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Caretakers: Why did SPCA put down cat without contacting feeders?

tri colored cat
Com-Bok in her shelf

Three weeks ago, a tri-coloured cat named Com-Bok was picked up by Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) following a call from the public. The "rescued" cat was deemed to be too sick by a vet engaged by SPCA and put to sleep the very next day.

However, for several days and nights, Com-Bok's owner and another caretaker went searching for the missing cat. The two women have been caring for Com-Bok for years and would bring the cat to the vet whenever she was not too well. They described Com-Bok as a very quiet, tame cat that never posed a nuisance.

One of the caretakers, Karen came to know later from the caretaker that the cat was missing, called SPCA and found out what happened to Com-Bok after she was caught by SPCA on 2 October.

She sent a letter to SPCA to clarification on why was the cat put to sleep without contacting the cat caretakers in the area, despite SPCA having four contact names of caretakers in its database.

She also questioned why the team failed to assess the environment first before removing Com-Bok, as it would have indicated that the cat is not a stray but had someone looking after it. She added that the owner and the caregiver were heartbroken over the incident.

In her email to SPCA, she described how Com-Bok was taken care of.

The Malay owner set up a 3-level shelving shoe rack just outside his unit and laid newspapers on the 1st or 2nd shelf for the cat to sleep, and even hung a towel round the rack to shield off the sunlight or rain.

The 3rd upper shelf was reserved for stacks of newspapers. On top of the rack, there was a small food container of kibbles. Not far from the rack and also outside the owner's flat, there was a water container too.

The caregiver and owner would feed the cat, change the soiled newspapers and replace fresh water every day. I covered the feeding for this cat whenever Aunty went on holidays. The surroundings certainly indicate that the cat was well taken care of. One of her eyes was blind and she did not look too well, but she has been like that for years. The cat always had good appetite.

SPCA did not reply to Karen even after three weeks as they had assumed she would have read the reply in the comments on their Facebook page, made in response to angry online users about incident:

SPCA received the emergency call on the night of Thursday 2 Oct 2014, at about 8.40pm, from a concerned member of the public who reported seeing a cat to be "sick, lying on the ground, eyes appear(ing) infected" in the Tanglin Halt area. We despatched our rescue officers to the location.

The rescue officers reached the location at about 9.40pm. Our rescue officers observed the cat, which was placed in a rice cooker's container box, to be weak, with pus discharge from its nose and eyes. Our officers believed the cat to be in a dire situation that required IMMEDIATE veterinary attention and so rushed the cat to a vet who could attend to the animal (as our own clinic closes at 5pm). The veterinarian advised that the cat be humanely put to sleep in view of its condition.

Clarification on the assertions made in the relevant FB post is necessary. The fact is, the cat was NOT picked up outside the Malay owner’s unit; it was found IN a rice cooker box at the pavilion, several metres away from the Malay owner’s unit. It therefore is not accurate to assert that the cat was picked up outside the Malay owner’s unit.

A second clarification is necessary - the cat was found to be NOT microchipped, thus we were not able to notify an owner, or determine if it belonged to anyone. We note that the cat was not kept indoors if indeed it belonged to someone, as SPCA has always advised cat owners to microchip their cats and keep them indoors all the time.

We are determined to take all necessary measures and precautions to prevent a recurrence, and thank all for their concerns and feedback.

A witness of the incident, Celeste Chong also posted on the comment thread:

"The lady who informed SPCA about the cat had found it struggling up the staircase leading to the main road on her way home from her evening jog. She had spent at least 15min observing the cat and asked around (including asking me) if we knew where the cat came from n if its owner was nearby but to no avail. She subsequently left the site n came back 10min later after telling us she had contacted SPCA for assistance (by which time the cat had already struggled its way to the middle of the main road) n we had to stop oncoming traffic from running it down. According to her, SPCA had offered to send rescuers ASAP n requested for her to stay with the cat. As she was not able to do so, SPCA had advised her to barricade the cat to prevent it from venturing onto the main road again n endangering its life, explaining why it was in a box as she had gone home to look for an empty box. Effort was also made to put the box under a sheltered bush so the cat was not in harm's way before rescuers came. Though she had asked us to stay with cat in the box as long as we could, we were not able to do so as we had to leave for the airport."

32 tanglin halt
32 Tanglin Halt Road - Google Maps

Both the caretaker and Karen did not believe that the cat will go onto the road. In addition, Karen noted that the SPCA staff manning the hotline when she first called had mentioned the shoe rack, and asked her to write about the incident. This does not gel with the witness's account of Com-Bok being found near the road.

Furthermore, according to Karen, the cat would always linger just outside her owner's flat at the ground floor and never venture beyond the doors. She also had other accounts that indicated Com-Bok would usually eat her meal and then jump back to the show rack, and that it was impossible for the cat to go onto the road.

In the response to TOC's enquiry, SPCA said that they had no way to determine if the cat belongs to an "owner" or if it was a community cat.

"We have investigated and found internal processes wanting in terms of not contacting feeders on the ground in a timely and effective manner – even if we had, at that time, no way of determining whether the cat belonged to an ‘owner’ or if it was a community cat. Nonetheless, we are determined to take all necessary precautions and measure to prevent another incident from happening". - Corrine Fong, Executive Director of SPCA

However, according to one comment on SPCA's Facebook page, this incident does not seem to be the first case where cats are put to sleep without making due effort to contact caretakers.

spca cat

"We are still very upset that SPCA did not make any efforts to contact any of the registered caregivers in this area before killing the cat," said Karen. "SPCA put down animals too easily. Doesn't SPCA has guidelines to follow before putting an animal to sleep? The public should be made aware that SPCA will never ever treat an injured or sick cat."