“Cuteness At What Cost?” reads the flyer of local animal welfare group STOP, referring to the harm inflicted on animals by Hong Kong’s pet trade. Some of the figures listed beneath will unsettle even the most hardened zoophobe. According to an SPCA survey they cite, 78 percent of pets sold by local shops end up with life-threatening diseases, with 20 percent of them going on to die soon after. Meanwhile, abandoned animals turned into the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department’s (AFCD) kennels have just four days to be adopted or be put down. As a result, nearly 2,000 animals are killed every month. While this is nothing new, the spotlight lately has been on dogs in particular. Local concern groups such as the Society for Preventing Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the Society for Abandoned Animals (SAA) and Hong Kong Dog Rescue (HKDR) have traditionally tried to minimize the number of such deaths by taking dogs into their own kennels. Yet with all their centers now full, they have been pushing hard for over a decade to get the government involved in stopping needless animal deaths at the source. The push is for a multi-pronged approach, involving tighter pet trade regulations, better education of pet owners, and a “Trap, Neuter and Return” (TNR) program. The latter program, which has already successfully reduced the number of stray dogs in other countries around the world (as well as stray cats here, thanks to the SPCA’s program), will be the subject of a meeting between the AFCD, SPCA and SAA at the end of the month, which will discuss legal protocols for a trial operation. While an agreement could possibly be reached soon, many animal supporters believe more vocal public pressure on the issue is urgent (see mailing list address below). The pet trade in Hong Kong has long been a target of criticism when it comes to animal welfare. Currently nobody has any figures on how many dogs are imported, or even where they all come from. “We have a never-ending stream of dogs coming in,” says Sandy Macalister, executive director at the SPCA. “While there are two official breeders, all concerned parties believe there is illegal smuggling of pets from the mainland happening at an unsustainable rate.” Once they end up in pet stores, say the animal groups, they’re typically shoved in tiny wire cages crammed with other dogs and subject to harmful treatment. “Most of the stores don’t care about pets, it’s just a moneymaking industry,” says Jen Mccombie, Vice-Chair of STOP. “They’re pumped full of hormones, not vaccinated, and they’re taken from their mothers before they’re ready.” Not only do they often end up with behavioral problems, but as mentioned earlier, many of them become sick. In response, Mccombie and others believe the government needs to dramatically tighten regulations on imports, while monitoring and grading pet shops with a tier system, such as the one found in Singapore. Unfortunately, the situation frequently doesn’t get better for such dogs once they’re bought. Existing sickness or behavioral problems are only liable to get worse if they’re taken in by ignorant owners in cramped flats. At the SAA, chairperson El Chan says they go out of their way to make sure the dogs in their kennels only go into suitable homes, regardless of how much they want people to adopt the dogs. “Potential adopters are given information booklets, and must have appropriately sized residences relative to the size and needs of the dog,” she says. She and other pet advocates agree that residents of most Hong Kong flats shouldn’t keep a dog, unless they can be at home most of time and walk it four to five times a day. Pet abuse often goes much further than keeping dogs in confined spaces, however. Dogs can often be treated more like toys or fashion accessories than animals in Hong Kong. Local sales of “designer dogs” have been known to spike after the appearance of films such as “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” only for the same dogs to be discarded a few months later once they get bigger than anticipated. “You hear about people wanting to get rid of dogs for the most ridiculous reasons—like, ‘I had a child instead,’ or ‘I broke up with my boyfriend,’” says Brook Babington, Chair of STOP, who first discovered her dog Hollywood running down Hollywood Road after it had been abandoned by its owner. Aside from being left out on the street, dogs have also commonly been found left in vacant apartments, stuffed in trashcans and even chained on rooftops. Most of the local animal groups promote educational campaigns to keep owners informed about how to properly raise and treat dogs. “People that adopt from us are asked to join us,” says the SPCA’s Macalister. “We offer education programs from junior school levels to adults.” Education is clearly crucial on the issue of spaying and neutering dogs because these procedures are particularly important in keeping numbers controlled and thus result in fewer dogs being put down at the kennels. All groups are lobbying heavily for a trial run of the TNR this year. TNR programs involve rounding up stray dogs, neutering and vaccinating them, and then releasing suitable ones back into their territory—or finding a home for them if possible. While it won’t reduce the population of strays to zero, it has been shown to cut it massively in areas including Bhutan and Phuket—the latter of which spayed and neutered 17,000 of their dogs, says Babington. She adds that in addition to driving down the population, the program will help curb the spread of diseases such as rabies from China. The SPCA and SCA have been lobbying the AFCD for the last decade. As mentioned, there are signs it may be gaining momentum, yet many agree more public pressure is needed. That’s where STOP comes in. While the other animal welfare groups are bogged down in everyday business, according to Babington, STOP serves as the mouthpiece, gathering members of the community and organizing email campaigns. “In the old times you would have a few angry letters from individual members of the animal welfare groups, now you can have 4,000 emails from the public.” With enough support, Babington is hopeful that a trial program can be implemented this year. To get on the STOP mailing list, email email@example.com .