Lou, E. H., 2000. Stray cat sterilisation project at Bukit Merah View. Singapore Veterinary Journal Online, 24.
Until about 3 years ago, culling was the only method officially recognised for the control of stray cats in Singapore. In November 1997, AVA (Agri-food & Veterinary Authority – then PPD) embarked on the Stray Cat Sterilisation Project at Bukit Merah View to explore the use of sterilisation and responsible management as an alternative method.
Over the years, culling has not significantly reduced the number of cats destroyed each year or the number of complaints received (see Charts 1 and 2 below). The inference we can make from these figures is that culling has not been effective in the long run in resolving the stray cat situation.
Chart 2: Number of complaints about cats per year for past 10 years.
We undertook the Project at Bukit Merah View to explore the use of sterilisation and responsible management as a method to control the stray cat population and deal with the stray cat situation in HDB housing estates.
Sterilisation & Responsible Management – its Rationale
Sterilisation and responsible management of strays is considered by animal welfare organisations worldwide to be the most humane and effective long-term method to control stray cats. In Singapore sterilisation has been increasingly used by animal lovers over the last decade. Animal lovers believe that this method will reduce the number of cats that have to be culled each year. In 1991, the SPCA lent their support by sponsoring the sterilisation of stray cats at veterinary clinics through a system of sterilisation vouchers. Animal lovers could take these vouchers and get their stray cats sterilised for free at the clinics. SPCA also started sterilising stray animals at their clinic twice a week.
The rationale of sterilisation and responsible management is that sterilised cats do not reproduce anymore and thus do not caterwaul and cause noise nuisance, which is one of the more common complaints received. The cats remain to defend their territory and prevent other cats from settling in. At the same time they also help to check the populations of rats and cockroaches. The cats are cared for by responsible animal lovers who undertake to prevent the cats from causing nuisance in sensitive public areas. In this way, the animal lovers work with the authorities to control and manage the stray cat population. This is a self-help, co-operative type of approach to deal with the stray cat situation.
The Project was a 3-way collaboration between AVA, Tanjong Pagar – West Coast Town Council and a group of animal lovers (volunteers). The volunteers caught and managed the cats, the Town Council provided a room to hold the cats, the publicity for the Project and sent out questionnaires for the 3rd survey. AVA provided transport for the cats, sterilised and ear-tipped the cats and conducted the surveys.
The Project sought to determine the following:
- The degree of public intolerance towards stray cats.
- The public response to sterilisation and responsible management.
- The effectiveness of sterilisation and responsible management to control stray cats.
Questions for 1st survey:
- Are you troubled by cats?
- Should their population be controlled?
- If the cats are sterilised and responsibly managed, can the cats remain?
- How many cats can be allowed to remain per block / area?
20% of the 2998 households, i.e. 600 households, in BMV were surveyed. Initially personal interviews were conducted from house to house. Later to speed up the survey, the questionnaires were mailed out. Together the response rate was 43%, i.e. 256 of 600 households responded. 41 – 43% said they were troubled by cats. 71 to 95% would like the cats controlled. 80% were agreeable to having sterilised cats remain. They felt that 1 to 2 cats to greater than 10 cats could be allowed per block or area.
Questions for 2nd survey:
- Are the cats less of a problem now that they are sterilised?
- Can the sterilised cats be allowed to remain?
We surveyed the 256 households that responded in the first survey. Forms were mailed out to these households. The response rate was 17%, i.e. about 44 households responded. 56% felt that sterilisation had worked; 23% could not commit. 63% agreed to having sterilised cats remain; 14% could not commit.
Questions for 3rd survey:
- Have you noticed less kittens in the area?
- Do you think sterilisation has helped to control the cat population?
- Are you agreeable to having sterilised stray cats around?
Survey forms were mailed out by Tanjong Pagar – West Coast Town Council to all 2998 households. The response rate was 3.4%, i.e. about 102 households responded. 76% fully supported the Project and felt that it had been a success. 15% did not support at all. The remaining 9% agreed that sterilisation had worked but did not want the cats to remain regardless of whether they were sterilised or not.
