This week: a cruel tradition I took my cat to my clinic yesterday because it needed minor surgery for a small lump that suddenly appeared on its left hind paw. This cat is one of my more nervous cats and I wanted to keep him calm during transport. So I decided to take a taxi rather than drive the car. I had forewarned the taxi call centre that I had a cat and it would make a little noise on the way. When the taxi arrived and we got in, my cat predictably and promptly began meowing from fear. I started to apologise to the taxi driver for the noise and tried to explain why when he interrupted me and asked in Cantonese: 'You've got a cat in there, huh, what are you doing with it?' I explained he is a lovely cat at home but hates the car ride and should settle down in a few moments. The taxi driver replied: 'I wasn't asking about that, I meant what is the cat for?' I was total confused by this line of questioning. I told him this is my pet and I asked him to elaborate. He said incredulously: 'You don't mean that you feed him and look after him just to pet him?' He then dribbled: 'Cats are not pets, you shouldn't keep them as pets, they will scratch you and eat you out of house and home.' I asked him why he would say such a thing and how could literally millions of cat owners be in the wrong? He said: 'Cats are for eating, not for keeping as pets!' I didn't know how to react and he mistook the pause for another excuse to elaborate. He then said: 'My workmate and I back in his ancestral village in Guangdong province used to spray a mouthful of potent liquor in an unsuspecting cat's face and the cat would get into a stupor and then we would kill it and cook it in a stew. We would never consider keeping it as a pet!' He told me there is an everyday Chinese vernacular expression, 'drunken cat', that got its origins from this practice. You could imagine how dumbfounded I was at this stage. I collected myself and told him in no uncertain terms that it was the most idiotic thing I had ever heard. Not only is it illegal in Hong Kong and much of the rest of the civilised world but what he spoke of involved heartless animal cruelty. I think he felt that I wasn't on his side with this line of conversation. He quickly said: 'It wasn't illegal back in the village in Guangdong and even the local law enforcement would join in the festive stew.' He then changed the conversation topic to how volatile the stock market had been of late. What shocked me most about the conversation wasn't just the details of how the cat was captured and killed, but his genuine shock and surprise when he found out that the cat was a loved pet. The naivety was what was shocking. He truly felt that I was misguided for keeping a cat as a pet. It is amazing that there is still someone with such archaic ideals left in the world. I hope this story serves as a reminder that in this day and age we still need to be alert for animal cruelty. The seeds of evil of animal cruelty exist in our enlightened society. Also, as Hong Kong becomes more integrated into the mainland economy and political landscape, I hope the people of Hong Kong will spread our empathy for animal companions. The recent amendment to animal protection laws to toughen penalties is certainly a small step in the right direction, but not until it is nationwide and animal protection laws are adopted by the central government can we let our guard down. I think it would be a truly historic occasion the day the central government in Beijing takes up the animal welfare flag as a small part of its difficult agenda to govern a country of more than a billion citizens. As it stands now there are no animal welfare laws in China and anyone can do anything no matter how cruel to any animal with impunity. There is also the battle against ingrained cultural habits and ignorance towards animal cruelty. Many mainlanders like my taxi driver find eating dogs and cats as normal as eating cows and sheep. I have in the past defended even fish as a life form deserving respect and I actually don't see cows and sheep any less a life form than dogs and cats, but we have to start somewhere. The welfare ball started rolling when we humans stopped gladiatorial combat, cannibalism, burning at the stake and slavery. Each was a monumental step for humankind and I hope that one day this kindness will envelop dogs and cats, and then to other less familiar animals.