Caring for the unwanted

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2005, 12:00am

I am used to seeing abandoned dogs at government kennels. Even so, the sight of the dogs from the Disneyland site had an effect on me, partly because there were just so many of them. Also, because it was Disney, I just thought perhaps they should have known better or done it in a different way.

Hong Kong Dog Rescue has found homes for 550 dogs since it started. The hardest part is when we have to go and select them from the government kennels. Every week, or bi-weekly, we go along and ask what has come in. For every five dogs we take, we have to leave 60 behind.

It is terrible having to leave so many dogs behind. Every time we know we are going to the kennels the next day, we feel sick about it. It's awful, but we know that if we didn't go, none of the dogs would be saved.

We choose them on the basis of whether they can live in people's homes. People like pure breeds, the pugs and the poodles. We could 'home' a blind, three-legged pug. But with mongrels, it does not matter how friendly and healthy they are; they have to be pretty enough that we think people are going to say: 'Aren't they lovely?'. Black dogs are the hardest to place, because people in Hong Kong think they bring bad luck or that they can see ghosts.

There was a major influx into government kennels after Sars, when officials clamped down on dogs in public housing. That was the turning point for us. That is when I started bringing the dogs home. They were having to destroy all these dogs and there was nothing wrong with them.

They said to me one day: 'Take these dogs or we will have to destroy them.' The first batch I took home was 25 dogs. That was the start of the slippery slope. Now my house is full of dogs. It varies, but I have had 60 and 80 at any one time. People call me and say: 'Can you take just one more?' and I think: 'What difference will one more make?' Now the house is full to capacity. I can't take any more unless it is truly home-able.

Reducing the number of strays is a matter of education. Culturally, people in Hong Kong do not believe in desexing dogs and that is a major factor. If there weren't so many puppies born, the situation wouldn't be so bad. People are becoming more aware of dogs as thinking, feeling creatures, but there is still a huge way to go because keeping dogs as pets is relatively new.

Twenty years ago, when I first came here, people did not have dogs as pets. They screamed and ran away if they saw you walk in with a dog on a lead. That is changing, but there is still a lot of education to be done about keeping dogs.

People still go out all day and lock their dog in a cage or in the bathroom for 10 hours, and that is considered to be perfectly normal and acceptable. On our dog homing days, we have people who tell us they want a dog but they work all day: we do not home dogs in that situation. Quite a few people argue with us about that. They say: 'What is the problem? I am there evenings and weekends.'

There is more awareness now. A lot of our young volunteers are great; the way they feel and understand things. Things are changing, but it is slow, and reaching out to the older generation is a bigger challenge.

There are days when I feel I have had enough and I say: 'I'm not going to take any more dogs in.' But when you see them, you just cannot walk away. I just feel for them, especially the little ones. They come over to you and lick your hand and wag their tail. You cannot walk away and say: 'Sorry, I can't do anything.'

Sally Andersen is the founder of Hong Kong Dog Rescue, which rehoused a handful of the 45 stray dogs collected from the Disneyland site in Lantau