“They are my family,” Doreen, 63, calls her once-stray cats, some of whom she has had since they were young. “I am their maid. They will literally call me when they are done their business and it is time for me to clear their litter.” A retiree and single, she rents her extra room in her flat so she can use the money to buy medicines for cats in the community and also to buy food to give to the seniors who do not have a lot of funds but still feed the community cats. She isn’t about to take all the credit though – “It is not a one-man show. There are so many abandoned cats and there are many who play a part in helping them.”
Her love for cats started when she was younger. She stayed in a three-storey SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) flat and she remembered there were chickens, birds, rabbits, cats and dogs around. “Granny had a chicken that she allowed it to go out, eat grass downstairs and come up. When it wanted to come back into the flat, it would peck at our door. It would even lay eggs on our rug!” There were also rabbits in her house, which she had to feed, and a dog. “I love animals; I am an animal lover,” she confessed.
She laughed at the time when she was 14 years old and brought home a green snake from the kampong river. “We didn’t have exercise at the time. Our exercise would be hopping from one bank to another and catch rainbow fish. I remembered one time I saw a green snake. I like green as it is beautiful and a nice colour.” When she brought it home, her granny shrieked and asked her to get rid of it or else she couldn’t come home. “I was very sad to get rid of it.” She also caught brown grasshoppers and sold them at shops for one cent each.
When Doreen was living in a HDB, she had a dog but later, had to put it to sleep as it became paralysed. “It was very painful as I had built a bond with her. A Malay friend helped me to take it in as if I saw it being put down, I would have been even more devastated.” After that experience, she felt she didn’t want to own an animal again.
But her decision was never up to her. One fateful day in 2005, her neighbour who is a cat feeder, found a small kitten and asked her to look after it for six months till she could sterilise it and release it back into the community. She agreed, but that kitten never got released, but became a part of her family and was named Angel. “I had built a close bond with her and even ended up paying for her sterilisation from my own pocket.”
And though the cats in the community and those she has taken in can’t say thanks, they affirm Doreen in other ways. “They demonstrate their love by coming around my leg. Actions speak louder than words. And animals can teach us a lot about EQ (emotional intelligence quotient).”