Monday, August 31, 2009


I'm helping out with a case right now where the caregiver is being told that her cats will be trapped. All the cats have been sterilised and she has been told tha the law does not allow them to be there.

It's completely natural to be frightened/concerned when told that something is illegal. Who wouldn't be when the options are that the cats might be killed/you could get into trouble? However the situation might not be as dire as you think. Here are a few things to consider.

First, the 'law' is often wielded by complainants, officers, etc even when the law does not actually prohibit the act complained of. How many times have we heard of people who have been told that 'feeding is illegal' to find out that it isn't? If someone comes up and tells you that you are doing something illegal, ask politely for them to show you exactly WHERE this is illegal. Is it in a statute? A bylaw? A condo 'ruling'? If it is illegal, it must be written down somewhere. If the person who is telling you the act is illegal is a government officer of some kind, then he or she should be able to furnish you with a copy of the law. Make sure you read it and find out what is specifically stated - don't take someone else's word for it.

Secondly, you've looked at the wording of the law or bylaw and it doesn't look promising. Say it tells you that 'feeding' is illegal. One important thing to do is to look at the definition of the word. All laws need to define the terms used. For example, how do you define 'feeding'? It may NOT for example include feeding a colony of cats in a managed setting. That may be specifically excluded and thus, perfectly legal.

Thirdly, say you've checked the words of the bylaw or law and it seems that feeding is not allowed or that a TNRM colony cannot remain there 'legally'. One of the problems is that some laws are extremely archaic - some of them were written at a time when many of our modern conveniences were never imagined possible. TNRM may never have been contemplated. Consider how many people now still do not know how TNRM works and it's no surprise that the law may not have caught up yet. So remember : just because the law/bylaw/ruling exists in its present form does not mean it is written in stone. Laws change all the time to keep pace with changes in lifestyle. For example, did you know until 2007, there was a specific clause in the Penal Code in Singapore that disallowed maiming or killing cattle or any animal of the value of $25? There are many other laws that I wouldn't be surprised are repealed because they just don't apply and there will be new laws that come into existence to encompass new technology. For example, laws that have to do with email/internet communications, etc.

If you feel that the law is outdated, then work to get it changed. Speak to your condo management/your representative whether it be an MP or elected representative. If it is clearly outdated, and doesn't make sense, you could well help to get something unfair corrected. Due to the nature of the situation though, most of these laws are pretty local - they're going to be restricted to your condo, your building or your community/estate, so chances are you CAN affect change locally pretty effectively.

Most importantly, try and familiarise yourself with the laws that will affect you. Most laws are now available online. You can also call the agencies involved directly - for example, the NEA to find out what the laws are in regards to for example feeding. Again, ask for the exact provision if you are told something is not allowed.


Anonymous said...

This is interesting. Thank you.

Next time authorities say X is "not allowed", perhaps i'll ask to see proof of that in print & go thru rule/law (if it exists) with a fine-toothed comb. That may make some TC officers (esp new ones) to be less quick with "not allowed" on rules he/she made up/believed in. Immediate compliance with "not allowed" is too common at the expense of community cats and their care-givers.

Brad Farless said...

I don't think that's something that's local to Singapore. People in positions of authority like to make things up to suit their purpose, giving a vague "not allowed" or "unlawful" to lend their otherwise unsubstantial argument some weight. Often this is done to suit the persons perceived sense of what's right and wrong, rather than what is or isn't lawful, and is a serious failing in the law enforcement system.

Chinky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chinky said...

I am now seeing "No Bicycling" signs in my HDB mall and there is a fine associated but it is obviously being ignored. I wonder if this sign is "legal"?

Dawn said...

Anonymous - absolutely. That's a good way to go about it.

Brad Farless - it absolutely isn't just local unfortunately. The case I'm dealing with right now is here in the US.

Chinky - good point. It's also interesting that you brought up the fact that it's not related to just cat related issues.

calsifer said...

Thanks for this. I just hope the people I've been trumping your blog to has been reading this and your cws blog, Dawn.

Dawn said...

Thanks Calsifer - YOUR blog is a treasure trove of information.

calsifer said...

You're focused and write from experience. You're my aunt-agony for kitty business. Honestly, I don't know what to do if not for your blogs. =)

I'm a hamster with regards to information but I'm also all over the place =P