I Once Disliked Cats But Am Now A Crazy Cat Lady Who Feeds HDB Strays

Cat lady in Singapore

Image adapted from: @caramellechaos

There’s this running joke on the Internet about cats taking over the world – you can laugh it off, but hey, it’s happening as we speak. I mean, think about it. Just how many cat videos do you come across in a quick 5-minute scroll on Facebook these days? Pretty darn plenty.

Beyond being just a TV trope, the “crazy cat lady” is now increasingly common among us IRL – she goes gaga over random void deck strays, buys way too much cat merch, and wears “cats vs human babies” memes as a badge of honour.

I know this all too well, because I am her.

And the most insane thing is that until around 6 years ago, I didn’t even like cats. Disliked and feared them for a good portion of my life, in fact. But in a weird turn of events, I’ve since converted to cat-holicism, and perhaps my anecdotes might convince you to do the same.

P.S.: Check out our other cat-related articles:

Growing up as a cat hater

I used to be a “dog person”. Here’s 3-year-old me with my favourite doggy stuffed toy, Moppy, which still has a place on my bed
Image credit: @caramellechaos

Like many other Singaporean children with protective parents, I grew up being warned about the stray cats slinking around the neighbourhood. “Don’t get too close to the cat, it might have fleas or diseases”, and “Be careful when digging in the sandbox, there might be cat poo buried inside” were some things I can remember my well-meaning mother saying.

Sound advice, but these words of caution also played a part in shaping my negative view of cats. As far as I was concerned, cats were only a notch higher than cockroaches and lizards on the pest scale. Only difference being that they were larger, furry, and pretty cute in baby form.

To begin with, I was a “dog person” anyway. Dogs are easy to love – they’re always ready to play and cuddle, and whatever affection you give will be returned tenfold. Blue’s Clues was one of my favourite kiddy shows, and the bond between Blue and Steve was one I coveted. Charlie Brown has Snoopy, Mickey Mouse has Pluto…you get the drift – the media is no stranger to the representation of man’s best friend.

Good ol’ Blue versus stealthy Sylvester
Image credit: Nick Jr., Warner Bros.

On the contrary? Sylvester and Tom would unrelentlessly terrorise Tweety and Jerry. And let’s not forget how Garfield is perpetually cynical and pretty much only lives for lasagne.

It also didn’t help that my younger sister got scratched by a stray kitten that she was playing with as a toddler.

Dog = good. Cat = meh. It was as clear-cut as that until I reached my 20s.

Taking a sudden liking towards cats

Like a good number of modern-day love stories, this one began on the Internet. No, I did not suddenly take a liking to felines after a cute guy with kittens slid into my DMs. Rather, amidst the numerous cat photos that flooded social media, I had the good fortune of coming across a particular one with a very smushed, ugly-cute face.

Studleycat was the first cat Instagram account I started following. Today, cat accounts make half my “following” list. Because cats > humans.
Image credit: @studleycat

Google told me that this fuzzy alien-looking creature was an Exotic Shorthair, and that sparked an Instagram frenzy where I fascinatedly scrolled through hundreds of photos under the #exoticshorthair hashtag. I was irrevocably besotted with their super flat faces and perpetually dejected expressions.

IG’s algorithm soon sent other cats my way, and I eventually softened my heart towards them too. After all, it’s hard to love just one cat breed and disregard the others – Persians, Scottish Folds, and Munchkins started topping my list of favourites as well.

Getting over my fear of handling stray cats thanks to an office pet

Jaymee, our Seal Point Ragdoll, when she was only 6-7 months old
Image credit: 

I was only ambivalent towards the “no-breed HDB strays”, which I deemed as inferior to pedigrees back then. But over the years I found out how wrong I was.

See, the thing about us humans is that we tend to fear what we’re unfamiliar with.

Despite having jumped ship from “team dog” to “team cat”*, I was deathly afraid of petting the ones I met along the streets. In my mind, stray cats were the equivalent of wild mongrel mutts – territorial and fierce. So I kept a safe distance and only admired them from afar.

When I first joined TSL in August 2016, I did try to connect with Pika, our mild and quiet office Ragdoll who was gifted to us by Playground Ragdolls. But it was our “new hire” Jaymee who captured my affection. She came to us in November 2016 as a 4-month-old and loved to play.

I spent many lunches interacting with her, and found out that she was a feisty little scratcher despite having a largely sweet, affectionate personality. With the help of a colleague who was experienced with pets, we managed to train her into good behaviour – by smacking her paws lightly whenever she lashed out, and only giving her nom noms when she sat her butt down patiently instead of clawing her way through.

This is now my office desktop wallpaper
Image credit: 

The darling kitty must’ve thought I was her mother, because she eventually stuck to me – either sitting on my feet as I worked, or sharing the space on my swivel chair. The latter disallowed me from leaning back fully which sometimes caused backaches, but it was all worth it for her calming presence.

We do have dedicated interns who help out with cat duties, but I suppose it was only natural that I started assuming some responsibility for her – after all you can’t just enjoy the fun bits of having a pet but ignore the dirty work. From changing her water, to cleaning her hariball-induced vomit off the floor, and wiping her butt after a messy poop, there’s nothing I haven’t done – or wouldn’t do – for this cat.

She’s now too big to sit in my chair with me, but is always somewhere close by with lots of nose nudges and licks to give. And that’s a myth busted right here: Unlike what some might think, cats are not unaffectionate.

Image credit: @caramellechaos

After learning how to handle a cat through trial-and-error at the office, I became more confident in approaching strays in my neighbourhood. Turns out, they can be just as lovable as pedigree cats. Despite how scruffy some of them might look, a majority of them aren’t actually ferocious, and some can in fact be super docile.

*I still think dogs are great. I just have more of an affinity towards cats now.

