Spirit of Hong Kong

Making time to help city’s unloved furry friends

Volunteer Lucy Wong always loved animals so when she had the chance she founded a foster programme for unwanted puppies and kittens

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 7:04pm

A large brown and black mongrel dog stands against the wall of his transparent enclosure and sniffs curiously through one of the holes as the volunteer wanders past.

His tail wags tentatively, but across his snout are two long scars where he was once bound so tightly by ropes to stop him from barking it created bloody sores - an act for which the previous owner has been ordered to carry out community service.

Cruelty cases are part of the work of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), but even so, long-time volunteer Lucy Wong Tsai-shiu Man can't stand it when they come in. "I don't understand how anyone can be cruel to an animal," says Wong, 64, the owner of three cats and a dog and the volunteer co-ordinator of the SPCA's Foster Parents Programme. "I really hate it. Just a few days ago we had this puppy beaten half dead by a woman. It was reported to the police and they went to collect it. It's here in our hospital on a drip. The woman was arrested."

Wong previously worked as an administrative assistant to the vice-president of the Regent Hong Kong Hotel, but decided at the age of 50 that she would like to retire and volunteer for projects. Thirteen years ago she began working with the SPCA, first helping to clean out the quarters for the cats and then later founding the Foster Parents Programme, where puppies and kittens that arrive at the SPCA are sent for four to six weeks to stay with families so that they can socialise and be toilet-trained before being put up for adoption.

"I've always loved animals ever since I was a kid," she says.

Widespread desexing programmes have reduced the number of stray pups and kittens, but Wong recalls that just a few years ago she would receive 10 kittens a day in the spring, as the cats mated more after the winter.

The SPCA also created the Cat Colony Care programme where volunteers would humanely trap the cats around the city.

They would be brought to the SPCA for desexing before being released and the same volunteers would then help feed them. The programme resulted in a reduction in kittens, but Wong says there are still plenty of cats and dogs that require homes.

Wong has begun a database of willing foster homes for cats and dogs. "It's a bonus when the foster parents adopt a kitten" or dog, she says, and about 10 per cent of the foster families do.

The risk though is that they are then no longer willing to foster other animals.

"At one time there were more than 140 animals being fostered. That was eight or nine years ago when we started the programme," says Wong. "People would find kittens in garbage bins or pick strays up from the streets, or families that bred kittens would suddenly have too many. But today we only have 40 to 50 animals out for fostering."

The SPCA also works on getting dogs out of breeding farms in the New Territories, where they are often kept in tiny cages and become deformed from permanently breeding puppies.

The animal concern group recommends that people adopt a mongrel from the SPCA before considering a pedigree from a pet shop.

Wong laughs easily and is very personable, but if you'd like to be her friend, then bear in mind you're also likely to receive a furry friend at some point. Wong admits she has persuaded all the friends in her immediate circle to take in dogs and cats, and now she's working on friends of friends. But through her work for the SPCA hundreds of unwanted dogs and cats have been able to find a loving home.