The SPCA was yesterday flooded with calls from anxious pet owners worried that they face eviction from their public housing flats unless they get rid of their animal companions.
Their concerns followed Thursday's announcement that public housing tenants would be kicked out if they lost enough points under a hygiene scheme.
Points are deducted for a range of 19 offences - including the keeping of dogs or cats.
The animal welfare group urged the government to remove pet ownership from the offence list.
Although dogs and cats are already banned at public estates, eviction notices for keeping them are rare.
An SPCA spokeswoman, Doris Yiu Wai-fun, said: 'Many people called us, saying they were heartbroken and asking what they could do.
'They find the new system unreasonable. They treat their pets as family members.'
Ms Yiu called on the government to consider lifting the ban on pet dogs and cats at public housing. She said the fact that many people took the risk to ignore the existing ban reflected their psychological need to keep pets.
'Pets do have their value of existence. Killing or banning them is not a long-term solution,' Ms Yiu said.
She said the government could consider taking a more flexible approach to pet ownership.
This could include controls setting guidelines to restrict the size of allowable pets in accordance with the size of flats.
She said Hong Kong could follow the example of Singapore, where public estate households are each allowed to keep a small dog from among 62 breeds - including such dogs as terriers, poodles, pugs and miniature pinschers.
Dog owners would need to obtain a licence and ensure that their animal does not cause any nuisance to neighbours.
The Housing Department issued 447 warning letters last financial year against residents who kept dogs, but only seven households were subsequently issued with eviction notices. There were 257 and 250 warning letters issued on dog-keeping for the fiscal years 2001-02 and 2000-01 respectively - and only one eviction order was issued each year.
Under the new system, five points will be deducted every time tenants are found to be keeping a pet. If 16 points are accrued over a two-year period, the tenants may be evicted.
Ms Yiu worried that the new penalty system would lead to an increase in the number of stray dogs and a deterioration of hygiene in public places.
But a Housing Department spokeswoman said the ban on cats and dogs in public estates was necessary as it was inappropriate to keep such animals in a densely populated place.
A Housing Authority member, Michael Choi Ngai-min, also believed it was not the time to lift the ban.
'I believe only a minority of tenants are breaking the pet-keeping rules at present,' he said.
The rules do not clearly state whether smaller animals such as birds or hamsters are also banned.