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Darishini Thiyagarajan
Sunday, Jul 13, 2014

Singapore

Dog-loving ex-banker becomes Cat Welfare Society CEO

The New Paper | Darishini Thiyagarajan | Sunday, Jul 13, 2014

(From left) Cat Welfare Society CEO Joanne Ng and vice-president Veron Lau.

Since young, Miss Joanne Ng has been a dog lover.

But the 40-year-old now lives with three cats - Tora, Neko and Goma.

She is also the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Cat Welfare Society (CWS).

CWS was granted the status of an Institute of Public Character (IPC) by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth in May last year. An IPC is an organisation approved by the Commissioner of Charities to receive tax-deductible donations.

Miss Ng quit her job as a banker specialising in the global market - a job that she had been holding for 15 years - to take up the CEO position.

Although she admits that the salary she earns now is just a fraction of what she used to get, Miss Ng said she wanted to do it for the community. CWS does not pay its board members and volunteers, so Miss Ng's salary is paid by the Patrick D Harrigan Foundation, following its pledge of support.

Said Miss Ng: "Animal welfare groups like CWS cannot afford to pay their board members because the donations are for the animals, not the people."

While shuttling between Singapore and Tokyo in her previous job, she wanted to volunteer at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in 2006, but was told that the list of dog-walking volunteers had been filled.

"They asked me if I was all right with helping out with the cats because they were low on volunteers in that department," Miss Ng recalled.

She admitted that her intial misconceptions of cats were dispelled after spending time with them, and she adopted her first feline that year itself.

FAMILIAR

"People are just not familiar with them. Dogs are definitely more approachable to strangers, but people must understand that the affection given by both animals is the same," she said.

Tora, a ginger domestic short hair, was adopted by Miss Ng from SPCA Hong Kong in 2006, during a work trip.

When she took Tora back to her home in Tampines, all hell broke loose. Her sister even asked her to choose between the cat and her. Miss Ng said: "Where was I supposed to go with Tora? I came to an understanding with my sister and now my family loves cats just the same - or maybe more."

Her other cats, Neko and Goma, came shortly after.

Neko, a white domestic short hair, was adopted in 2010 after a caregiver in Tampines found her. She had been abandoned after giving birth to two kittens.

Goma, a Siamese mixed kitten, was adopted just six months ago.

Miss Ng said: "She is a pedigree mix, and she was abandoned when she was about three or four weeks old because she had hernia. I was afraid that someone would adopt her for breeding, so I took her in."

We don't need a CEO

Other animal welfare groups, like Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD) and Causes for Animals Singapore (CAS), said they did not see the need to appoint a CEO for their organisations.

ASD, which was established in 2000, received $338,000 in donations last year. This is slightly more than half of what the Cat Welfare Society had last year.

But ASD spokesman Ricky Yeo said the group has not seen the need to appoint a governing figure.

He said: "When we established the society, a committee was formed with formal procedures and protocols and this has carried on till today.

"For example, all cheques are signed by two committee/board members and the committee takes a vote on policies made."

Despite a stable and consistent framework and structure all these years, ASD needs more dedicated and motivated people to lead the organisation in spearheading animal welfare policy changes, he added.

CAS, which was started last year, has yet to get its annual figure established.

CAS spokesman Christine Bernadette said: "We have an executive committee but we do not feel we need a CEO to make decisions as we are still a small organisation.

"As CAS grows and takes on more volunteers, we will look into establishing more structure."

Growth of Cat Welfare Society

Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs) are charities that can issue tax-deductible receipts to donors for eligible donations. This means that donors are able to claim tax relief from their income based on the amount donated.

Last year, Cat Welfare Society (CWS) received close to $600,000 in donations. This is more than 10 times what it got in 2009.

It decided to appoint a CEO because it needed someone who could devote time to growing the society. Most of the board members have full-time jobs and they needed a system that would support the society's core functions.

CWS vice-president Veron Lau explained how the society chose Miss Joanne Ng: "We thought it would have to be one of us from the committee, who would quit the day job to commit.

"When Joanne expressed interest in this, we felt she really was the best person, with her financial and management background. Besides fund raising, she would be helping to build a robust operational and governance system that will support our core functions of sterilisation, mediation and education."

In 2009, CWS suffered a series of setbacks negotiating with government agencies on adopting humane practices for the management of cats in the community, as cats were being culled.

The previous Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme funded by Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore was abruptly interrupted in the face of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome pandemic in 2004.

STOP CULLING

Cat lovers encouraged the society to convince the authorities to stop culling the cats they had painstakingly sterilised, which reverted to the high of over 10,000 cats in a year.

With help from firms such as The Silent Foundation, Kuvera Asset Management, Pet Lovers Foundation, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank, CWS inherited an estate from a cat lover last year.

Plans for more fund raisers are on, including the Cats Of The World photo and art exhibition at the Arts House that will end on July 28.

darit@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 11, 2014.
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