Friday, June 26, 2009

CWS: A Look Ahead

Cat Welfare Society has had a solid month of fundraising with the LPN Cat Day at Suntec City, the Cat’s Night Out “In Search of the Most Beautiful Domestic Cat” at Jurong Point and that unforgettably tongue-in-cheek STrip “What’s New Pussycat?” campaign.

Besides raising funds for stray sterilisation, these light-hearted occasions gave us a rare chance to let our hair down with other cat groups, volunteers and with the public.

Now the fun is over, it is time to get back down to the serious business of cat welfare.

Engaging govt agencies

CWS is planning a series of engagements with AVA, HDB and Town Councils. And it cannot be timelier that Sunday Times dedicated a full page on animal welfare last weekend, giving voice to the poisoned bayshore cats, abandoned animals and tireless animal welfare volunteers.

(They had to juxtapose it with an article on our good friend Mr TTK to provide a perfunctory journalistic balance to the spread, but that is easily forgiven. A contrary article on a less controversial figure would have been more detrimental. So thank you, Sunday Times.)

Also featured in the full page coverage is a small victory for cat welfare. AVA has put it on record, “AVA… is again open to subsidising the cost of sterilisation of stray cats, if caregivers, town councils and communities are willing to participate.”

So our upcoming meeting with them can now fast track to the mechanics of the stray cat sterilisation scheme: what is required of town councils and volunteers, and how to streamline the scheme for greater success.

After which, we can start working with dedicated caregivers whose stray management work in their areas through Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage or TNRM, mediation and community building work has reached a healthy maturity. We will talk to their Town Councils first.

How you can help:
If you are a caregiver with a well managed cat community, come forward. Also start keeping records of the number of cats in your neighbourhood, the number of cats you have sterilised, your encounters with Town Councils and the number of complaints handled as these will go a long way when we engage them.

If your area does not have a TNRM programme, start one! Look out for our upcoming stray cat management workshop and meet-up on how to get started.


CWS continues to single-mindedly put our funds into subsidising the sterilisation of stray cats. All our fundraising efforts are for this very purpose.

We get appeals from time to time to provide financial help for caregivers in need and for cat rescues. And this the committee members and volunteers do on our own personal basis.

The reason CWS funds are not diverted that way is this: The cold honest truth is that we have had to dig into our reserves last year to cover sterilisation and medical subsidies. And one had to go. It is a sign of the times that donations are down and reimbursements for subsidies are up.

We must keep stray cat sterilisation going simply because sterilisation makes the biggest impact to the welfare of our cats in the long run. It is this consistent, demanding, unglamourous work by dedicated caregivers and volunteers that provides a compelling reason for AVA to enter into a dialogue with cat welfare advocates. And we cannot afford to derail now.

The moment the government finally takes on the funding of stray cat sterilisation, that will really open up everyone’s resources to help the sick and suffering.

That moment is close and what will get us there is to make sure more community cats are sterilised and managed.

How you can help:
Start a TNRM programme in your neighbourhood. The next best thing is to sponsor a sterilisation!


This is something that we struggle with immensely because we don’t have a full-time person in CWS. The committee members and volunteers handle our cases after hours or through phones and emails.

Mediation remains the most stressful, unrewarding part of cat welfare work. Being yelled at by irate people with cat pee on their slippers after a long day at work is not anyone’s idea of a fulfilling existence. But we still do it, together with our network of caregivers and volunteers because it goes hand in hand with TNRM. Stray management just doesn’t work without it.

What we find is that people come to CWS for a magic pill. And five after-hours dispensers to pill an entire nation is beyond ridiculous. We need more mediators.

It is a fact that Singaporeans hold an uncanny esteem for authority. People from an organisation are often seen as more respectable than someone from the neighbourhood. That is how Singaporeans work, so “I am from Cat Welfare Society” goes a long way. But anyone with the passion, a little gumption and knowledge can register with CWS and fulfill this role. And all the better if they are actual residents in the neighbourhood.

These resident mediators have their nose on the ground, they get to the problems quicker and they can better establish long term relationships with the Town Council officers and other residents. Town Councils can’t ignore them simply because they are residents, therefore constituents and more importantly, voters.

The magic pill? Don’t yell back and don’t wear your house clothes when mediating.

As much as mediation is daunting and completely thankless, just a word from you can save a cat from being caught and culled. If you are lucky, you can instill a little conscience in the neighbourhood, one cheesed off resident at a time.

How you can help:
If you want to be a mediator for your neighbourhood, register with CWS and contact your Town Council officer. Also look out for our upcoming stray cat management workshop and meet-up on how to get started.

