Four out of five people care about animal welfare in Hong Kong, but most are ignorant of the problem of unwanted and abandoned pets, according to a survey commissioned by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. SPCA executive director Chris Hanselman said it was encouraging to see 84 per cent of the 1,000 respondents believed only responsible owners should be allowed to keep pets, and 81 per cent say all animals deserve protection, compassion and respect. However, most had little understanding of the problem of abandoned pets, which traditionally reaches its peak early in the new year. The society estimates 40,000 dogs or cats are dumped in Hong Kong every year, with only six per cent of them later placed in new homes. About 30,000 are put down. Despite the scale of the situation, those who guessed at the number being dumped each year gave an average estimate of 7,200. 'Most people have no idea about the problem, the community should be better educated. We believe that the final solution is public education, promotion of responsible ownership and desexing of animals,' Mr Hanselman said. 'The SPCA has made it clear, through our no-kill policy, that we will not destroy any fit and healthy animals in Hong Kong simply as a means of controlling the population.' The SPCA has been calling on the government and pet owners to do more to tackle the problem of unwanted animals. The Awareness and Attitudes into Animal Welfare in Hong Kong study, the most comprehensive of its kind, interviewed 1,000 randomly selected people by telephone from November 18 to 25. About 23 per cent of respondents owned a pet. Most of them come from better-off families making an average of $25,000 a month. Almost half of the respondents said cruelty to animals was a major issue affecting Hong Kong and one third said they were concerned with the problem of stray animals. 'The figure is better than we expected. It tells us that most Hong Kong people do care about animals,' Mr Hanselman said. However, none of the respondents counted animals welfare groups as important charitable organisations worthy of support. The SCPA has advocated turning Hong Kong into Asia's first 'no-kill' city, where no healthy abandoned animals will be put down. The society proposes banning the sale of animals by pet shops, increasing adoption charges, making neutering more affordable and penalising owners who abandon their pets. The study also found some public housing tenants would like to keep pets if the government lifted its ban. Twenty-eight per cent of those who live in public housing and do not have a pet say they would be likely to do so if policy permitted.