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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Far East Veterinary Travels: Observing Canine Life in Hong Kong and Touring the SPCA

This is the second (of three) Daily Vet articles I’m writing during my recent tour of the Far East. In case you missed it, check out my first article: Diagnosing and Treating Canine Dry Eye in a Third World Country

I recently had the opportunity travel to Hong Kong to compare some of the city’s cultural differences regarding pet practices and to learn of the amazing work the Hong Kong SPCA is doing to promote animal health and welfare.

As an immensely built and crowded city, I wondered how there would be room for a canine companion in Hong Kong dwellers’ lives. After all, the Pearl of the Orient (Hong Kong’s nickname) is home to some of the world’s tallest buildings (like the 112 story International Commerce Centre), tiniest apartments, and overall apparent lack of readily accessible green space in which canine companions can frolic.

As a tourist, I took pleasure navigating downtown Hong Kong and Kowloon peninsula from the open air second level of the Big Bus and was struck by the overall lack of apparent dogs and cats roaming the city streets.

To get some fresh air, I escaped the virtual sense of tower-induced claustrophobia to the vast greenery atop Victoria Peak. From this remarkable vantage point, one gets an amazing view from higher than the tallest skyscrapers lurking below.

From that vantage, I discovered an interesting means of demarcating where a pet should eliminate waste, which reminded me of similar setups seen in airports in the United States. The retail section of Victoria Peak had two dog relief areas. One was delineated by a single strip of green tape on granite pavers. The other featured a plastic sheet of fake grass (not astroturf, but a layer of plastic made to look like grass). Both displayed bright green and yellow signs indicating the areas’ purpose: Rest Area for Pets.

There was nary a smell of urine nor a stain of feces in either site, so I wonder how well dogs recognize that these elimination areas serve such a purpose. Likely, the scents of the previous users provides the attraction. I saw two well cared for dogs (a blonde Cocker Spaniel and a black and tan Shepherd mix), but neither were available for comment as to their preferred locations for waste elimination.

While prepping to take the tram down from Victoria Peak, I spotted a Gino’s Gelato sign selling Doggie Gelato. Beef and cheese flavors were available, with eight of the $18 per scoop price reportedly going to help homeless dogs. One American dollar currently equals $7.76 Hong Kong dollars, so we’re talking about a scoop of Doggie Gelato costing $2.32 American dollars with $1.03 benefitting animals.

The next day, our trip had a more businesslike purpose, with a tour of the Hong Kong SPCA and a meeting with Dr. Jane Gray, Deputy Director of Services and Chief Veterinary Surgeon. As I am currently developing a television project based on international travel and veterinary philanthropy, it was a great honor to meet Dr. Gray and learn of the population and disease control and educational efforts of her organization.

I am especially intrigued by the SPCA's Animal Welfare Mobile Clinic, which sends veterinary practitioners into remote areas of Hong Kong and mainland China to help dogs and cats that otherwise lack access to routine veterinary care.

i Love Dogs canine supplements arranged for my tour of the SPCA’s sparkling clean facilities, which included a retail area (which even sells some products steeped in Chinese medicine, like deer rib and deer sinew), a modern veterinary hospital, and a rescue area housing dogs, cats, and "pocket pets."

The dogs seemed very content to interact with any passerby or enthusiastically chew or playfully toss a tennis ball. The cats lounged in their comfortable pens featuring uniquely shaped and brightly colored perches and beds. The hamsters, guinea pigs, and other pocket pets basically did their best to stay out of the fixated gaze of a canine or feline predator (they were very safe in their cages).

Overall, I was very impressed with the Hong Kong SPCA’s operations and look forward to returning to lend my efforts to the shared cause of animal welfare. I also want to be a tourist again and become more familiar with the city and culture from an insider’s perspective.

The view from atop Victoria's Peak

Dog relief area

Dog relief area with fake grass

Gino's Doggie Gelato

Dr. Mahaney with SPCA director, Dr. Jane Gray

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: istolethetv / via Flickr

Comments  7

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  • Huskies in Hong Kong
    03/19/2013 08:10pm

    Was in Hong Kong just last December (2012). The whole week I was there I kept an watchful eye out for Siberian Huskies. Only saw 3, bummer. Did just miss out on the "Paws By The Sea" which was sponsored by the HK SPCA. I love HK as I've been there 4 times, but I missed my Siberians more.

  • 03/26/2013 02:03am

    I agree with you, as there seems to be a general lack of apparent canine population in Hong Kong. The examples I saw were few and far between.
    I am not aware of the event about which you speak of, but I'll check it out in the future.
    I too feel that the Hong Kong SPCA does a great job in their various endeavors to help pets (and their people) in need.
    Thank you for your comments,
    Dr. PM

  • Strays
    03/19/2013 09:37pm

    Did you get a flavor of how stray critters are dealt with in Hong Kong? Are they rounded up and euthanized (think Beijing Olympics - just Google: beijing olympics stray cats then prepare to have your heart ripped out) or are they taken to a shelter, rehabilitated and adopted?

    Or has Hong Kong truly figured out how to keep overpopulation at bay?

  • 03/26/2013 02:07am

    Thank you for making me aware of some of the efforts to control the stray cat population in China around the time of the Olympics.
    I will check it out.
    From my perspective, it seems as though the SPCA is engaged in the very humane task of finding and rehabilitating pets found on the street. Those that were up for adoption in their rescue facility appeared very well taken care of.
    Thank you for your comments.
    Dr. PM

  • 07/23/2013 07:39am

    I am on the SPCA's Executive Committee, and thought you might like to know about our highly successful Cat Colony Carer Programme (CCCP), and our trap-neuter-release efforts. Under CCCP we have desexed more than 30,000 cats in the last decade, who are under the watchful eye of certified carers. Since the programme began, we have had fewer and fewer kittens looking for homes. We would do the same for dogs, but there are a number of laws that make it more difficult... You can read about these programmes here:
    Best wishes from Hong Kong.

  • animals killed for fur
    03/22/2013 12:57am

    I received a letter from PETA a few months ago about dogs and cats being skinned alive for their fur in China. Did you or the SPCA there know anything about this. I know this atrocity is taking place there and I'd like to know if these animals can be stopped. And if you have heard about this. The article was horrible and they had pictures of animals crammed into cages so tight that they were sticking out the openings in the cages. I know they are even taking people's pets right out of yard's. This fur is then sold as faux fur and rabbit, etc. If you know anything about how we can help to stop this, please let us know.
    I already avoid buying any type of fur, whether it says it's fake or not.
    More must be done though.

  • 03/26/2013 02:10am

    Thank you for bringing this potential problem regarding animal welfare in China.
    I am not currently aware of it, but will do some research to see what I can learn and if the SPCA is somehow involved in stopping this practice.
    Make sure to check out my next article about Soi Dog Foundation, which is tirelessly working to help put an end to the illegal dog meat trade in Thailand. It sounds like the conditions that face the dogs that are captured for the dog meat trade in Thailand are similar to those affecting dogs collected for their fur in China.
    Thank you for your comments.
    Dr. PM

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