At CLEO, we’re constantly on the lookout for game-changers who are dedicated to making a positive change in the world. Every year, we seek out young female professionals who are not only great at what they do, but also inspire others. This year, we found 10.

Laura Ann Meranda, 33, Executive Director of Cat Welfare Society

For three years now, CLEO Change Maker Laura has dedicated her life and money to saving cats. She works a gruelling 14 to 16 hours a day to resolve cat-related disputes. But that’s only part of her role as the Executive Director of Cat Welfare Society (CWS).

She says, “If you caught me outside, you most probably would see me on my work phone. We start in the morning all the way to midnight sometimes. The reason for this is that we just want to be connected and see how we can help the cats.”

She speaks passionately about her job and owns three cats herself, named Cara, Galahad and Marla.

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While she had always been interested in charity work and had grown up around animals, her drive to protect felines was sparked three years ago.

“I was a vegan already, then I adopted two cats, so the further step is to fight for their rights – for the voiceless. When you talk about the voiceless, it means the community cats or stray cats that people normally refer to,” she says.

Prior to joining CWS as a mediator, Laura worked in a pathology lab for eight years before joining a government agency for a year. She was promoted to Executive Director at CWS last year. She says, “A lot of people tell me that I can do better elsewhere, because it’s not financially stable.” After all, being a non-profit organisation, CWS runs on donations.

However, her parents and husband have been supportive of her passion – even if it meant forgoing holidays because of her work – but she admits that they were concerned about her physical and mental health “because they know what kind of situations I get myself into”.

After all, some of the cases she has to deal with include hoarding and abuse cases. She relates a story about a cat they rescued from Jalan Minyak – someone had tied the cat’s testicles with a cable tie. The cat then hid in a drain and was found only four days later. It has since been rehabilitated and re-homed by an independent rescuer.

Laura says it was hard for her to see the abuse photos when she first started and even now, she’s still learning to put her feelings in check when it comes to dealing with abuse cases. “For cat-hoarding and abuse cases, we are still learning to adapt. Sometimes, it brings us post-traumatic stress as well.”

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She admitted that she has been through post-traumatic stress “to some point”, but with the amount of work she has, she doesn’t have time to even register the devastation that she sees when she deals with cases. “When I was doing mediation with the other mediators, we don’t even have time to sit down and register what just happened or what we saw because we’re fighting situations close to 14 to 16 hours of the day.”

She adds, “But I turned the anger and sadness into something positive – like how can we prevent this, and how can we help the caregivers (who feed stray cats) to keep a lookout and work with the authorities and see whether they can find the person [who abused the cats].”

Although CWS handles sterilisation – they spend half a million dollars every year on sterlising community cats – and mediation for cat-related issues, they don’t do rescues because they don’t have a shelter. Laura says that when she sees a cat in need, she would sometimes pick it up as a personal rescue and fork out her own money on medical and other expenses.

Apart from rescues, she also fosters cats and kittens. In fact, one of her three cats was her foster cat. She calls it a “foster fail” – after all, as fosterers, you have to find them a new home after rehabilitation instead of adopting the animal yourself. She says, “She was initially dumped because she had a liver issue. I was nursing her close to two months and I fell in love with her so I couldn’t let her go.”

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Despite the “failure”, she continues to be a fosterer, and is now fostering two kittens.

She admits it’s hard to let her foster cats go when she has found them a “forever home”. “I cry for weeks when they’ve gone to their new homes. But when their adopters send me pictures of the cats having a great time at their new homes, it makes me feel a lot better.”

That may be her achievement as a fosterer, but as part of CWS, she reckons the biggest milestone she had was when the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) formally recognised CWS as a mediator for cat-related issues earlier this year. She says, “To me, that’s one of the greatest achievements with CWS because literally everybody – including community caregivers and volunteers who have given and sacrificed so much – is recognised, meaning we can bring more to the table to fight for the rights of cats. Actually, I was very emotional when they announced it because now we can do so much more.”