Police are investigating a new wave of suspected dog poisonings on Hong Kong's outlying islands, which have seen five dogs die in agony since December.
Two dogs have died of suspected poisoning since Friday, one on Lamma Island and the other on Peng Chau. They follow the deaths of three other pets on Lamma last month.
Long-suffering dog owners on the island say over 100 canine deaths there have gone unpunished in the last ten years.
A petition and open letter , released by owners in the wake of the suspected poisoning deaths of three more dogs last month, have garnered more than 700 signatures in three weeks. After several months of repeated requests from residents, Lamma police finally revealed that 17 cases of suspected poisoning of Lamma dogs have been logged since January 2011.
While owners have long lost faith in local police, it is understood Senior Inspector Joyce Wong Siu-man of Lamma police apologised for the perceived mishandling of dog poisoning cases in a face-to-face meeting last week with concerned residents.
Locals have posted bilingual posters urging owners to keep pets on leashes and in muzzles, and are mounting regular patrols to search for poisoned bait.
“All the time I’ve lived here, you’d often get reports of poisonings,” says James Alexander, 41, a teacher who has lived on Lamma since 1998. “You’d think: ‘Thank God it’s not mine’. Until it’s yours.”
Ashley, his 11 year-old Shar Pei mixed breed, was healthy and very active until New Year’s Eve, when he took her for her usual walk. Later she began vomiting up “unusual food” that Alexander had not fed her.
“I hoped it was just severe gastroenteritis,” says Alexander, but subsequent blood tests failed to find anything. “Her panting was more desperate. She was even worse the next morning.”
Local vet Dr Johannes de Vries put Ashley to sleep on January 3 after her condition worsened. De Vries suspects it was poisoning – probably by paraquat, a popular weed killer.
Owners Agnes Tam Shuk-yim, 54, and Luke Lo Ka-wing, 50, lost three dogs within a matter of days in December after suspected poisoning. All three suffered painful vomiting and choking as their lungs were destroyed – symptoms synonymous with paraquat poisoning – before being put down.
Tam says she feels “helpless” after losing Piggy, 11, Cable, 11, and Hei Mui, aged four.
For all dog owners on the island it evokes painful nightmares of their own dogs suffering.
The anger on Lamma comes in the wake of a two-month jail term for “utterly selfish and cold-blooded” retiree Tsang Hoi-tong, 64, who enticed a stray dog to eat chicken laced with mixed pesticides leading to its “slow and painful” death by poisoning.
In one of few such dog poisoning cases to result in a prison sentence in recent memory, Tsang claimed his actions were motivated by an attack on his wife by pack of stray dogs.
“What the judge did is a disgrace, handing a light sentence to the poisoner,” said Julie Yao, owner of two dogs on Lamma. “The case sends a really bad message for poisoners.”
Police on Lamma insist they evaluate each case to see if it merits further investigation, and usually cite insufficient evidence for not following up on suspect deaths or illnesses among dogs.
In a letter to residents Senior Inspector Wong said officers would step up patrols in reported poisoning black spots, assign a crime investigation team to handle an investigation into the most recent deaths and send all suspected poison bait recovered to government labs for testing.
She also promised to organise a campaign with the help of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to raise awareness of poisoning on Lamma.
Bowen Road in the Mid-Levels area is another notorious poisoning black spot that has claimed the lives of 200 dogs in two decades, the SPCA say.
Cruelty to animals carries a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to HK$200,000.