Calls for a relaxation of rules to allow responsible owners to have companions Calls mounted yesterday for the ban on pets in public and private housing to be lifted as a survey showed up to a fifth of people may be keeping animals in defiance of the law. A veterinarian said it was sad dogs were barred from so much of the city, including most parks. Just over 20 per cent of respondents to the survey - conducted by My Pet magazine and health education group Hong Kong Health Link - said they kept pets at home despite bans by the government or private estate managements. Almost 40 per cent of these said they were under unspecified pressure as a result of keeping pets. The survey, in which 711 people were interviewed last month, also found widespread love of animals even among those without pets. Eighty-five per cent said pets were good for emotional health, 75 per cent saw pets as family members and 70 per cent loved animals as much as humans. Dogs were the most popular pet, with 52 per cent having at least one. A quarter of the group had cats. My Pet chief editor Tang Kwai-sim said the findings showed many Hong Kong people were lonely and felt closer to animals than humans. She said the government should encourage rather than restrict the keeping of pets because a recent British study indicated that the number of hospital visits by pet owners was 15 to 20 per cent fewer than people without pets. 'The fact that so many people are willing to take risks to keep pets shows how much we need to companionship of pets in this city,' Ms Tang said. 'Pet keeping dates back tens of thousands of years and I believe we should have such a right as long we are responsible owners.' Pets should be licensed and vaccinated, and the owner should not be allowed to keep the animal if he failed to take good care of it or allowed it to cause nuisance to neighbours, she said. Veterinarian Eric Lai said more education was needed to help the community accept and love pets. 'Pets like dogs and cats are often seen as strange creatures on the street,' he said. 'It is sad that there are so many places that dogs have no entry to in Hong Kong, including most of the parks.' The Housing Department relaxed its ban on pets last year by allowing existing owners with dogs under 20kg to keep them in public housing estates until the animals died. However, the relaxation applied only to dogs that were brought to the estates before August last year and the registration period ended in October. The Housing Authority said yesterday it had no plans to change its policy because it had to balance all public views. The authority estimated last year that dogs were being kept in 17,000 public housing estate flats, or 2.8 per cent of the total.