A trial scheme to desex stray dogs in an effort to control the feral population could start early this year, if it gets final approval from the government.
Dogs in two areas - in Cheung Chau and Yuen Long - have been identified by animal welfare groups for the trial, and so far there has been little opposition to the proposal, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department told lawmakers in a discussion paper.
It said the programme would begin once local support for the scheme had been confirmed, and legal exemptions made for the two groups carrying out the neutering: the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the Society for Abandoned Animals (SAA).
Animal welfare groups have long called for a "trap, neuter and release" programme to control the stray dog population.
In 2012, three sites were identified - in Yuen Long, Lamma Island and Sai Kung - for a trial but the plan was scrapped because of strong opposition from locals.
Fiona Woodhouse, the SPCA's deputy director of welfare, said the association was awaiting final approval from the government.
It plans to desex some 60 stray dogs living around Tai Kwai Wan San village, in northern Cheung Chau, and near the cemeteries in the southwest of the island.
The Cheung Chau Rural Committee and the Islands District Council endorsed the programme in March. But residents of Scenic Garden, located near Tai Kwai Wan San village, opposed the plan and the estate was excluded from the scheme.
"Touch wood, I'm happy we're finally going forward," Woodhouse said. "In general, there's a positive response. What we are going to do is to see the benefits [of the programme] and go past the hurdle of people's knee-jerk reflex [against releasing dogs back to the streets]."
A female adult usually gives birth to six dogs a year, meaning if there were 20 dogs in an area, and half of them were female, there could be as many as 60 puppies born per year without human intervention. Based on a survival rate of about one-third for feral puppies, more than 15 dogs would be added to the feral population every year.
Under the scheme, local volunteers would help to locate the dogs for the SPCA to desex.
No negative feedback was received for the SAA's plan for Yuen Long's Tai Tong Shan Road. It was approved by Leung Fook-yuen, the area's village head and owner of the nearby Tai Tong Lychee Garden.
"The dogs are already here. Desexing may make them tamer," he said. "The point we want to make is to stop people from abandoning dogs in the area."