Monday, 20 July 2015

Adopt, Don’t Buy

Credit: SCMP

I’ve always loved dogs as a child. And while my parents weren’t entirely ‘struggling’ with finance, we were neither so well-off to afford a pet dog in our household, adoption was the only financially viable option. I remember visiting the small, dimly lit office of the then-RSPCA on Princess Margaret Road one Sunday. Dad told us that we were going to see if there was any chance we could adopt a dog. As a primary school pupil I was naïve enough to think that we could just bring home a dog on that day, so imagine the excitement I could barely contain. But my dream was soon shattered, as the soft-spoken officer said he would put us on a waiting list – with the size of our apartment, we were deemed suitable for a small dog, and like all animal shelters, it’s always the mid-sized or bigger dogs that are harder to be adopted. We hadn’t a clue how long we would have to wait, nor was the officer able to promise anything. The uncertainty was too much for me, and I was on the verge of crying.
I can’t remember the exact length of time in between, but my life changed forever on the day when I, then a primary three pupil, performed as a member of the school choir on graduation day. My family came to see my performance and when I met them outside the hall afterwards, my sister was flinging her arms and legs, asking if I’d seen her lipping the ‘good news’ for me. Of course I couldn’t see that from so far up the stage, but that didn’t matter anymore, because RSPCA called to say that they had our dog. It turned out dad had made a visit to the RSPCA before the graduation ceremony, and was given two options of adoptable dogs: one an extremely friendly and energetic mid-sized terrier-mix, and the other an older Yorkshire terrier that was a bit mangy and wouldn’t come out from the corner of the kennel. The terrier-mix was so friendly that he had paw prints all over my dad’s suit pants in a minute, but dad reckoned it was best for us to start with a smaller dog first.

We named the Yorkie Jimmy. We were told that he was four years old, but looking back he might have been older than that, and his age was tweaked to make the grumpy dog more adoptable. We were soon able to tell that Jimmy’s previous owner must have trained him very well: Jimmy would never pee in the home, not until we took him for a walk twice a day, and if he really couldn’t hold it, he would release himself inside the bathtub. He would never wander too far from us either, and he made sure to be there offering consolation whenever my sister and I fought over something silly. From his initial shyness and withdrawn character, we knew street life had taken its psychological toll, and physical toll too, from the bit of his ear that was bitten off. But Jimmy soon warmed up to us and embraced us as his family. He would be waiting by the door around 15 minutes before dad was due to be home from work every evening, and he once barked three mongrels away to protect dad on one of the evening walks, when dad was still devising an escape plan with Jimmy. Jimmy had brought us so much joy till the end, and we can easily be one of those who testify to the fact that rescued dogs repay your love by heaps and bounds.

We’ve had two more Yorkies after Jimmy. Jesper was given to us by a distant relative who only discovered their son’s allergy to animal hair after buying the adorable puppy, and Toffee was adopted from an animal rescue organisation who took over the poor girl after she was abandoned by a puppy mill. She was eight years old then. Toffee’s story broke our hearts: she was kept in a cage for much of her eight years of life, with no space to roam (which explains her deformed paws and why she doesn’t like to go for a walk), and was injected with so much medication that her skin became extremely sensitive. She would be on all fours at the smallest movement from us, but inheriting the dog’s virtue of living in the moment also means that she soon put her painful past behind her, and learnt to take all the love we were so ready to give her.

In case you’re wondering why I’m babbling about my family’s love of dogs, it’s because I’ve come across an SCMP feature on ‘The Hidden Plight of Production-line Pets’. That breeders are “churning out puppies like factory items” is no news, not since the 1980s, when the majority of Hongkongers have achieved such a level of affluence that enables them the luxury of a pet dog. And then all hell broke loose: with profits and profits alone in mind (the luxury pet trade is estimated to be worth HKD18 million a year), breeders would “keep animals in cages, stacked one on top of another, usually in small flats with no opportunity to exercise. They’ll be sitting in their own excrement.” according to Amanda Whitfort, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, who is advocating to have the city’s animal welfare laws updated. It surely doesn’t help that there are loopholes in the city’s animal trading legislation, and lax enforcement means breeders still get to inflict cruelty on animals with impunity. Perhaps not surprisingly, while animal cruelty could result in three years of imprisonment and a fine of HKD200,000, sentences have been rather lenient so far. With the combination of the pet trade’s commodification of animals and irresponsible pet ownership, an estimated 5,000 dogs are euthanised by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department every year. That is heart-wrenching to say the least.

Yours truly is not going to let this end of a sad note, so the good news is a bill is expected to be put to the LegCo, after its summer break, to amend the animal trading law, so that the fine for illegal trading of animals will be raised from HKD2,000 to HKD10,000, and the penalty for breaking animal licensing laws will be a fine raised from HKD1,000 to HK$50,000. While such an amendment is more than welcome (not least because it’s long overdue), the best way to curb pet trade, such as puppy milling and kitty milling, is to adopt instead of buying pets. Here’s a list of organisations that go to lengths to rescue animals from the street or from the breeders, as well as to ensure the rescued animals will find a loving, caring home.

Lifelong Animal Protection Charity (LAP)
Hong Kong Dog Rescue
Hong Kong Animal Adoption Centre
Hong Kong Alley Cat Watch
Society for Abandoned Animals
Lamma Animal Welfare Centre
Kirsten’s Zoo

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