We found that generally the level of objection to the presence of stray cats was about 20%. However from dealing with complainants, we found that 4 out of 5 (i.e. 80%) did not want the cats culled. When control through sterilisation and responsible management was explained to them, they were supportive of this method of control.
Through extrapolation therefore, only 4% of people are not willing to accept sterilisation and responsible management for the control of stray cats. The feeling we got was that in general people are agreeable so long as they know that there is a systematic effective method being used to control the population of stray cats so that it does not continue to grow over the long term. An overwhelming majority of people did not want cats culled.
By March 2000, we had sterilised 370 cats. Random counting done in June 2000 and July 2000 showed that between 75% to 90% of stray cats in the area had been sterilised.
With reference to our original project parameters, the results showed that:
- 4% of respondents strongly objected to the presence of cats, whether they were sterilised or not.
- Greater than 80% felt that sterilisation had worked to control the cat population and reduced nuisance problems.
- The results were promising but they were preliminary and the real effect can only be seen over the long term.
In any urban environment where people live, there are bound to be stray cats because there is food and some form of shelter. The problem of stray cats is of a complex social nature. It is faced by most cities worldwide but may be more pressing in Singapore because of our limited land area.
The stray cat situation is compounded by irresponsible cat owners who allow their unsterilised pets to roam and mate or abandon them and further compounded by the conflict between sympathy for and intolerance towards cats. Caring for stray cats is kind and charitable and can promote a kinder and more caring and gracious society. However such acts if done indiscriminately can lead to the cats reproducing unchecked and to littering of the environment. In such a situation these kind acts are misplaced and irresponsible.
At the same time intolerance hampers humane methods of control that do not use culling. People who are intolerant of stray cats often want immediate action to remove all stray cats from the neighbourhood and may be intolerant of even a few cats. They are often not willing to consider long-term methods of control while at the same time refusing to assist constructively to solve the specific problem that they may have with the stray cats.
Stray cats are elusive and reproduce rapidly. Any method of control should take this into account. Control requires restriction of the cats’ food source and/or a way to stop their reproduction. To stop their reproduction the cats need to be either culled or sterilised. Below is a table comparing the methods of culling vs sterilisation and responsible management.
||STERILISATION & MANAGEMENT
Our surveys show that only 4% of people strongly object to sterilisation and responsible management to control the cats. Up to 96% of people do not want cats culled. From the viewpoint of control, it is preferable to have cats that are sterilised and managed by responsible volunteers who are willing to come forward and work with the authorities to deal with the stray cat situation in a systematic and controlled manner over the long term.
Contribution of Volunteers
Volunteers can make a significant contribution to the control of stray cats. They are very dedicated and committed to stopping the culling. Their concern for the plight of the cats is assurance that they will do what is necessary to make sterilisation and management work.
Recently, the International Director of the RSPCA visited Singapore and during my conversation with him, he remarked that he thinks that sterilisation and responsible management in Singapore can work countrywide because there are many volunteers active throughout the island and they network with each other through SPCA and recently the Cat Welfare Society. I think this is a very significant observation.
A volunteer living in Marine Parade was also recently given a volunteer award by the Marine Parade Community Development Council (CDC) for his work with stray cats. The General Manager of the Marine CDC stated in the program brochure that “we have chosen to focus on those active citizens who, in one way or another, have made a direct impact on the lives of fellow Singaporeans and whose passion and dedication in their chosen areas of community work make a tangible difference to others.” This is encouraging as it is official recognition that cat volunteers can be part of the solution instead of being seen as part of the problem.
Sterilisation and responsible management has the support of up to 96% of the public. The majority of people want cats controlled but do not want them culled. They are happy to know that AVA’s present approach to the stray cat situation emphasises humane management and is targeted towards achieving long-term results. Sterilisation and responsible management is humane and helps to promote a kinder and more caring and gracious society. It promotes volunteerism and encourages both animal lovers and the people bothered by cats to be active in a constructive and self-help manner to work with the authorities to deal with the stray cat situation.