It's Lunar New Year, the time when some pet owners decide to dump their animal and get a new one. 'Sadly there are people who change their dog just because it's not fashionable any more,' says animal welfare champion Flora Ho Hung-yan. 'They may be tired of last year's Pekinese puppy and decide they want a Schnauzer or Sheltie now.' So they 'surrender' the 2003 model to the nearest Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department centre and head for the pet shops. The discarded pooches, often small breeds such as fluffy white Pekinese, huddle together in the bleak concrete government kennels. Their companions are the other discarded dogs, dumped because they are old, sick or no longer wanted, and rounded up strays. Within four days the animals are put down. Discovering this broke the heart of Ms Ho, 33, founder of animal welfare group Companion Animal Federation. Between January and November the department destroyed 10,800 dogs and 5,000 cats. But Ms Ho has great respect for the department. 'People dump their dogs and it has to do the dirty work,' she says. So Ms Ho looked at how non-government organisations were run and set up a website, www.hkcaf.org . A lifelong animal lover, her first rescue with the help of internet friends was an Alsatian with tumours whose lorry driver owner could not afford the $600-a-time chemotherapy bill. The joint effort raised $8,000 and the dog recovered. But Ms Ho, who lives in Tuen Mun, realised that few could be helped if so much money went on a single animal. She resolved to try to help as many of the department's doomed animals as possible, the ones that were not picked out by other animal welfare groups for re-homing. Her group was born and she managed to persuade the department to home dogs at its kennels in December 2002. Last year the group found homes for 500 dogs and cats, which often involved nursing them back to health first. The SPCA found homes for 2,200 dogs and cats in the 12 months to March last year. In the future she wants to register her group as a charity, to maximise funding. For now she's focusing on a 'win-win situation with the department' and educating people about responsible pet ownership.