It’s a dog’s life in Hong Kong for canine companions and their carers

Yonden Lhatoo looks at the pitfalls of keeping a pet in the city, where the odds are stacked against dog lovers, and irresponsible owners aren’t helping their cause

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 May, 2016, 7:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 May, 2016, 7:04pm

I have neither the time nor the energy to look after a dog, much as I’d like to keep one, in a city that is not designed for people with pets and shows little tolerance for man’s best friend.

But I do live in a dog-friendly building in Hong Kong, which means I get to see first-hand how people manage – and mismanage – pet ownership.

Some time back, one of my neighbours was driving me barking mad by leaving her dog home alone. The animal was obviously in a state of extreme distress at being locked up in a tiny flat day after day for hours on end, and amplified it for the world to hear.

I’m well aware barking is something that dogs do as a matter of fact, and I don’t really mind when they let rip on occasion. My upstairs neighbours have a couple of dogs who wake me up late at night sometimes. But, in this particular case, imagine an unrelenting onslaught of yelping and whining every day, throughout the day. It becomes the most annoying sound in the world.

The owner was infuriatingly nonchalant about it, but after dozens of complaints to the building manager, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the police – who were all pretty useless, actually – the hassle must have driven her to dump the dog somewhere else because the barking suddenly stopped one day.

Recently, though, the most annoying sound in the world has resumed on my floor, and I know the animal is back for another round of neglect. I don’t blame the dog in the least – it’s the owner who should be locked in a kennel until she learns how to look after her pet.

Dog ownership in Hong Kong is a depressing picture, from the pet shops selling sad little animals dying of invisible diseases to the reprehensible puppy mills that supply them and the families who buy them as a passing fancy to be abandoned later.

Responsibility is for the birds, starting with people buying dogs but refusing to have them fitted with microchips that would identify them as owners. What they’re doing, effectively, is openly reserving the right to ditch the animals when the novelty wears off. What a rotten way to start what should be a lifelong commitment to a loyal and loving companion.

Small wonder that despite the admirable efforts of animal welfare groups and volunteers who run shelters, the government still has to euthanise thousands of unwanted dogs every year in this city.

I‘m still horrified by pet owners who have their dog’s vocal cords surgically removed to muffle the barking so they can be kept clandestinely in buildings that don’t allow pets. That’s a reflection of how unfriendly this city is to man’s best friend.

There’s precious little space to keep or walk them and they’re banned from nearly all public places. It doesn’t help when dog owners – or domestic helpers saddled with the dirty work – don’t clean up when their dogs soil pavements and roadsides.

It’s not completely hopeless, though. I see dog lovers getting the best out of their canine companions, against all odds.

My cousin and his wife keep two beautiful dogs in their little flat, one adopted as a puppy and the other rescued from a shelter. Their home may be overcrowded as a result, but those animals have so much unconditional love and affection to give, so much joy to share, that it doesn’t matter.

Through them, I’m beginning to understand why some people prefer dogs to human beings.

But this is Hong Kong after all. When most humans in this city are struggling to pay for a roof over their heads, animal welfare tends to be consigned to a back seat.

It’s a dog’s life, I suppose.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post