ANIMAL PROTECTION

In U-turn, Hong Kong prison allows stray cats to stay

Officers at Tong Fuk Correctional Institution were earlier told to remove dozens of animals as they ‘led to arguments between inmates’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 11:17pm

Dozens of stray cats will be allowed to stay in a Hong Kong prison they have called home for almost a decade in a surprise U-turn by the city’s correctional authorities after they earlier said the felines would have to go.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) confirmed that they had come to an agreement after a meeting with officers from Tong Fuk Correctional Institution on Friday morning.

“The cats will remain at the facility, the SPCA will continue trying to rehouse the friendlier cats and they will send a vehicle for a large-scale neutering operation,” a society spokeswoman said.

A senior superintendent who arrived in recent months was said to have threatened to expel the dozens of cats “as far as possible”, despite pleas from a number of lower-grade officers to allow them to continue sheltering the animals.

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Located near the village of Tong Fuk in southern Lantau, the medium-security facility for adult male prisoners is surrounded by forests and animal sightings are common.

The SPCA spokeswoman said the institution had reached out to the group first in 2008 when they asked for 40 cats to be neutered and returned.

Since then, a total of 151 cats from the facility have been neutered, according to the SPCA.

The institution will assign a person to facilitate the programme, the spokeswoman added.

In a statement, the Correctional Services Department (CSD) said it would deal with the matter as it had in previous years, in collaboration with the SPCA.

“The institution will closely monitor the situation. The cats will be left as they are as long as they do not affect security, discipline and hygiene at the institution,” it said.

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An officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said earlier that they had received an order to remove the cats by the end of this month.

“It was an individual decision – the reason was that the cats led to arguments between inmates,” the officer said.

The officer added that the cats came from nearby areas, and many had lived at the facility for years.

“The cats get along very well with both the officers and the inmates. Some of the officers even paid for cat food out of their own pockets,” the officer told the Post.

After the order was handed down, some officers began to remove the cats by abandoning them in remote areas. Only 20 to 30 remain at the facility, he said. At their peak, there were reportedly 70 to 80 cats at the site.

Lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, who has been following the case, said he was disappointed that the CSD did not state whether it would still allow the cats to remain at the facility if there was a sudden increase in numbers.

“They are only promising now that they won’t abandon the cats since only dozens remain, but if the number of stray cats continues to increase, they might send them away to animal welfare agencies. These cats might be put down if no one adopts them,” Leung said.