Confessions of a cat behaviourist
Miss Rebecca Ho has dedicated her life to cats.
Her 15 years of experience rescuing more than 1,000 street cats prompted the 29-yearold to offer consultation services to pet owners, helping them resolve issues they have with their cats.
So much so, that she has even dubbed herself Singapore's own "cat whisperer".
One of her clients had two male cats that started fighting when they reached sexual maturity, with one of them particularly edgy.
To solve the problem, Miss Ho asked the client to buy a spray which uses hormone therapy to help cats de-stress.
"I also advised him to increase the number of litter boxes and water bowls so that the cats did not have to compete," says the owner of Lingcat Feline Services, which opened last month.
Another of her clients downsized from a landed property to a flat, and to help the pet cat adjust to the new environment, Miss Ho set up a programme with more play activities and stimulation to prevent a feeling of being cooped up.
For a 90-minute on-site consultation, Miss Ho charges $200, which includes a customised behaviour modification programme and eight weeks of follow-up.
Her charges may appear high, but Miss Ho says this is not a lucrative business. Indeed, she has been able to make a career out of her passion only because her family has been financially supportive.
"I began feeding strays when I was 14 and started rescuing them after reading a report in the local papers about kittens being burnt alive," she says.
Shortly after, she began a trap-neuter-release programme, where stray cats were caught and taken to the vet for sterilisation before being let back into the neighbourhoods.
Miss Ho eventually got herself qualified.
She has an advanced certificate in feline behaviour awarded by the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology in Sheffield, UK. She also received training in community cat management and attended overseas veterinary conferences.
The faint scars on her arms attest to her years of working with strays.
"Sometimes I had to feed the rescued cats medication – something they hate – hence the scratches," she says with a laugh.
One of Miss Ho's four cats was picked up from the streets. Aptly named Scarface, he was so battered from fighting with other cats that he was bleeding heavily from his ears and cheeks when she found him a few years ago.
Today, he still bears the marks and ragged ears, and cannot shut his jaws properly.
"I used to cry and feel sad for the cats, but these days, I am more rational," Miss Ho says. "I have a bigger goal, which is to end their suffering, through education." Although she no longer rescues strays, Miss Ho says there is much more that needs to be done in terms of educating the public.
She cited last week's news article about a woman who faced losing her Sembawang HDB flat if her 20 cats were not rehomed. At one time, Madam Rashida Begum had 64 rescued cats in her five-room flat.
No matter how good the intentions, this could be problematic for the felines, says Miss Ho. "From my point of view and the international guidelines for cat rescue, putting many cats in a confined area can be detrimental to their welfare as the creatures need their space and independence.
"My dream is for cats to be treasured pets or well-loved community cats. Hopefully raising awareness will help cats and people coexist in harmony."
Secrets of the trade
1. When it comes to cat trapping, time is of the essence. You have to go at their feeding times. Be slightly late and you could go back emptyhanded.
2. Never chase a cat when trying to trap it – it'll only make it run away.
3. If you don't want "battle scars" all over your arms, learn from an experienced cattrapper how to carry a cat that does not want to be captured.