Blowing Water

Adopting dogs in dire need in Hong Kong offers win-win for owners and the lovable pets

Luisa Tam details humans’ deep bond with the loyal creatures, and urges against abandoning them as if they were disposable

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2018, 4:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2018, 9:19pm

To many dog lovers, the 2009 Hollywood drama film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale starring Richard Gere epitomises the bond between humans and dogs.

Based on a true story, Hachi accompanied his master on his daily walk to the local railway station during the owner’s commute to work. Then the dog would always wait for him to return there so they could walk home together. Even years after his owner’s death, Hachi continued the daily ritual until his own passing.

Heart-warming tales of loyal dogs abound all over the world, illustrating the creatures’ love and selfless service of humankind. They embody unwavering devotion.

Dogs have lived alongside humans since the dawn of time, and scientists believe our bond with them goes as far back as 15,000 years. The love and friendship between man and dog is mutual; apparently when we make eye contact with a dog, they and we produce oxytocin – colloquially known as the “love hormone”. This process also takes place between mothers and newborns as they bond.

The benefits of social interaction between humans and dogs are indisputable. In short, they make us healthier and happier.

Yet in Hong Kong, it is sadly common for people to buy dogs as gifts, rather than adopt those that are in dire need of a loving home.

According to Dr Paul Wong Wai-ching, an associate professor in the department of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong, not many people realise the impact of a meaningful human-dog bond. Nor do they appreciate that dogs play a major part in boosting social capital. This means significantly improved well-being for people, especially children, and the community at large.

Owning a dog motivates people to interact more with others in their community. If you have one, for example, it’s necessary for you to walk your pet daily.

This all-important ritual guarantees that a person will go out regularly, and thereby increases one’s chances of meeting other residents in their neighbourhood. As a result of the greater social interaction, one naturally builds a social network and fortifies existing ones.

Regular exercise is another obvious upside, and no one has ever disputed the positive effects of being physically active.

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Social capital is highly essential to the long-term sustainable development of society, Wong noted, and that is why we have organisations such as a neighbourhood watch to promote and ensure cohesion and harmony in our immediate community.

Hong Kong is unique in that a cramped living environment is not conducive to this type of social interaction.

Imagine living in spatially challenged Causeway Bay or Wan Chai. Walking your dog is comparable to running a gauntlet. First, the streets are too narrow and congested. Aside from heavy human traffic, another frequent obstacle is pedestrians who dislike dogs, or those who don’t feel comfortable being too close to the four-legged animals.

Dog walking is supposed to be a bonding exercise for both owner and pet as well as a relaxing daily routine. But in Hong Kong, it is extremely stressful any given day trying to manoeuvre a walk with your dog on the street.

Meanwhile, animal welfare groups in the city have been trying to educate the public not to buy pets but adopt abandoned ones. True animal lovers believe buying pets is not an expression of love for animals.

For instance, a man buys his girlfriend a puppy as a gift, and they may one day abandon it when the pet grows up and loses its cuteness. Buying pets should be discouraged outright, and adoption should be promoted. Children need to be taught the value of respecting and caring for animals at a young age.

To help people understand, we need data. Unfortunately, research on pet abandonment is scarce, as is information about the effects of such cruelty on humans and pets, Wong noted.

We need research to track how dog adoption positively changes families over a sustained period of time. And the same goes for families that abandon their pets.

At the moment, there is a paucity of data to support conventional wisdom. That’s why the naysayers are unaware or unconvinced of the positive effects of dog adoption for families or even solo owners.

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It is also crucial that the research examine a wide range of issues concerning animal welfare in Hong Kong. We should look at animal rights, period – not just in relation to pets, but also the inhumane treatment of all animals that come into our care.

Attitudes about animal rights are certainly changing in this part of the world. More people are learning to accept dogs, cats, and other animals as pets.

But we still have a long way to go before some Asian countries, and to a great extent, mainland China, fully embrace better animal welfare laws and come to respect our four-legged friends as equals.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post