It could be a classic case of tail wagging the dog.
The death of a stray dog on commuter rail tracks in Hong Kong last Wednesday has whipped a stormy debate in the media, with hundreds of locals slamming MTR Corp for failing to avert the tragedy while others — particularly mainlanders — said the reaction was overdone.
Mainland newspaper Global Times mocked Hongkongers for being hung up over the issue, and questioned the “doggy populism” as reports surfaced that tens of thousands were mourning the death of the canine.
The incident, meanwhile, also triggered snarky comments that the “man bites dog” credo that guides journalists in their quest for newsworthy stories has now turned into an “MTR kills dog” guideline.
The dead dog (which has been named by netizens as “Michelle”, or “mei suet” in Cantonese, which literally means “unresolved grievance”) has indeed provoked more thoughts than the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and also dwarfed the news surrounding MTR’s rail project delays and its first-half results.
It also turned the spotlight away, at least for now, from the more serious issues such as universal suffrage discussions.
Although it has nothing to with politics, a voluntary initiative by a group of dog lovers (Hong Kong, admittedly, has plenty of such people) has collected over 100,000 online signatures within days and led hundreds of people to a protest near the rail firm’s headquarters.
Officials didn’t take the protest lightly. MTR sent its operations director Jacob Kam Chak-pui to meet with the protesters last Friday and also sent flowers to be laid in the memory of the dog. There was also an apology for the fatal train collision, and a promise to revisit the rail operations procedures.
The railway firm’s acting chief executive Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen said on Monday that MTR’s entire team was unhappy about the dog’s death.
I am not sure if that will be the end of it because we hear growing demands for a monument to be erected to commemorate the animal, either in Sheung Shui, or even in Gallant Garden, where the brave civil servants rest in peace.
For the embattled MTR, which has been an underdog this year due to project delays and missed schedules, it could mean an extra effort and copying the Ocean Park model — making friends with animal rights groups, setting up a dog fund and hiring some zoologists to instill animal-caring spirit into its corporate culture. Anything less could prompt calls for the ouster of top executives.
Now, at the risk of offending animal rights activists, let me say that we should perhaps draw a line and not go too far in censuring our local rail operator.
After all, to err is human. Let’s admit that we do not have the experience of handling, let alone saving, a wild dog. Just like most of us, the MTR platform staff had a job to do and did their work. They never wanted to kill the dog; it was an unintentional mistake that should be forgiven.
Meanwhile, let me conclude by saying: Thank you Michelle the Dog. Your life was tragically cut short, but you brought out the nicest side of Hong Kong people, reminding us of what makes this city stand apart from others. You should be proud to have lived here because the city obviously cares about you and your fellow creatures.
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