Cats have been domesticated and even revered since as early as 9,500 years ago, valued for their ability to hunt down pests; a useful facility for our Neolithic ancestors who rely on their furry companions to ensure their crops remain undisturbed by rats and other vermin.
Today however, the Felis catus plays a dramatically reduced bloodsport purpose, kept as indoor pets for companionship — and in the dawn of the modern information age, a symbolic mascot for the internet through worn-out memes, absolutely adorable compilation videos on YouTube and other obsessive digital platforms. We even have a Facebook page devoted to the cats of Singapore, a witty homage to the Humans of New York photoblog, collecting fictional stories of our friendly neighbourhood stray cats.
Our fascination with felines got a bumper boost last year when the first ever cat cafe Neko No Niwa opened in the heart of Clarke Quay. How better can it get for cat lovers? Patrons simply need to pay an hourly fee to enter a domain completely dominated by playful cats to watch and play with them without the responsibilities that would come together with pet ownership. Furthermore, the official HDB ruling is that flatowners are prohibited from keeping cats in their homes on grounds of disrupting ‘neighbourliness’ in housing estates — not to forget the serial cat killers running loose (and frustratingly uncaptured) in our neighbourhoods.
Naturally, like all trends in Singapore (think bubble tea shops, independent cafes and other ephemeral lifestyle concepts), many others jumped on the bandwagon as well, and 2014 marked Singapore’s year in cat-themed establishments with another four more cat cafes popping up — including the controversial Cuddles Cat Cafe at *SCAPE which recently closed due to revelations that seven precious felines died under their care due to various health circumstances.
Photo: Cuddles Cat Cafe
Singapore’s love for cats however got to an caterwauling apex with the announcement of the nation’s biggest ever cat-centric establishment: Lion City Kitty: The Cat Museum Muses & Mansion. Offering not one, not two but three whopping floors dedicated to all things feline, the museum at Purvis Street is set to officially open its doors to the public this very Friday.
Less profit-oriented and more of a social enterprise, Lion City Kitty was set up by Jessica Seet, a former Gold 90.5 FM DJ and all-round crazy cat lady with the intention to educate and change the community’s attitudes towards the furry companions, and also become a safe haven for rescued cats.
Entering Lion City Kitty, one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the cat-themed decor adorning the entrance and greeting area of the museum, complete with posters of Top Cat, images of their nine permanently residing felines and an overwhelming array of cat dolls dressed in various miniature film-related costumes.
Seet, a lively, well-spoken woman brimming with cheerful energy, takes us through a tour of the abode, which also doubles as the offices of Art Of Voice, a company she founded that specialises in voice coaching and speech training. The first floor of Lion City Kitty is categorised as The Cat Museum, featuring specially curated art and crafts from around the world, including paintings and photos. But what gets us truly spazzing with joy is Seet’s plans to launch a Lunchtime Kitten Therapy programme this month, where visitors can drop by from noon to 2pm on selected days to play and socialise with young cats in a kitten kindergarten.
The Muses section on the second floor hosts a noble collaboration between Lion City Kitty and the Cat Welfare Society (CWS), where rescued cats have a temporary abode in an open environment and get used to human companionship before adoption. Potential adopters get to truly enjoy the behaviour of the cats before bringing them home in an unrestricted space. Seet tells us about the sordid fates that had fallen on some of the cats before they were rescued by the CWS, including the story of one scruffy-looking moggie voraciously feasting on his lunch in a corner. On the wall hangs a map of Singapore where residents can pin a photo of their cat(s) according to where they live. A heartwarming panel lists the adopted cats of Lion City Kitty so far, with Seet hoping to have 50 on the honour roll by National Day as part of the Jubilee celebrations.
The stars of the whole establishment however live it up in The Mansion, the top floor of Lion City Kitty. There, Seet introduces us to her nine rescued cats, cooing and purring at them as she does so. They all have their distinct personalities and quirks, and it shows immediately as they move around comfortably in the massive kitty playground that is their permanent residence. Harry, the cross-eyed mascot flits swiftly across the room playing with his adopted brothers and sisters, clearly happy to have so many people visiting him. The excruciatingly fluffly maine coon duo Jen and Angie stir hazily in their seats while the shy Brad lumps himself into a dark corner, unwilling to stick his tongue back into his mouth.
No doubt the place’s upkeep is a daunting task for Seet, her staff and the volunteers — they have to maintain a comfortable environment for the cats, as well as ensure their health and safety while their fans gawk (and poke) at them — but it looks like it’s also rewarding one. There’s nothing like matching a great, responsible adopter to their perfect pet companion, and watchign them go home together.
Looking back, one can truly declare that 2014 was the year of the cat, with felines seeming to pop up frequently in headlines over the last year, and it brings a kind of new hope to animal lovers everywhere. All the negatory reports (uproar over a satirical art exhibition calling for the killing of stray cats, a cat found severed in half, Cuddles Cat Cafe) have been quite balanced out by a well-publicised fondness for our furry friends, and Lion City Kitty — an actual building devoted to discussing the narrative of Singapore’s relationship with cats — takes the cake in emphasising the importance of kinship with animals. And in an increasingly urban landscape that continues to infract the country’s disappearing natural habitats, the discourse about finding homes for our neglected critters becomes more important than ever before.
Photos: Lion City Kitty, Ilyas Sholihyn
Subscribe to The Coconuts Podcast for top trending news and pop culture from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong every Friday!