How One Singaporean Made Cat Rescue Her Life’s Mission
Not just herding cats: Temasek treasury director Joanne Ng puts her skill sets and passions to good use at the Cat Welfare Society
A kind gesture, no matter how small, can bring about an impact we least expect. In this ongoing series, we comb through the office in search of colleagues who are making a difference to the lives of others — through the way they live theirs.
She walks gingerly through the streets of a private residential estate off Jalan Eunos, eyes darting.
Joanne Ng, a director with Temasek’s Treasury team and a volunteer with the Cat Welfare Society (CWS)
Every so often, she crouches, peers through the gates of terrace houses and under parked vehicles, jingling a bunch of keys.
“The clinking sound attracts them,” she whispers.
Joanne peeks through the gates of a house under construction looking for stray cats
It is a Saturday evening and Joanne Ng, a long-time volunteer with the Cat Welfare Society (CWS), is assisting fellow volunteers in trapping stray cats for sterilisation.
Compared to culling, Joanne explains that this process, also known as Trap, Neuter and Release or TNR in short, is a more humane way of controlling the population of strays.
“When the number of stray cats are kept manageable, we get fewer complaints from residents. The cats will also be better off because they now have access to more food from cat feeders,” says Joanne. The cost of neutering is borne by the charity and the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, she adds.
Sterilisation of cats, according to CWS, has more than halved the population of strays from 150,000 in the 1990s to under 60,000 now.
Trapping these notoriously nocturnal animals can sometimes take the entire night.
Joanne rinses a cage used for trapping stray cats in a private residential estate off Jalan Eunos. It is necessary
to wash each cage thoroughly to remove the scent of the previous cat. The cats are brought to a vet for sterilisation
and, after they have recovered, are returned to where they were found
The director with Temasek’s Treasury team also dons the corporate hat for the animal welfare group, helping out with fundraising and various educational and adoption drives in her free time over the last four years.
A cat-trapping session starts with baiting the cage (top left) and waiting (top right). Trapped cats are transferred to
another cage, which is labelled (bottom right) with where they were found so they can be returned after getting sterilised
at the vet. The process, Trap, Neuter and Release or TNR in short, is a more humane way of controlling the population of strays
Her affinity with the furry and four-legged started young, when she was growing up in a “kampong-style” household with dogs and rabbits.
When she was 12, the family pet rabbit, aptly named Rabbit, went missing and was later found at the foot of her apartment block — dead with its spine broken.
The bunny was apparently flung over the ledge by a neighbour, who got frustrated when it excreted at his doorstep.
“I was heartbroken, and cried as I held it in my arms. I kept thinking why would anyone do this. I was just a helpless kid, with no evidence to confront him,” recounts the 43-year-old wistfully.
That tragic event moved Joanne from affection to advocacy.
In 2007, the then-multinational banker turned up at the local SPCA to volunteer at the dog kennels. She was, however, asked to try her hands at the cattery instead.
It was there that Joanne rekindled her love for the whiskered creature.
Rescued cats inside a cage at the CWS booth at the Pet Expo in April this year
“Cats are often misunderstood. I only remember chasing them as a kid and them hissing and scratching me but I didn’t realise they did that only because they were feeling defensive,” she says.
But it was one particular cat at the shelter — which she described as having a “cool temperament” and “looked very attractive” — that stole her heart.
“It was almost like a dog trapped in a cat’s body. It’s like you have them in a smaller version and they clean themselves. I thought it was a perfect combination!” she exclaims.
Joanne returned two weeks later to adopt the grey-striped feline that she named Tiger, and which her sister adopted in turn when Joanne had to relocate to Tokyo and Hong Kong for work.
While in Hong Kong, she adopted another cat and named it Tora, or “tiger” in Japanese. She now has four cats, all with Japanese names — Tora, Neko (“cat”), Goma (“sesame”) and Biru (“beer”).
Joanne Ng, a director with Temasek’s Treasury team and volunteer with CWS, guiding visitors in a cat booth at the Pet Expo. Joanne was also a former CEO of the animal welfare charity. She continues to volunteer with the charity after
stepping down as CEO in 2015
In 2014, she quit banking and left the rat race to head the Cat Welfare Society.
Besides organising adoption drives and raising funds using her wide network of contacts from her previous career, Joanne also worked to push the national sterilisation programme into industrial areas, and piloted a similar programme with NParks.
“My ex-colleagues thought I had gone crazy. But the people who knew me well, like family and friends, thought that if anyone were to do this, it would be me,” she says.
Visitors to the CWS cat booth petting rescued cats at the Pet Expo in April this year
“I was at a point in my career where things were quite stagnant. I’d gotten to such a comfortable level that if I had to do my job with my eyes closed, I could. I felt I needed to do something more.” Joanne stayed on as CEO for one-and-a-half years before returning to the corporate world.
“It’s not about the money. When I stepped down, I donated every single cent of my income with CWS back to the charity,” she says.
Joanne, who is single, adds, “I think I have been very blessed to get to where I am in life. It is really a pure sense of having taken so much from life; you decide it’s time to give back. It’s that simple and nothing too complicated.”
Joanne checking on a cat with a vet before placing it in a cat booth for visitors to interact with at the Pet Expo in April this year
These days, Joanne still helps out at CWS with fundraising and recruiting volunteers — by keeping her eyes peeled in the office.
Her target: “Colleagues who have calendars on the desk or screensavers with cute animals,” she says, laughing.
“Cats are the real underdogs in life!” Joanne quips. “They need all the help we can give.”
The Cat Welfare Society (CWS) has been a registered charity since 2004 and was granted Institutions of A Public Character (IPC) status in 2013. Besides a nation-wide sterilisation programme, the society works with the relevant government bodies and institutions and in tackling issues of cat abuse, abandonment and also public education of cat ownership.