It has been - for most of the time - a difficult two weeks.
Three days ago, our Peranakan friend Mary finally received the letter from the HDB (Singapore's Housing and Development Board) informing her that she had to remove all her cats from her flat in 10 days' time. Before I continue please refrain from any thoughts like "She should have known better especially with the HDB's regulations about pets." or "Why so many?"
Mary is not just keeping 39 pets. She has been running a private sanctuary for cats in her own home in an HDB flat for nearly 10 years. She picked them up from the market and hawker centres and bus stands, in the drains and rubbish bins. Some of the kittens were found next to a mother that had been run over by a car. Some were abandoned on the void decks crying with hunger. Several were just left at Mary's front door! For every cat there is a sad story and dear Mary gave them a safe happy home.
She gets no support from anyone or any charity. Her son Jeff and daughter Lely provided all the financial backing. Jeff works in Hong Kong and he gives his mother a hefty chunk of his salary each month. Lely is no high-flyer earner and parts with about one-third of her wages to support Mary and the cats.
And by the way, when Mary was a young single mother looking after Lely in the 1960s, she worked washing clothes in several private houses. Which explains why she suffers from very painful arthritis in her feet - year after year, they had been soaked in water for hours every day while she worked. Today they call that an occupational hazard. But that definition had no significance for Mary in those days. She had to feed, clothe, and shelter herself, her aunt and her daughter all on her own. Also her little tyke needed to go to school. Lely can still recall how she could watch TV only through her neighbour's window.
Those cats are much loved and cared for. Mary's fridge is full of medicine and vitamins for the cats and her vets' bills are quite astronomical for she doesn't stint on their welfare and health. Because of Mary's health and the number of cats, Mary has a maid to help her out. As a result the flat and the cats are kept absolutely clean. No cat smell permeates the flat. In fact, if you pass by her windows you won't be able to tell that there are such quiet, lovely, happy creatures in this cat sanctuary. Everytime we go to Singapore we never miss a visit to Mary and her cats.
All this began when an HDB officer descended on Mary's flat two weeks ago to check on a complaint made by a heartless two-legged creature about Mary's Cat Sanctuary. And from then on the heartbreaking decisions had to be made.
There are 4 to 5 of these cats who are critically ill and need constant care. One suffers from Aids and Mary lovingly keeps it healthy in a separate cage. For Mary and Lely, the thought of putting them all to sleep is just too cruel. They searched high and low for cat shelters but most of them were chocka-block full. Sweet Ruqxana was happy to adopt two of them although she already had five of her own - all unwanted cats.
Finally a lady who ran a cat shelter in Pasir Ris felt so sorry for Mary and gave her two rooms for the cats at a rent of SGD750 per month. Also she very much appreciated Mary's and Lely's help and support for her animal shelter in the past.
This coming weekend Mary and Lely will carry out the distressing task of moving Mary's beloved cats.