Monday, October 5, 2009

Cat on MRT tracks

*Updated post as it seems that the wrong transport operator was identified in the initial letter*

There seems to be a lot of discussion on the cat that was at Dhoby Ghaut MRT station.

First of all, the writer should be commended for what she did. Noticing how frightened the cat was and clearly being familiar with cats, I am sure she would have realised it would have been near impossible to catch the cat without the proper equipment, so she tried to get help for the cat. In addition, as she undoubtedly considered, if the cat was scared, it might well have made a dash for the tracks.

What has upset everyone, is the subsequent behaviour of the staff at the station. What this episode DOES show is that the staff involved did not know how to handle a cat. This isn't unexpected - many people don't have a clue what to do when faced with a cat. Some of the people involved may have actually believed that putting the cat into a plastic bag was a good idea, and that it was the best way of removing the cat safely. They may (and this is based obviously on conjecture) have actually thought this was the better way of handling the situation as waiting for pest control would take too long.

Unfortunately, they chose not to listen to the writer, who advised them against this, and instead pursued the cat. She felt it was obvious that it would distress the cat further.

Most of us would realised this - but what is obvious to us, isn't obvious to many people. Some people have had no interaction with cats - to them, removing the cat might be as simple as scooping the cat up and putting it in a plastic bag.

Then again, I know of feeders who have carried their cats places without carriers, or in flimsy boxes which aren't even covered properly. I've seen cats carried in pillow cases, over the shoulders and untethered in any way. I know of a cat at a vet that disappeared because the owner did not contain it properly (I believe there wasn't even a carrier). Even at Spay day, we had people come in with cats in carriers that clearly would not contain the cat. Somehow people think that a cat will just stay put if you just plonk them in some kind of restraint. Or maybe they believe that if they give the cat a dirty look, the cat will just stay put. Surprise! That doesn't work. If even people who care for cats don't know better, than perhaps ignorance by the general public can be better understood.

Of course what I fail to understand from reading the writer's account is why the security door that led to the tracks was opened subsequently by a staff member. Perhaps we'll hear from the staff member involved at some point.

Why did the staff member not attempt to stop the train? It's possible the train could not have been halted at the point if it was already approaching the station (think of your car brakes and how much stopping distance you need after you depress them).

There is also this to consider : the staff member may not have felt empowered to do this - or to face the consequences especially when the management may not already be very cat-friendly to begin with. I remember at least one case where I wrote in to offer our help to one of the transport operators because we were told that the unsterilised cats were usually rounded up and sent to the AVA if there were complaints or if they were found to be a 'problem'.

So what needs to be done? Clearly what this episode shows is that there should be some manner of procedure or protocol devised so that staff members DO know what do in future. This would ensure that we don't have to cross our fingers and hope that if this happens again, the staff member knows something about cats.

It also clearly isn't just an animal welfare issue. Birds striking into plane engines have been the cause of many engine failures. Airports take safety measures to try and keep birds away from the airport strips to try and minimise this from happening.

A cat that runs onto a track could conceivably cause damage to the train - and to the passengers onboard, not to speak of the cat being crushed or badly injured. Surely there must be protocol for what happens if a person should run onto the track - and similarly there should be steps in place for what happens if a cat should run on. If there are staff trained to spot people eating and drinking on the train, there can be staff members in place to help in a situation such as this.

It might well have happened that even if all the right steps were followed, the cat might still have dashed onto the tracks but it does limit the chances of that happening.

As for the writer's comments about her disappointment that no one came forward to offer to help, one only has to look at the recent furor over no one helping a woman who had been apparently manhandled by her male companion. We've often heard the justification that it's 'only a cat', but it seems that this isn't true. Many Singaporeans, it seems, just do not like getting involved.

We need to stop being afraid of looking foolish, or being told off, and just do what's right. This may very well mean not 'minding our own business' - because at the end of the day, the community we live in IS our business.


eslina said...

I remember one commenter tried to justify that Singapore is not the only society that doesn't like to get involved when help is needed. Cities like NYC etc.. are guilty of this too. My question is does that mean it's ok then for some societies or city folk to lack compassion or empathy? Shouldn't we strive to be better?? I'm sure even people in NYC wishes that they are living in a society that cares for others.

Dawn said...

Exactly right eslina - just because someone else does or doesn't do something should not be justification for it.

calsifer said...

I think the terms tradition, "cater to majority" are just excuses.

Dawn said...

I have to say though that if the train HAD been stopped, I wonder how many people would have complained very loudly about it. I'm kind of betting more than the number of people who would have been understanding about why the train had to be stopped.

I was speaking to someone about this, and he mentioned that he hoped this wouldn't lead to all cats around stations being rounded up just in case something like this happens again.

calsifer said...

There is that of course, but then it might not have become such a hot potato if that door wasn't opened.

The reply from SBS Transit in today's Today seems to indicate they do have a protocol. Again the question is then, really got do like that meh?

Dawn said...

Yes certainly.

The letter (which I just read thanks to your comment :)) does say they are going to speak with the SPCA - let's hope they do that!