Amendment ill-considered and arbitrary

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 October, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 October, 1999, 12:00am

I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the attitude of the Agriculture and Fisheries Department (AFD) on the subject of 'large dogs'.

Perhaps I was naive to imagine that the Government would provide all the relevant statistics, rather than those that merely further its own misguided intentions. The latest response to my requests by the AFD (letter, South China Morning Post, August 30), however, smacks of sheer sophistry.

Despite my repeated requests, the one key statistic that the AFD is loath (for some reason) to disclose is the number of 'fully and properly licensed' large dogs that have been responsible for the 'serious bite wounds' that the department suggests support the proposed blanket restrictions it seeks to impose.

The AFD previously asserted (letter, Post, July 7) that it was due to a review of the statistics that the large-dog limits were established, on the basis that 'large dogs were responsible for the vast majority of serious bite wounds'. In its August 30 letter, however, the department disclosed that of 4,532 dog bites recorded over the past two years, only 22 resulted in serious bite wounds from large dogs, that is less than 0.5 per cent.

I doubt that many of these dogs were properly licensed, inoculated against rabies and microchipped as is required by law, let alone vaccinated against disease and neutered as is recommended.

To put this into perspective, shih-tzus were responsible for almost 10 per cent of all dog bites recorded in a single year (184 of 2,049 in 1998/99), and in the same year Pekinese were responsible for more than 60 bites. Given that the public are 25 times (2,500 per cent) more likely to be bitten by a shih-tzu or Pekinese than bitten seriously by a large dog, the preponderance of aggressive small dogs in Hong Kong highlights the stupidity of the proposed restrictions.

Further, according to the AFD, 'in 1998/99, local chow and mongrel dogs accounted for 52.5 per cent of the total bites'. This demonstrates that the real problem lies with the vast numbers of unlicensed, un-microchipped, potentially rabid dogs (both large and small) roaming uncontrolled throughout Hong Kong.

Under existing legislation, it is the AFD's obligation to tackle this growing problem and as anyone can see, it is failing miserably to discharge its duties. Imposing further restrictions on fully and properly licensed large dogs is totally illogical. It does not address the problem of dog bites.

Instead of proactively and aggressively enforcing the existing laws (which would go a long way towards solving the problem), it seems that the AFD would prefer to criminalise those responsible large dog owners whose animals are properly licensed and looked after.

Far from demonstrating that 'Dog rules will help to protect children', or 'Statistics show why dog controls needed', as the sensational headlines above the AFD's letters suggest, a more appropriate headline would be: 'Lax enforcement of dog laws by AFD poses continued public danger'.

The Government seems hell-bent on forcing through this ill-considered and arbitrary amendment, despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that properly licensed large dogs are in any way problematic.

Even the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stated, in a letter to the Legislative Council on June 28, that it had 'urged the Bills Committee not to pass this amendment'.

I urge all responsible dog owners to write to Legco, insisting that the 'large dog' amendment be dropped from the proposed legislation. If we do not act, it will be to the detriment of our dogs.

Please also contact me if you wish to lend your support on the issue. I may be reached at tel/ fax: 2335 1393 GRAEME C. ALFORD Sai Kung