cats, as well as one dog of an approved breed, provided they complete a free online pet ownership course, and microchip and register their pets. Owners will need to “take reasonable steps” to protect their cats from hazards, such as installing mesh or grilles to prevent cats from roaming or falling from high rise windows.
There will be an amnesty for households with more than two cats, as long as their owners apply for licences during the transitional period.
The new rules, which will come into effect from September, come at a time when pet ownership in Singapore has increased significantly – along with the amount of money spent on animals.
It’s now possible to take your cat to stay at a luxury hotel, take your puppy to yoga or sound bath experience, or buy your guinea pig a bespoke multi-storey hut.
According to a Euromonitor International report cited by Singaporean broadcaster CNA, there were about 94,000 pet cats in Singapore in 2023, up almost 10% from 2019.
Singapore also has a population of stray or community cats that roam many HDBs, and are cared for by residents who leave out water, food and beds.
Aarthi Sankar, executive director at the Singapore Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, hopes the requirement for people to register cats will, in the long term, prevent people from abandoning unwanted animals – a growing problem for rescue centres.
“We are perpetually at about 70 to 80% of our shelter’s limit,” she says. “We try not to take on more cats than that in case we have an emergency rescue.”
Sankar worries that some owners will misunderstand the new rules and abandon pets above the two-cat limit – without realising there is a transition period in which additional animals can be registered and kept.
Animal welfare campaigners have also wanted the government to impose mandatory sterilisation, adds Sanker.
“We’ve seen many cases of people who hoard animals, particularly pet cats. And most of this begins because of accidental breeding within a litter of cats that they already have.”
Tommy’s owner, Adam, wonders how the new rules will be enforced, or why there is a need for such regulations given the rules were already being flouted. “Of course I will go and get the microchip, and get the licence,” he says. His cat is already sterilised, he adds.
Adam says he had, in the past, wanted to have a second cat, but that it would be too late to do so now that three-year-old Tommy is an adult, despite the new rules. Instead, Tommy will continue to live as the undisputed – and soon lawful – head of his household.

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