Stray HDB cats are not inferior compared to expensive pedigrees

A stray that turned out to be a lap cat
Image credit: @caramellechaos

To some extent, it is true that certain breeds come with an inherent set of traits – for example, Bengals and Maine Coons are usually more playful and enjoy running about, while Persians and Ragdolls are supposed to be more chummy.

But regardless of breed, it all depends on the unique personality of each kitty. I’ve met a few stray lap cats, in contrast to Jaymee who detests being carried – which is quite uncharacteristic of a Ragdoll. Of course, there are feral strays who’ve hissed at me for simply breathing their air, which is understandable because some of them are just not used to human contact. Those are best left alone.

If anything, through my many interactions with them over the years, I’ve since learnt that domestic shorthairs (DSH) are by no means inferior to expensive designer cats; Both can bring an equal amount of joy and love if you’re patient enough and treat them right.

This is Raichu, my boyfriend’s sister’s cat aka my nephew. He was picked up at a void deck as a kitten after being the only one in his litter abandoned by his mother.
Image credit: @caramellechaos

Perhaps DSHs don’t have exotic long fur or other special physical characteristics like folded ears, but take a closer look and you’ll find that many of them have distinct fur markings as well as their own little character quirks.

Now, I’m not gonna get all preachy here because I understand that people have their own pet preferences – I, too, have a penchant for long-haired pedigrees. But it’s worth keeping your options open and considering adopting a local stray as well. Take a trip to the SPCA, and who knows, you might just meet a cute little DSH that’ll win you over in minutes.

Raichu is my cuddle buddy
Image credit: @caramellechaos

That said, there are sometimes special cat breeds up for adoption too, usually as a result of abandonment – you can follow local cat adoption pages on Facebook for the latest updates.

But if you’re really adamant on a particular type of cat, it’s best to approach a licensed breeder instead of an illegal backyard breeder as the latter can operate on unscrupulous terms – with animals kept in less-than-ideal conditions, or with undisclosed health issues that will result in a lot of heartache and hefty vet fees on your part in the future.

Tips on interacting with stray cats in Singapore

Image credit: @caramellechaos

At the risk of sounding just a wee bit obsessive, I occasionally go on “cat trails” with my boyfriend. That is, instead of a quick bus ride home, we take a slight detour and cut through the HDB blocks on foot with one important goal in mind: PET ALL THE CATS. On one of our best hunts, our cat count was a whopping 15 in the span of just 30 minutes!

We have a few favourites that we play with regularly, and yes, they all have names.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I almost always have a small baggie of cat treats in my handbag at any point in time. Hey, you never know who you’ll meet when you’re out and about!

Image credit: Momoki Pets

Here are some tried-and-tested tips on how to befriend cats without incurring the wrath of the murder mitts:

  • Crouch down, and inch forward quietly. Sudden movements and loud noises might scare them.
  • Stretch your hand out for a sniff so it gets used to your scent.
  • Don’t stare at it with wide eyes as this is usually seen as a threat. Instead, slowly blink to show you’re harmless. The cat might mirror this if it feels safe around you.
  • Gently stroke the top of the cat’s head, cheek, or chin. If it hisses or tries to swat you…ABORT MISSION!
  • Most cats hate having their bellies touched. Stick to the head, chin, neck, and base of tail.
  • Strokes should be done in the same direction of fur growth.

Responsible feeding of strays

Image credit: Nor Aishah Abu Bakar

Most resident cats in the heartlands have feeders – bowls of water and kibble along void decks would be telltale signs. So there’s no need to feed them unless they look emaciated. If you want to “bribe” a cat, it’s best to give it small treats in moderation to avoid overfeeding.

Just don’t feed them any “human” food – including but not limited to dairy products, raw meat, and chocolate – as it can irritate their digestive systems and even lead to death.

Make sure you empty any canned food out onto a paper plate or bowl, as sharp metal can edges can cut. Once the cat’s done, be a responsible citizen and clean up the excess, lest pests like ants and rats take advantage of the free buffet.

Taking hygiene precautions for your own health

Image credit: @beautytoyouall

The puss in the ‘hood has definitely been around, in undesirable places like longkangs and dumpsters. Even if it isn’t visibly dirty, its fur could be germy, so wash your hands afterwards. I carry a pocket-sized tube of hand sanitiser around for fuss-free disinfecting on-the-go.

Some void deck furriends have fleas – if you spot any skin redness or notice them scratching themselves vigorously, you might want to back off. If you do experience the misfortune of itchiness shortly after a cat encounter, do visit the doctor.

There’s no need to be paranoid – all these years, I’ve yet to get bitten by fleas *touch wood*. But it’s always good to be cautious and not get complacent about hygiene where animals are involved.

On a related note, catfights do happen, so you might come across cats with open gashes. Again, avoid contact in case the wound is infected. If the injury is serious, try to get hold of a feeder in the area to inform them of the situation. Otherwise, contact an animal organisation like the Cat Welfare Society as they’ll be the ones most equipped to deal with such things.

Cat SOS: Refer to this page for information on how to help a sick/injured cat – with details for a 24-hour hotline, vets, professional cat trappers, and pet boarding centres that volunteers usually rely on.

Cat lovers in Singapore

A stray kitten that randomly wandered into my house one night! Sadly, we weren’t allowed to keep her.
Image credit: @caramellechaos

Take your time to get to know them, and you’ll realise that cats can make some of the best companions. I would even go so far as to say that they’re great anti-depressants.

But if you don’t fancy felines, that’s okay. The least we can all do is to just treat them with respect, since they’re sharing our common spaces like void decks and parks – places that we shouldn’t have any more claim over than they do since we all inhabit the same earth.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some cats to pet.

Check out other perspective articles by this author:

Rachel Yohannan

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