Hong Kong Faces

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2007, 12:00am

The plight of Lam Lam, a one-month-old kitten abandoned outside a supermarket with its hind legs severed, has seen hundreds of people joining the Cat Society, founded only months ago by Elaine Chan Ling-yi and three friends.

What would looking after a pet for an internet friend for a week bring you? Seven days of play, or trouble? Elaine Chan Ling-yi's experience has turned her into a cat aficionado, then to an animal rights activist.

Miss Chan, a co-founder of the Cat Society, hit the street with 500 other animal lovers and their pets on November 11 to push for a police investigation into reported cases of animal abuse.

The protest was triggered by the discovery in October of a one-month-old kitten, Lam Lam, which had been abandoned outside a supermarket in Sheung Shui with its hind legs chopped. The Cat Society was infuriated after its report to the police was only put on file.

Lam Lam's plight prompted animal lovers to unite. In just two weeks after the incident, about 300 people joined the society, Miss Chan said. She recalled that she set up the society with three friends in July and now had some 600 members.

'We started as independent volunteers, with no funding and no organisation,' said Miss Chan, owner of six cats.

Two or three years ago, she started volunteering with her fellow cat-lovers to look for homes for abandoned cats. She saw animals experience different fates, some fortunate to be healthy enough to find new owners, others suffering from various forms of torture and illnesses.

Miss Chan and her friends found that the help they could give was limited. 'We realised we could not do much if we did not form a group,' she said, adding that they came to the conclusion after trying to relocate 16 cats that an elderly woman was forced to give up because she faced eviction from her public housing flat.

Miss Chan and her volunteers took the cats to a veterinarian group, asking for temporarily shelter. The vets agreed to take care of the cats as an exceptional case.

Running such a group is not easy, Miss Chan said, as many of the cats they receive are sick or injured and money is needed to cover medical and food bills. Even the healthy cats need to be vaccinated. It is challenging to find new owners willing to pay all these bills, let alone devote time to care of them.

What was more frustrating was seeing the way the government dealt with animals, Miss Chan said. Describing what she had seen at the Agriculture and Fisheries Department's site where stray animals were temporarily kept, she said: 'The cages are stacked, and when the cats and dogs on the upper cages excrete, it falls on the animals below.'

Miss Chan accused the police of making ridiculous requests to those who reported cases of cruelty to animals. 'There have been cases in which our volunteers reported seeing people trying to kill cats. The police asked us to provide videos as evidence. They obviously knew we wouldn't just stand there, watch the cat die and shoot a video at the scene.'

Miss Chan, in her twenties, is now a busy activist. But it started only a few years ago, when an internet friend asked her to look after his cat for a week. Miss Chan hesitated, as she had never met her internet friend before and she already had four cats. But having an additional animal then made her realise she could accommodate more. Eventually, she became an addict, once having 17 cats at home.

Miss Chan spent a great deal of time researching cat diseases and attended a course on animal communication.

She plans to hold talks with the police and push for a revision of existing practices in the handling of animal abuse cases.

The Cat Society is also hoping to register as a charity to raise funds, and to organise an animal rights conference in collaboration with Animal Earth.