Why Hong Kong is not really a good place to keep pets

January 22, 2018 13:18
A dog sits on a stack of magazines at her owner's newspaper stand in the Causeway Bay area in this file picture. Given the cramped living spaces in Hong Kong, locals need to think twice before getting a pet. Photo: Bloomberg

According to the most recent census in 2011, dog ownership rose 25 percent in Hong Kong. About a quarter of a million dogs share Hong Kong's densely populated urban areas. Such a crowded modern city is an illogical and often downright cruel environment in which to raise a pet.

As post-Christmas reality sets in, a lot of puppies bought as presents will be dropped off at shelters or abandoned to their own fates. But I’m not going to tout the often-preached maxim that "a dog is for life". Instead, I'm of the opinion that in Hong Kong most people shouldn't be getting a dog at any time of the year.

When I go for my evening runs along the Kennedy Town promenade, often dodging dog-poop every other step, or trying not to breathe in the rising stench of puppy-pee waiting for the rain to wash it away, I often wonder why on earth people in Hong Kong think it could possibly be a good idea to get a dog.

To start with, apart from the two glorious months early in the year when the temperature is cool enough that most people are not dripping with sweat, Hong Kong is far too hot for many dog breeds to be comfortable living in. I don't see dog owners wearing two-inch thick fur coats in July, so why would we possibly force a shaggy chow-chow or a fur-smothered husky to live in this climate?

And then there’s the fact that most Hongkongers live in already crowded apartments. The average home size is just 36.5 square meters (less than 400 square feet) according to the Hong Kong Housing Authority. With barely enough space to live, sleep and eat in, it just doesn’t make sense to introduce an energetic young dog with all its exercise and training needs into our homes. So unless your dog is a truly tiny breed, your Hong Kong apartment probably isn't an adequate place for an animal.

Even if you do think you have enough space for a dog, public housing estates simply don’t allow it. In 2011, Eva Cheng, then Hong Kong’s secretary for transport and housing, told the Legislative Council that the government would not relax regulations on public housing tenants owning dogs without written consent, saying crowded living space led to poor sanitation for both pets and their owners. With only 8,400 residents having received permission to own a pet, anyone else with a dog in a public estate is breaking the law.

This may sound trivial, but the ban can often cause owners to keep their dogs locked up and hidden. The media reported last year on a dog named Siu Kat, who was kept locked indoors for over a year in Kwun Tong and given electric shocks if he barked. This may be an extreme case, but still I see no reason that any dog owner would go to the trouble of buying, raising, feeding and subsequently completely mistreating a dog if it will not be healthy or happy.

Time management is also critical to adequately caring for a dog. Think about how much free time you have. Most of us don’t even have time for a proper lunch break, gulping down our noodles while hunched over our desks. And then there’s that gym membership that you committed yourself to in January that has been guilt-tripping you every time you see it on your credit card statement for the past 11 months. If we can't manage our own time, diet and exercise, we have no right to subject an animal to our hectic lifestyles.

On my parents' farm in rural Derbyshire, England, I have seen how dogs should be raised; with plenty of space and time for exercise, proper training and discipline, and a great deal of affection and attention. I’m not saying that every dog needs a field to be safe and healthy; I know dog owners in Hong Kong who care greatly about their pets.

My friend Janice Jensen, who founded HK Animal Speak in 2007 to promote pet welfare, kept five dogs including an even-larger-than-normal Great Dane in her home in Stanley. But as a devoted owner and a full-time animal activist, she was well equipped to care for them and had the space, time and expertise to do so.

However, for the average Hong Kong resident, a severe lack of public parks and places for dogs to exercise should be a deterrent. Most major public parks in Hong Kong are off-limits to dogs, meaning pet-owners have little choice but to let their pooches piddle on the pavements, with a pathetic squirt from a water bottle doing little to wash away the waste. Next Christmas, cross that puppy off your list.

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The writer is a student at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre, The University of Hong Kong.