Animal-welfare advocate Nelson Lam is a dog-lover but also a pragmatist. The 55-year-old barrister is chairman of the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, the body advising the government on animal regulations. It has been at the heart of the ongoing debate over pets in public housing. But Mr Lam has been criticised by some lobbyists for not participating in recent protests by public tenants and animal welfare groups against the ban. Mr Lam, owner of nine-year-old German shepherd Billy, explains his absence: 'I don't think there would have been much point in me going as people were only handing in their protest letters and I like to do things more directly. 'We have to look at the matter objectively. Tenants have a civil agreement with the Housing Authority not to keep animals. For this reason, they should comply with it. 'There are irresponsible dog owners in Hong Kong whose dogs urinate and leave dog-droppings everywhere. The government has to deal with that, especially after Sars.' Nevertheless, Mr Lam helped come up with a compromise proposal that could see the policy relaxed. Although a ban on pets in public flats is in place, it is largely ignored. The issue came into focus after the Sars outbreak, when the Housing Authority introduced the threat of eviction for pet owners. That threat, part of the demerit-points scheme introduced on August 1 to improve public housing hygiene, has been softened with a grace period until October 1. 'Our argument was that if people emotionally rely on their dogs and other pets, they should be allowed to keep them,' he says. If the government agrees to Mr Lam's proposal, public housing tenants will have to prove they need their pets by providing evidence such as medical certificates or recommendations by doctors or counsellors. 'We are waiting to find out what [the government] thinks,' he says. Mr Lam has promised the Housing Authority that the Hong Kong Kennel Club, of which he is the acting chairman, would send out volunteers to housing estates to train dogs. 'Irresponsible dog owners are to blame for giving pets a bad image. However, I don't think people should blame pets for Sars. There is no evidence that dogs can transfer the virus,' he says. Mr Lam says many senior citizens living on their own need their pets. 'Senior citizens have no one - keeping a pet and caring for them is psychologically good for them.' He is not new to the fight for animal welfare. He won a battle for the dog-loving community about 10 years ago when the government considered imposing a law forcing dogs to be muzzled and leashed at all times in public. Mr Lam fought in the Legislative Council to give expert advice on why it was wrong to muzzle and leash dogs. 'If we muzzled our dogs and kept them on leashes at all times, it would send out negative messages that dogs are dangerous,' he says. 'People in Hong Kong are scared of dogs anyway; we don't need to reinforce that image. 'I see dogs abroad catching Frisbees in parks and running about freely. You rarely see children in those countries being frightened of dogs. By muzzling them and keeping them on leashes, people will only think dogs are dangerous, which isn't right.' Mr Lam's lobbying efforts were successful. The law was changed so that only big dogs needed to be leashed, and they could be exempted if they passed an obedience test. Apart from fighting for animal rights and the rights of public housing tenants, Mr Lam has also pioneered educational schemes for animal welfare and obedience training for dogs. Having seen a gradual change in the community's attitudes towards animals, Mr Lam believes his work has hit the mark. 'When I first started the training in the 80s, only the English-speaking community came and there were times when I was sad and wanted to give up because my target audience, the Chinese, were not interested,' he recalls. 'Now, more and more Chinese people are coming to them. I also see a lot less cruelty in Hong Kong now, although there is still a lot of neglect. This makes all the work worthwhile'.