Lamma Island

Districts reject scheme to release neutered stray dogs

Not in our backyards, say Sai Kung, Lamma Island and Yuen Long councillors to a plan to release neutered feral dogs in those areas

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2013, 10:44am

After years of campaigning and several public consultation forums, a pilot scheme to capture, neuter and release stray dogs has been rejected in all three district councils involved in the plan.

Councillors in Sai Kung, Lamma Island and Yuen Long voted down the three-year trial, citing concerns that releasing the dogs back into the wild would endanger residents living in the area.

For the past decade, animal welfare groups have been promoting the programme as the best way to reduce the population of stray dogs: trapping, neutering and releasing the animals would prevent the unwanted births of more dogs, they said.

The three-year trial - sought by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the Society for Abandoned Animals - was planned for Lo So Shing on Lamma Island, Ha Pak Nai in Lau Fau Shan, Yuen Long, and in Sai Kung. The proposal was presented at public consultations before being submitted to district councils last year.

But when the time came to decide on the measure, the district councillors either objected to or had reservations about all three proposed locations. Many asked why stray dogs, once captured, should be released, since the animals could endanger the public. They also said irresponsible dog owners might dump their pets in the trial zones.

The defeat means the two animal welfare groups will have to identify new trial sites before consulting the public again, an Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokeswoman said.

Sai Kung's opposition came even though its council supported the proposal in 2007. But Ling Man-hoi, the district's housing and environmental hygiene committee chairman, said it was only support in principle and not for the locations suggested. It is not clear how the other two district councils voted in 2007.

At the Sai Kung meeting, councillor Philip Li Ka-leung pointed out that some villagers disliked dogs or were scared of them. "If residents are bitten by the dogs … it is unclear who would be held responsible."

Hygiene and safety problems could also arise if people fed the dogs, Li added. For instance, food left out for the dogs could attract wild boars living around Ho Chung village.

Fellow councillor Lok Shui-sang, who chairs the Sai Kung Rural Committee, proposed that the captured dogs be sent to an uninhabited island instead.

The other two districts shared similar concerns. Islands district councillor Chan Lin-wai said Lamma had seen about 72 cases of dog bites in the last 26 months.

Vivian Or Wai-yin, SPCA's community dog programme co-ordinator, said relocating the dogs to an uninhabited island was not feasible, as transporting and hiring caretakers for them would be too expensive. "It would turn the place into a large-scale dog shelter," she said.

Defending the proposal for the trial, Or noted that neutering the dogs would not make the current situation any worse.

"We would not put extra dogs into the area, but just desex those already there," she said. "A village dog can have 20 babies a year. If it is desexed, the area would have 20 fewer dogs."

Or also cited India's success in controlling the births of stray dogs in its trap, neuter and release programmes. In Jaipur city, the stray population was cut by 28 per cent from 1994 to 2002. In Chennai, the human death toll from rabies dropped from 120 in 1996 to none at all in 2007.

Local residents should offer the animal welfare groups a chance to prove a similar programme would work in Hong Kong, Or said. "It's hard to avoid complaints no matter what we do. Should we then eliminate all the animals?"

In 2011, the agriculture department put down 6,561 dogs, followed by 5,289 more from January to November last year, government statistics show.