More dangerous than Africa

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 12:00am

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has 20 dog-catching teams. The four-man squads work a 40-hour week, which will come as a surprise to anyone who ventures off the main roads in the New Territories. Last year, they caught 10,000 strays. According to the department's spokesman, 13 were captured in 29 operations conducted along Po Lo Che Road, in Sai Kung, where I live.

Thirteen! Well, I walked along the road and surrounding villages last week, and if I had been a conscientious canine-grabber, I reckon I could have caught at least 50 unlicensed, collarless dogs. It is the same throughout the New Territories. Virtually every inhabited hamlet is infested with snarling, vicious curs and scabrous, diseased mongrels, which terrify strangers who walk along public roads or paths.

There is one extremely savage creature in a village up the mountain from me which has shoulders as wide as a Fijian rugby player and teeth like a saber-toothed tiger. This very dangerous animal roams unleashed and unmuzzled outside its owner's home in open and constant breach of the law.

A couple of years ago, I was attacked by this monster and managed to fend it off only because I had a stout walking stick. Later, I drove to the village, parked outside the house and honked my horn. Finally, the owner emerged. I wound down the window and, as the hound was baying and trying to get at me, I told the man that he had a very savage dog which attacked people. 'Well, don't come here,' he said, walking off. It is this sort of attitude, combined with thoughtless irresponsibility, that creates the dog nuisance.

I have nothing against dogs which are cared for and under control. But I have a lot against owners who either cannot or will not look after them. If some deranged person wants to share their home with a bunch of animals, that is their business. If the beasts bark constantly and bite people walking by, then it becomes my business. Last year, 3,319 people were bitten by dogs in Hong Kong. Doctors at Tuen Mun Hospital treated 543 dog-bite victims and, in North District, medics bandaging 494 people. Another 274 victims were treated at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, and 227 at Tseung Kwan O Hospital. I reckon there is an appreciably higher risk of being bitten by an uncontrolled domestic pet or stray dog in a New Territories village than of coming to grief in a Kenyan game park.

I have been complaining for years about a pack of semi-feral animals which live around O Long village in Sai Kung. These creatures have a pretty good life, doing nothing much except snarling at walkers and engaging in constant sex, thereby keeping up their numbers.

I have lodged protests with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the District Office and, although it is against my principles to hound the police (pun intended), with local officers.

It has all been to no avail. Daily, this pack occupies the footpath, forcing pedestrians out into the traffic. Yet they seem invisible to the dog-catching teams. They cause a menace to motorists who swerve to avoid them and create a health hazard by leaping into rubbish bins and ripping plastic bags to shreds, spreading nauseous, rotting debris over the road.

What is really worrying is the deadly diseases these creatures carry. Being unlicensed, they have not had vaccinations or been examined by a vet. Rabies is endemic in Guangdong, and although there has not been a case for years in Hong Kong, if you get bitten, you must go through the painful course of anti-rabies injections. I have been there, done that, and have no desire to do it again.

Kevin Sinclair is a Hong Kong reporter who lives in the New Territories