Behind the adorable doggy or kitty you see in the pet shop window is unseen pet cruelty


Many less obvious kinds of animal abuse exist, and there are ways to fight them

Heidi Yeung |

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Volunteers for the Hong Kong Paws Foundation help the cause

The phrase "animal cruelty" usually brings to mind images of stray dogs and cats being beaten nearly to death. And certainly that exists.

But there is a whole other side of animal cruelty - one that is underground, but just as nasty and damaging. And the public may not even be aware that, in a way, they add to the problem.

Also, the pet-buying public are victims of not being in the know.

"More than 80 per cent of the time, pets bought from a pet store will have serious medical problems," says Dr Gert Cornelis Rosslee, of Shatin Animal Clinic. Sometimes they suffer from birth defects, inherited diseases or those that can be spread.

Some shop owners will then pump them full of antibiotics until they appear well enough to be sold. Once they are bought, the owners are left to deal with the results in terms of both heartache and financial stress.

The problem is that some pet stores in Hong Kong breed their own animals or buy from breeders who keep animals in appalling conditions. And sadly, there are no minimum standards in place.

"The laws and regulations on animal welfare were established in the 1950s ... and are very limited and behind [the times]," explains Kat Cheung, founder of the Hong Kong Paws Foundation, whose volunteers also contribute money to its operating expenses.

"The so-called animal rights laws only refer to having basic water, food, and a shelter that's big enough for the animal to stand up and turn around in," Cheung says. "Technically, you can lock an animal in a small cage for life", as there's no law to prevent it.

It gets worse. Animal control officers collect strays off the street. But Elaine Siu, co-head of Stop!, a local organisation that tries to help strays, says that when no one comes to give them homes within four days, they are killed - and these numbers are shocking.

"About 1,400 often healthy animals a month, or 16,000 a year, are killed because they do not have homes," Siu says. "This should not be the solution to the problem."

Instead, Stop! uses a motto known round the world: "Adopt, don't shop." In other words, why buy a dog or cat from a pet store when shelters have animals that need homes? To help that cause, the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and other organisations will do health checks on animals before they go up for adoption.

Remember, though, adoption comes with real commitment.

Jackie Tsang, founder of Big Tree Animal Sanctuary and Adoption Centre, makes perhaps one of the biggest commitments in Hong Kong. His organisation currently houses around 120 dogs awaiting adoption in the New Territories.

The centre is run by employees and volunteers who give the dogs open space, clean quarters, and lots of love and care. Those who can't find homes live out their lives at Big Tree.

Many Hongkongers cannot afford the time, space, or money to adopt an animal, but that isn't the only way to help. Big Tree, Stop!, and Hong Kong Paws can always use more volunteers, and they're passionate about teaching people about animal welfare. Hong Kong Paws holds homing days every Saturday in Discovery Bay, and Big Tree teaches groups how to treat animals well.

Siu says animals will continue to suffer if the public stays uneducated and ignore "adopt, don't shop", but she remains positive. "Young people are our future," she says. "I have much hope that this generation can make a difference."

Find out how to help make a difference in animals' lives:

Big Tree:

Hong Kong Paws Foundation: