Toll of abandoned dogs rises as downturn bites

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 January, 2012, 12:00am


The impact of the world's economic struggles is filtering all the way down to Hong Kong's dogs, as departing expatriates hand over their pets to charities that may never be able to find them a new home.

Hong Kong Dog Rescue says it has seen a big influx of dogs belonging to expatriates, many working in the financial sector, who are being forced to leave the city after losing their jobs or are being relocated.

The Tai Po-based charity's founder, Sally Andersen, wrote on its blog this week that surrender applications - requests to hand a dog over to the charity - were 'flooding in' from expatriates. With 400 animals already looked after, the charity is struggling to cope. Other charities reported similar problems.

Hong Kong Dog Rescue usually receives 10 surrender requests a week. On one day this week, three expats who were leaving the city made such requests. One involved a six-month-old black puppy called Crumble, which had been adopted from the charity six months earlier.

'We try so hard to make people understand that this is a life-long commitment,' Andersen said. 'They always say 'yes', but when something happens, the dog goes.'

In its latest employment report, recruitment agency Hudson reported that 14 per cent of employers in the city expected to reduce headcounts in the next year, a much higher proportion than in any other industry.

'This is not an attractive outlook,' said James Carss, the company's executive general manager for Hong Kong. Carrs, who owns three rescued dogs himself, said people gave up their pets for a variety of reasons.

'Some people realise the dog needs much more attention than they thought, but for others it can be an act of desperation.'

Stephane Quazzola is in the latter category. The Frenchman arrived in Hong Kong in November 2010 to work for Ipac, a unit of insurer AXA, and adopted his dog Sahil from a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals kennel in Wan Chai early last year. But in November his company decided to close its Hong Kong branch and he lost his job.

He will move to Thailand, his wife's home country, next month.

'I looked everywhere in Bangkok to find pet-friendly apartments or houses, but most of the time they don't want animals,' Quazzola said.

'I do not want to bring him to Thailand and realise that I will have to get rid of him.'

He has posted an advertisement on a website for expatriates in the hope of finding a new home for Sahil, but fears he may have to take him to a kennel. 'Had we decided to go to another country, we would have obviously brought Sahil,' said Quazzola, who chose Sahil after the dog leaped onto his wife's lap at the kennel. 'This is heartbreaking for me,'

Fiona Woodhouse, deputy director at the SPCA, said she had previously seen an increase in pet surrender requests in the weeks leading to the Lunar New Year. In the first two weeks of this month, the SPCA received 49 surrender requests. Seven cited departure as a reason.

Jacqui Green, the founder of Pals, a Lantau island-based animal charity, said that for the past 12 to 18 months, up to a third of animal surrender requests were made by people leaving Hong Kong.

'Have the owners lost their job? Are they relocating to another country? No one can be sure what the real reason is,' she said.

Andersen urged owners to explore ways of taking their dogs with them when they leave. She said popular breeds like golden retrievers had a good chance of finding a new home, but mongrels like Sahil and Crumble were not so lucky.

'For mongrels, it can take years to find a home. For some it is never,' she said. 'Some owners come in and want to make a donation. Money may ease the guilt, but it does not save 15 years of a dog's life.'