Lizzie, and Her Contested Destiny
Story by Jasmine Su, contributing reporter
Image by Rachel Juay, photographer
As the new semester kick-starts for students at Yale-NUS College, elevators were once again inundated with posters on topics ranging from welcome teas to job opportunities. Amid the confusion, a petition poster featuring a photo of a black and white cat could easily be spotted. Her name is Lizzie, and complaints from faculty members and the Infrastructure team have amounted to her potential removal from campus. In response, 285 members of the community signed a petition in opposition to her relocation.
Controversies surrounding Lizzie’s status on campus first emerged when Eugene Tan, Senior Manager of the Infrastructure Team, chanced upon Lizzie around the Multipurpose Hall shortly before the First-Year Assembly on Aug. 5th, 2016. Having never seen Lizzie before and thus mistaking her for a stray cat, Mr. Tan initiated a spontaneous conversation with one of Lizzie’s caretakers, Adlin Zainal ’17, as they “both saw the cat”.
Under the presumption that no student was taking care of Lizzie, Mr. Tan told Zainal that “we will probably remove the cat … if no one is taking care of [it].” Mr. Tan explained that “if it’s a stray cat, we would usually proceed with calling the AVA [the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore]”, but he also mentioned to Zainal during their conversation that finding Lizzie a caretaker is another solution.
In response to the perceived plans to relocate Lizzie, Daryl Yang ’18, Adlin Zainal ’17, who declined to comment, and Darrel Chang ’19 President of the Yale-NUS Association for the Protection of Animals from Cruelty (YAPAC), launched an online petition. In a Facebook post published on Aug. 10 in the Yale-NUS College Students group, Chang said that the Infrastructure Team’s decision to send Lizzie to AVA is both problematic and unfair. He said AVA’s policies were anthropocentric and noted that AVA will sentence Lizzie to death. Chang, in a separate statement provided to The Octant in his capacity as a student and not as President of YAPAC, he said that it is “incredibly selfish for people to think that we have the license to go about plucking animals from their homes.”
During an interview with The Octant, Mr. Tan said that his main concern with unfed stray cats is that they “rummage through bins”, causing hygiene issues. According to Mr. Tan, there was no follow-up from Zainal after their conversation on Aug. 5th. He was thus caught by surprise when informed of the petition seemingly “against the Infrastructure Team”. Mr. Tan clarified that had he been aware that some students were feeding Lizzie regularly, he would not have proposed her relocation. “We are not heartless people. If somebody is taking care of the cat, it’s fine with us,” he said.
On Aug. 16th, Zainal published a post in the Yale-NUS College Students Facebook group informing the college that Lizzie would be allowed to stay. According to Zainal, Brian McAdoo, Rector of Elm College, spoke with Mr. Tan and reached an agreement that the infrastructure team would not touch Lizzie.
Following the confirmation, Neil Clarke, Rector of Cendana College voiced his concern to the NUS Cat Café. Dr. Clarke wrote to the group pointing out that starting from a few weeks ago, Lizzie had displayed aggression toward his labradoodle, Pedro. “On three separate occasions in the last ten days that cat has rushed at my dog amidst a lot of screeching,” he said. In the email Dr. Clarke wrote that he would not contact AVA unless actual contact was made between Lizzie and Pedro, but if it happened he would not hesitate to do so.
Apart from the rising tension between Pedro and Lizzie, Dr. Clarke said that “a cat—like a dog—should be the responsibility of an individual or family, not a ‘community’.” Nonetheless, Dr. Clarke said that the opposition to Lizzie’s removal is “completely understandable” and clarified that “many students and staff—not just those who own the pets—enjoy having them around. The challenge is to strike a balance.”
Following Dr. Clarke’s complaint, Lizzie’s caretakers, the Infrastructure team, faculty members and NUS Cat Café agreed to find Lizzie an interim fosterer and are looking to find her a forever home.