Their lives were brutally short. They were born on a Cheung Chau hillside in the early hours of Christmas Eve, then - still stumbling blindly about in the sunlight - rounded up with their exhausted mother and taken to government kennels in Pokfulam. The nine mongrel puppies spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day crowded into cages where they staggered playfully around for a few hours, dozed, cuddled up to their mother and ate their first and last meals. Then, on December 28, four days after they had arrived in the world and a month before the start of the Year of the Dog, they were taken away with their mother and dispatched, one after the other, with a lethal injection from a veterinary surgeon. One of a handful of people to see the dogs before they were put down was Sally Andersen, founder of Hong Kong Dog Rescue, who had hoped to try to find homes for at least some of the puppies, but was told on December 29 that they were already dead. 'I saw them on Christmas Eve and they were all very friendly. They were obviously a family and they were very sweet-natured,' Ms Andersen said. 'When I asked about them on December 29, I was told it was too late. They had lived for four days and then they just weren't there anymore. I was very upset. It's such an awful thought. These dogs have these awful, short lives and then they are killed.' There was nothing unusual about the deaths of the puppies and their mother. What happened to them is a depressingly everyday occurrence in Hong Kong, where about 1,000 stray dogs are put down every month. At least half of those dogs are estimated to come from, or be the offspring of, dogs from construction sites, where strays are adopted, fed by workers then abandoned to the dog catchers when the contract work is completed. The problem was highlighted last June, when about 40 dogs adopted as unofficial guard dogs by construction workers on the Disney theme park site were rounded up and killed by Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) workers before the theme park opened. Disney, embarrassed by accusations of hypocrisy by allowing dogs to be culled, later lent its support to an ongoing trial scheme whereby stray dogs found around the theme park site on Lantau are micro-chipped, desexed and released into the wild, with feeding stations set up for them. However, while the lives of dogs have been saved at the theme park, the same scenario is being played out over and over again on the building sites of companies whose names do not command the same attention as Disney. Dogs are used on building sites to protect them from thefts at night. Often, the keeping of dogs is prohibited by the main contractor, but sub-contractors or individual workers use them as unofficial security. 'It's such a shame, but it happens all the time,' said Clara Chan Chuck-ying, who has been rescuing dogs in the Discovery Bay area for the past 17 years. 'They keep them in small cages on the site and they let them out at night. Some are young and they get knocked over and killed by traffic.' The AFCD has issued a code of practice for the keeping of dogs on construction sites but the code is not backed by legislation and, according to Ms Andersen, is 'pretty pointless'. 'Although the guidelines do exist they are really not enforceable. The Disney people said they had no idea that the guidelines even existed.' The guidelines ask contractors to ensure dogs are micro-chipped and licensed, that at least one person takes responsibility for the dogs, and that dogs are not abandoned when work is finished. However, the fact that the rules were not backed by legislation meant they were widely flouted, she said. 'The keeping of dogs on building sites is not illegal, apart from the fact it is technically illegal to have dogs over five months old that aren't micro-chipped,' she said. 'It is not illegal to have dogs and to let them mate and have puppies. It is also not illegal to call the AFCD and say, 'Come and get them'. The problem is that nobody seems to care. 'The guidelines that exist need to be made legal. There should be, on the building site, someone registered as the owner of the dogs. The dogs should be micro-chipped and registered, cared for, and somebody should be responsible for them and have them desexed. That is a major thing. It would instantly cut down the numbers.' Ms Chan said she wanted to see legislation backed by heavy penalties, including jail and high fines for offenders. 'What is going on is cruelty,' she said. 'These animals are adopted and then left behind when the construction work is finished. It's like leaving a child behind. 'There have to be strict laws. There have to be high penalties - not just $10,000 or $20,000. For people who own animals, it should be compulsory to de-sex them and for no more breeding to be allowed.' The problem of abandoned dogs on construction sites pointed to a broader problem with animal ownership in Hong Kong, Ms Chan said. 'Being Chinese, I feel ashamed about this. 'Most Hong Kong people are educated and until now we still have people who are so cruel to animals. The Hong Kong environment isn't really suitable for animals. People are all so busy. They don't have time to look after animals. 'They buy a dog because they are cute, they buy them for Christmas, and they don't know this is a commitment for life, looking after them. People treat them like toys and that is the beginning of the problem. 'People go to work from seven in the morning until nine at night and the dogs are left all day and all night. We need to educate people and pressure the government to bring in more animal welfare legislation.' Fiona Woodhouse, deputy director of animal welfare for the SPCA, said she supported legislation to deal with the problem of construction site dogs, although she thought it might be more likely to come with a broader animal welfare law. The SPCA had held talks in October with construction industry players to try to raise awareness of the problem. The response had been positive but, Ms Woodhouse said, whatever major contractors did to impose rules on having dogs on sites would not necessarily trickle down to sub-contractors and individual workers. 'Even if a major contractor has rules and regulations saying you can't have dogs on site, everyone knows it happens,' she said. 'If we go on a construction site and say 'Who owns these dogs?', everyone says 'Not me, they're strays'.' The problem, said Ms Andersen, could be solved with goodwill and imagination. 'In other countries they have companies that provide security dogs, guard dogs. You rent them with the handlers for the duration of the construction,' she said. 'I don't see why companies here in Hong Kong can't have a pool of guard dogs that could be used as required. The way things are now, once the work is finished they call the AFCD and they take them away and that's it. After four days, they die.' Until the problem is tackled, Ms Andersen and her colleagues will continue to face the anguish of visiting a canine death row in the AFCD kennels to try to find the few, lucky dogs that might be found a home and spared a lethal injection. 'The only reason we keep on going to the kennels is because we can save some,' she said. 'It is terrible to have to go and select from all those dogs the ones you are going to take and try to help. All the other dogs who come up to you wagging their tails and licking your hand, you have to walk by and know they are not going to be there the next time you come.' Animal protection group Animal Earth plans to hold a rally tomorrow in Central to raise public awareness of cruelty to animals and call on legislators to back efforts to strengthen laws to protect animals. The group plans to march from Chater Garden to the Central Government Offices.