Beyond CWS

If you have been following the posts and thread on the Cat Welfare Society’s Facebook page, you would have a good idea of the spectrum of cat welfare activities required to fully tackle an issue as broad as cat welfare.

There are the numerous appeals for medical fees for sick or injured cats, the many catteries and shelters in trouble in these tough economic times, cats and kittens that need fosterers and homes, AVA officers and Town Council officers to negotiate with and the unenlightened public to educate. As individuals, where do we start?

My own experience with the animalfamily is to start where your passion takes you. I started with the rescue and adoption of an old mangy toothless cat that stole my heart.

6 years on, the family has 10 cats at home, 40 cats fostered (and thankfully rehomed), hundreds sterilised and we dream of a cattery. We have seen cat shelters and their antithesis, cat hoarders and left a part of ourselves with each and everyone of these animals, the cheery ones, the sadly neglected, the dying and the dead.

Still, it is not enough. There must be a more sustainable solution to the plight of our cats, the kind that makes it less necessary to take cats off our streets for anything other than to loving homes. This will happen only when the responsibility for stray cat welfare is not just on caregivers but the entire nation. That is the prize worth working towards.

Friday, June 19, 2009

an inconvenient people

In a post-AWARE world, there is a growing wariness of groups who “push stridently for narrow interests, at the expense of other groups”. This was mentioned in the parliamentary reopening speech, albeit about political representation. The concern is that this would polarise and divide our society.

Stray management is such an interest. You just have to look at some of the posts in STOMP to see how it polarises. Cries for compassion for strays are met with cries for compassion for humans who are affected by them.

But can we really afford to contain polarising issues while we wait for social and cultural tides to change? Environment issues had the same bad rap a decade ago. They have since entered the mainstream simply because the problems have become too big to ignore.

And before them, liberties for minorities, women, the sick and the poor arrived after enormous hardship and suffering. All the while, the privileged cried injustice, instability, loss of traditional values, inconvenience.

And they are still crying over inconveniences posed not just by animals but two legs - migrant workers, aids victims, homosexuals, ex-convicts.

All narrow interests? Maybe. But the lessons are there to be learnt. People thought there was something defective or culpable about the people they dominated by numbers or by circumstances, justifying their actions and they were proved wrong. They thought they could dominate the land and they were dead wrong.

People a.k.a voters don’t want to be pushed into change but the world around them is changing. 10 years to irreversible environmental damage. 50 years to the end of sea fish. The threat of scarcity and the chaos that follows is real. All the more, the guiding principles henceforth must be to Save, to Conserve, to Share and to Free, regardless. They have to become as habitual as it is to brush our teeth and that leaves little room for pickiness.

Save. Conserve. Share. Free

We may be all about cats, others about dogs, marine life yet others about children of ex-convicts with aids. This is not because our interests are narrow but that they are realistic. Different concerns require different strategies and approaches within the constraints of available resources, but what binds them are those very objectives: to Save, to Conserve, and to Free.

To Share? Maybe we still don’t do it quite so well.

How then to hardwire Save, Conserve, Share and Free into the two legs?

The challengers to civil societies would be the first to tell you that these values are not new to them. They just don’t look past their in-group sensitivities when it comes to application. (All the more ironical when civil societies adopt the same attitude they are trying to fight.)

We all have it in us to do it

Then I pawed on this charming TED video on the discovery made by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor the morning she suffered a stroke. Like a true scientist, she didn’t panic, she said Oh cool, now I can study my own brain from the inside out.

She already knew about the very different personalities of the left and right brain. Simply put, the right brain is all about the now and how our senses gather and distill information about our environment, while the left is all about me, how I process information about the past and present to project a future.

She hemorrhaged in the left hemisphere, felt her grasp of language slip away and fascinatingly with it, her sense of self. Her right brain took over and she floated on a sense of blissful wonder at not knowing where her body started and ended. She was at one with the world.

Arguably, environmentalists, humanitarians and animal people feel that kind of intense connection with their surroundings everyday. It’s just how their brains work and they didn’t get a stroke to stumble on it.

Could the contemporary emphasis on right brain development evolve a new generation more in tune with the ground they stand on and all there is on it? Can it turn the volume of the self-seeking left brain down to become a people less worried about where they started and where they end?

Until then, it must be inconvenient for those who find others saving and conserving things that threaten their health, safety, aspirations, livelihood and decorum. There are bigger inconveniences ahead when the water rises, food prices rocket and the fish disappear. If they are not part of the solution, would they be part of the chaos?

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