After 35 Years Slinking Thru The Shadows, Singapore’s Cats Finally Shine

black and brown striped cat stretched out on its back on a concrete floor
Food, sleep, food, sleep, it's a tough life for an illicit Singapore cat, now dreaming of a newfound legitimacy.

When Singapore declared independence from Maylaysia in 1965, planning was under way for the creation of the best social housing in the world. The planning panned out. Today nearly 90% of the population lives in government-planned and built public housing, much of which is now privately-owned. From the start, the nation’s Housing & Development Board (HDB) had aimed to provide social housing renters with the opportunity to invest in ownership of their government-built rental housing.

But not all ‘build-from-scratch planning’ is as successful as the designers intended. Singapore managed to achieve the world’s most admired public housing projects with one mighty flaw, at least in the opinion of many HDB renters and owners. That flaw?

Cats. Or more to the point, the compulsory absence of cats.

They were considered to be . . . well, whatever the original reasons for banning them in HDB buildings, it’s all water under the bridge now because at last, after 35 years of lobbying, cats will become legal in Singapore’s HDB buildings in September this year.

Not only is this brilliant news for cat-owner wannabes, but the new law will provide a temporary amnesty. It will allow thousands of illegal cats that have been kept in the official shadows for so many years to be legalized. (Cat lovers can hardly have been expected to last for so many years without beloved pets, can they?)

There is an interesting international message that can be gleaned from Singapore’s illicit cat owners. In some western countries (America and Canada come to mind thanks to a certain familiarity with both countries) there is an assumption, still prevalent, that owning a pet is an unacceptable self-indulgence for people who are unhoused. It’s almost an insult to people who earn enough to pay for their multi-thousand dollar top-of the line pedigreed pets.

What is needed is less ‘holier than thou’ and more awareness of how important pets can be when we are undergoing difficult or indeed traumatic circumstances such as homelessness. The undemanding support and uncritical acceptance, when events are not unfolding as one might wish them to, can be a lifesaver for cats and cat owners alike.

Read more in the Cat ban in HDB flats reversed