Singaporeans aren’t usually thought of as cat-loving people—the Japanese would probably be a more famous fit for that description—but no chatter about Singapore’s neighborhoods would be complete without a shout-out to the cats that are commonly found sauntering around the area. Community cats are basically Singapore’s unofficial mascots. (Yes, we’re just gonna ignore the sweet otters, those stone-cold killers that have somehow entranced Singaporeans with their lovey-dovey antics.)
The national obsession with the cats residing around HDB (public housing) blocks wouldn’t have been so painfully obvious, if it wasn’t for a recent TikTok trend. In a TikTok video, Benjamin Wong Wei Jie assumed an over-the-top persona and raved about the joys of petting a community cat while rebutting a survey about where Singaporeans find meaning in life.
“I find most meaning in life from those HDB cats below my block. They keep me going, you know,” he said.
It was immediately clear that Wong wasn’t the only fan of Singapore’s community cats. The TikTok sound, not-so-subtly-titled “I LOVE HDB CATS,” has been used in over 700 videos. Plenty of Singaporean TikTokers were sharing videos of their favorite community cats.
While they were once commonly known as stray cats, community cats aren’t exactly “strays” since they don’t roam about. They’re situated in public areas, do not belong to specific owners, and are usually cared for by various people in the neighborhood, like a shared pet.
“HDB cats mean the world to me because they are just so pure and innocent,” Wong told VICE, recalling a time when he was at his lowest, sitting at the void deck (ground floor) of his HDB block, and a cat came up to him and rubbed its face against his leg.
“At that point, I almost teared up as I felt like the cat was comforting me,” he said. “I realized that cat could actually sense that I was feeling low, which came to me as a surprise.”
These days, Wong regularly feeds the cats in his neighborhood. He’s joined by cat lovers around Singapore, some of whom have garnered local media attention for their dedication to community cats—fashioning cat beds out of recycled items, scrimping and saving to feed as many cats as they can, and caring for sick cats in their own homes.
While making a home out of Singapore’s public areas has allowed community cats to be accessible to everyone, a life with such visibility also makes these cats extra vulnerable to danger and ill intentions.
Over the years, the abuse of community cats has made local headlines, and in the most grisly ways: From slashings to tail chopping, and being chased with a cane, community cats have been tortured—sometimes to the point of death. As a result, caregivers to community cats can be overwhelmed with medical fees and the sheer number of mouths of feed.
Thankfully, there are also organizations dedicated to supporting community cats—such as Cat Welfare Society, which runs sterilization and food donation programs for community cats.
“Cat Welfare Society has long advocated for these cats to be accepted as members of our community. They should have the right to live in the community without fear or abuse, or other such dangers,” Thenuga Vijakumar, the president of Cat Welfare Society, told VICE.
According to Vijakumar, our collective adoration of community cats may not even have anything to do with the cats themselves. In some ways, it speaks more to our sense of empathy and relationship with communal spaces—most Singaporeans would know that HDB void decks are where longtime neighbors mingle and community cats roam.
“Singaporeans are, by and large, mature individuals who understand and appreciate that our communal spaces are not for human beings alone,” said Vijakumar. “They value the intangible joy that community cats bring to many, even if they may not be cat people themselves.”
The endeavor to care for community cats, by no means an obligation, also highlights the community spirit that unites Singaporeans from different walks of life.
According to Jun Iwata, an HDB resident in Singapore, he has noticed two main types of caretakers—teenagers and the elderly—looking after the community cats in his neighborhood.
Iwata, 40, who relocated to Singapore from Japan 20 years ago, told VICE that he’s been crazy about cats since he was a teenager. Iwata is the administrator of cat appreciation accounts on Instagram and Facebook, where various community cats around Singapore are featured.
Iwata cherishes the fact that community cats are always there, on his good and bad days. When cats purr upon being touched, he finds it a deeply soothing experience. “I like this sound and feel healed,” he said.
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