At 7:30 pm on a Thursday evening, self-proclaimed “cat life guru” (as her Instagram page reads) Paige welcomes me to her cosy condo on the 31st floor. Despite the small space, the condo is a cat haven with different play structures and resting spots for cats. As I enter her apartment, Paige’s newest foster, Snowy, greets me with an inquisitive meow.
Paige has been fostering cats for two years in her condo. Besides fostering, she is also an assistant researcher at the National University of Singapore. Currently, two fosters live with her- a light grey and white tabby, Snowy, and a ginger tabby named Mimi. She also has one pet cat, Luna.
Growing up, Paige tells me she was surrounded by animals of all sorts, from cats and dogs to fish. “So it’s just natural that I love all animals,” she says, “but cats are the easiest to look after in this small condo, and because I and my boyfriend are both working, so it’s difficult to own dogs.”
THE INS AND OUTS OF FOSTERING
“Like many people, we actually didn’t know there was such a stray cat problem in Singapore,” Paige said. She only learnt about the issue when she met her now pet cat, Luna. Luna had been born on Sentosa island, likely from an abandoned Siamese mother as the island is home to many expats. Paige saw that Luna was up for adoption on a Facebook group.
“It took us months until we could touch her,” Paige recalls. “She was a kitten born in Sentosa in the wild, so she was not socialised at all. So after having her, we realised there was such a problem and we started feeding community cats and helping SPCA to foster cats.”
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is one way to foster cats, but there are other ways as well. These include following different Facebook groups where independent rescuers inform followers of cats that might need rescuing. As a rescuer herself, Paige also uses these groups.
The power of social media has also enabled Paige to find suitable adopters for her foster cats. She makes posts on Instagram when cats need a home, and interested adopters could then contact her for more information.
Fostering cats comes with its challenges. For instance, there is the question of time. Foster cats, especially kittens, require someone to be around 24/7. Lucky for Paige, her and her boyfriend work different hours. While she works nine to five, her boyfriend works odd hours, ensuring that there will always be someone at home to look after the cats.
Of course, there is also the problem of money. Cats are not cheap to look after, and other costs such as visits to the vet for sterilisation and food can add up. These costs all come out of Paige and her boyfriend’s pockets.
“I couldn’t pick you up because I’d just gotten a call from security,” Paige tells me halfway through our interview. She was referring to a call she had gotten from the condominium security- a kitten had been found in the basement.
Being a fosterer and rescuer can be all-consuming. Sometimes, even approaching cats to take them in can be a challenge. Paige recalled the story of now-adopted Nara, a foster she had for six to seven months.
Nara had lived in one of the condos across the road from Paige. She was a very timid cat who would run away from people if they approached. “It took me more than one year of feeding her every day until I could touch her, and the only reason I could touch her was that we got her older brothers adopted,” Paige said.
Nara was also not suited to living on the streets. Often, Paige said that she would see the cat run across the road and stop in the middle without finishing the run. When cars approached, Nara would simply sit and stare at the headlights instead of running away. “She was alone and we felt she needed some attention,” Paige added.
Kittens may need even more attention than adult cats. Often, these kittens are born in the streets and vulnerable to viruses. Additionally, they require many meals and one may even need to get up every few hours in the night to feed them.
This is why Paige stresses the importance of sterilization. Female cats can become pregnant as early as four months, and cats multiply quickly. “Sterilisation is the first thing that I do,” says Paige. This helps keep the stray cat population manageable and ensures kittens are not born in less than ideal conditions.
With two years of fostering under her belt, Paige says she is not stopping anytime soon. “Once you understand the suffering that these cats go through, you will never give up this work.”