Pets can be good for us - if we're good to them

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 November, 2004, 12:00am

Hong Kong is not the most obvious place in which to find a passion for pets. The cramped, high-rise accommodation in which most of our population lives is barely suited to the lifestyle of a gerbil, let alone a Great Dane.

And conditions do not improve much when we venture outside. Amid the urban jungle, it is not easy to find a suitable spot in which a dog or cat can flex its paws. Most parks are off limits.

Then there are the rather exotic eating habits which are sometimes associated with this part of the world. Cases are rare these days - but a woman was fined last month for killing a dog with a view to cooking it in a wok.

It therefore comes as something of a surprise to learn that Hong Kong people are increasingly becoming infatuated with their furry friends.

Results this week of a survey conducted by My Pet magazine revealed that we have become a city of animal lovers.

One in two people, according to the poll, has at least one dog. One in four owns a cat. And more than 20 per cent of respondents admitted keeping a pet in defiance of the law.

It was also revealed that most owners lavish affection on their pets, regarding them as members of their family and treating them accordingly.

This trend is being seen as evidence that Hong Kong is beginning to become as attached to animals as people in the western world who have a long history of pampering their pets. It suggests a more educated and tolerant approach to the animal kingdom. But the new-found fondness for pets might also be evidence of other, less attractive social developments. In our busy, stressful and sometimes lonely lives, it seems we are - more than ever before - longing to come home to a faithful friend.

This can, however, have unforeseen benefits. Pets, according to recent research in Britain, are good for your health.

Signs of the growing pet-keeping population were evident in the strong opposition mounted last year to government plans to crack down on tenants who keep animals in public housing estates. The plan was watered down.

Another sign is the pet-cremation packages now on offer - $600 for a mouse, $7,000 for a large dog. There is even a new 'pet palace' in Causeway Bay offering services for the pampered pooch - including a cafe and activity centre (cats are not allowed on the grounds they could encourage unwelcome behaviour in dogs).

But in crowded Hong Kong, it is not easy to give pets the good life. Flats are often too small, and more pet-friendly public spaces are needed. The recent dog-club outing to a beach in Sai Kung is one example of the tensions which can arise.

Our city's growing love affair with animals is welcome so long as the owners are responsible. It is the pets themselves which should be loved - not just the idea of owning them.