Comprehensive strategy needed to deal with stray dog problem

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2010, 12:00am

I have been a registered dog owner living in a rural area where stray dogs roam.

I have worked with animals for more than 17 years and I believe that the welfare of stray dogs should be a cause for public concern and should be seen as a public responsibility.

Do we solve the problem of strays by simply feeding them on the streets?

We have to ask who has contributed to the problem with these animals.

There are two categories of dog in Hong Kong - strays and pets. The pets are microchipped and vaccinated by their owners. The strays are subdivided into two groups - those which still exist within a community and feral, indigenous dogs.

The population is growing because some pet owners abandon their dogs.

People who feed strays can actually create problems for other citizens, because it can lead to these animals coming together as a pack and displaying aggressive behaviour. They establish territorial boundaries and passers-by can get attacked. I have been a victim.

A 'trap, neuter, return' programme can only form part of the management strategy when it comes to strays.

It is more important to equip existing and potential dog owners with the concept of responsible pet ownership.

They need to appreciate that a pet should be seen as a member of the family. It should be looked after properly and should not be abandoned.

When considering the implementation of a 'trap, neuter, return' programme, we have to ask if is there a need to set up a register system for the dogs and have care-takers for each stray colony in each district.

This would make it possible to monitor the number and health of the dogs.

The most effective and sustainable way to tackle the stray dog problem is through a three-pronged strategy - education, dog registration and law enforcement.

Public health and safety issues must also be taken into consideration.

We have to consider the following: direct physical injury to humans; indirect injury as a result of road traffic accidents; diseases passed on to humans and their pets (including rabies); environmental hygiene problems caused by faeces, urine, leftover food and rats; and the general nuisance that is caused by the strays barking.

On its own, feeding the stray dogs is not a sustainable solution.

We need Hongkongers to think carefully about what responsible pet ownership entails and there must also be a comprehensive strategy in terms of stray dog management.

Dr Kenneth Lam, member, Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong