How many of us are guilty of endlessly chasing after materialistic wants in modern society because our basic needs are so easily fulfilled that we take it for granted? We cannot decide on which new handbag to buy online or we’re busy looking through itineraries for a holiday. Though Singapore is a fast developing country, there will be always a group of disadvantaged and needy citizens struggling to make ends meet everyday.
A friend who regularly feeds strays, E, called one afternoon and asked for help to sterilize some cats in a flat. Apparently there was a population explosion and the flat owners were unable to cope with it. I hurriedly scribbled down some details and arranged a home visit with E and another volunteer to check out the situation.
Upon reaching the door of the flat, E knocked and called for some time before the flat owners finally opened the door. We were taken aback as a pungent stench of feces and urine hit us right in the face. Upon walking in, a mother cat with two kittens from separate litters lifted her head up and stared blankly at me. Her younger kitten was just a few days old with eyes unopened, lying down on some old and soiled newspapers.
The two elderly brothers who greeted us seemed worried and somewhat wary. E told them “we are here to help with the cats” and they heaved a sigh of relief. They are nearing their 70s and live together in this flat that they bought many years ago. Though the flat has been fully paid for and they at least have a roof over their heads, their financial status and living conditions were worrying. Only one of the brothers was mobile and the other had difficulty walking. The healthier brother made a living by collecting and selling cardboard boxes, but his earnings were meager.
The dimly lit house had windows which were old and rusty and the stained and soiled walls badly needed a fresh coat of paint. The floor laminate had come off in some areas, probably because it had been constantly soaked with cat urine. The house was unkempt, unhygienic and dirty.
On an old metal trolley and a rusty bread tray, there were empty cat kibble packets and wet food cans. We later asked the brothers about their expenses for the cats. They spend close to $50 weekly, which means $200 each month. With only one sole breadwinner and with so many mouths to meet, how did they land themselves in such a dire situation?
It all started with three stray cats they took pity on. Unfortunately, the cats were not fixed and the population started to grow. The brothers felt increasingly helpless and did not know who to approach for help. They were unable to keep up with the cats and could not manage basic cleaning in the flat given their health conditions. The complaint from the neighbours came along with an HDB warning and they finally decided to bring the cats to SPCA for rehoming. When they learned that the cats might be put to sleep, though, they could not bear to do so. As luck would have it, the brothers bumped into E’s friend at SPCA and this was how E learned about them.
Many would ask: why take in pets when you can’t even feed yourselves? Are you doing the cats more harm than good? Why do such hoarders even deserve our help?
We as volunteers have also raised such questions, but we could see how selflessly the brothers provided for these cats and loved them. Even though the brothers could barely make ends meet, they refused to just simply abandon the kittens. The brothers ended up buying more and more food to feed the cats and this only weighed them further down financially.
There were cats in every room, along with dried-up patches of cat pee and excrement everywhere. We did a brief count and the total number of cats came up to about 25–30, including 13 kittens. (later turned out to be 40 adult cats) Thankfully, some of the cats did not look extremely emaciated or sickly, but there were a few cats needing medical attention. One extremely wary mother cat seemed to have a bad fungal skin infection and had made it worse by constantly scratching herself.
We then asked the brothers where they slept and they pointed to an old, worn-out mattress. Sadly, we saw some cat poo on the mattress too. They will just dust and sweep everything off before they rest for the night.
See the Amazing Transformation!
The photos and story above were taken in June, and over the course of the last few months, the apartment and the cats have undergone a complete transformation.
We managed to successfully trap all the adult cats with the kind help of Madam Law and Mohan, both veteran cat catchers. It was not that tricky in the beginning, since we still could use cat traps and lure them in with food. As there got to be fewer cats, though, we had to use nets, since we were dealing with the smartest and most difficult.
All the adult cats are now safely boarding at a shelter, all sterilized, vaccinated and microchipped. We have chosen to board the cats locally instead of sending them to our sanctuary in Malaysia. We recognize that the Ng brothers really love their cats and we would like them to be able to visit their cats when they want. We might slowly move a few of their cats up to our sanctuary after some time, but we have yet to decide on this matter as this will involve time, permits and extra costs.
As for the Ng brothers’ house, Lady Luck must have been smiling on us. RenovAID, a local social reality television series aimed at helping disadvantaged families to improve their living environment, decided that the Ng brothers really needed help. We were literally jumping for joy when RenovAID gave the go-ahead for this case! Renovation commenced at the start of September after all their belongings and furniture were moved/removed and of course, no more cats were in the house.
The Ng brothers could not believe their eyes when they went back to their flat after the renovation was completed and the place cleaned up. Everything was clean, spotless and brand new, a far cry from what they had been living in for many years. They kept thanking the TV crew nonstop and walked round the flat gratefully, feeling every wall and item as they walked past.
The Ng brothers deserve to at least have a clean house to spend the rest of their lives in, whether their way of loving their cats was correct or not. As this case draws to a close, we as volunteers have in fact been taught many valuable lessons. We would certainly not have managed to successfully complete such a huge project without the support of those who care. Thank you to each and every one of you. You’ve helped to make a difference.
Feel the Love? – Photos of Our 1,200 Free Roaming Animals
If you would like to see photos of the Noah’s Ark Cares sanctuary for 1,200 free roaming dogs, cats, horses and rabbits or to make a donation to support our compassionate work, please visit us here.