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LCQ4: "Trap-Neuter-Return" programme for stray dogs

     Following is a question by the Hon Alan Leong and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (January 20):


     In the reply to a question raised by a Member of this Council on May 27, 2009, the Secretary for Food and Health advised that half of the District Councils (DCs) had already given support to the "trap-neuter-return" trial programme (the trial programme) as early as 2007, and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) would, in collaboration with the animal welfare organisations concerned, finalise the details for the implementation of the trial programme in those nine DCs.  Moreover, an animal welfare organisation has relayed to me that as AFCD has not yet implemented the trial programme, it has designed a plan for implementing the trial programme, hoping to assist AFCD in bringing under control the number of stray dogs in the vicinity of Chuk Yuen Village near the Lion Rock using more civilised means.  Yet, the animal welfare organisation received a verbal warning from AFCD recently that the organisation might be prosecuted if it implemented that plan.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether AFCD has commenced the aforesaid trial programme; if it has, of the progress; if not, the reasons for that; and whether AFCD will work with voluntary organisations for the implementation of the trial programme; if it will not, of the reasons for that;

(b) whether AFCD will give an undertaking that voluntary organisations and individuals implementing the trial programme on their own will not be prosecuted under the Rabies Ordinance for offences such as abandonment of animals, failure to implant a microchip or obtain a licence for animals and so on; if it will not, of the reasons for that; and

(c) of the numbers of stray cats and dogs caught in the past three years and the numbers of those which had been euthanised; and whether the authorities will replace the arrangement of euthanasia with the "trap-neuter-return" programme, with a view to protecting the rights of animals and addressing the issues of stray cats and dogs more appropriately?



     Dogs are domestic animals and may face difficulties living in a wild environment.  Neglected dogs are prone to health problems, may cause nuisances to the public, and can also spread diseases such as rabies.

     Local animal welfare organisations have earlier proposed to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) the introduction of a "Trap-Neuter-Return" (TNR) programme for dogs, allowing neutered stray dogs without an owner to be returned to public places.  Apart from examining technical and legal issues, it is also necessary to ascertain public support if the programme is to be successfully implemented.  In this connection, the AFCD, in collaboration with the animal welfare organisations which have been advocating this programme, consulted various District Councils (DCs) on the TNR trial programme in 2007.  Nine of the eighteen DCs supported in principle the implementation of the programme in their districts, while seven expressed objection and the remaining two made no indication.  It is evident that DCs have differing views on the TNR programme for dogs.  In fact, the AFCD received over 20,000 complaints about stray cats and dogs in each of the past three years.  This shows that the public are dissatisfied with the nuisances caused by stray cats and dogs.  The Government has the responsibility to address the needs of these members of the public.

     Community support is crucial to the successful implementation of the TNR programme for dogs.  Based on the outcome of the consultation described above, the animal welfare organisations concerned have indicated that they would identify suitable sites for implementing the trial programme in the nine districts which have indicated in-principle support.  At present, the AFCD and the organisations concerned are actively examining the implementation details and the pertinent legal issues, and discussing ways to set criteria for assessing the effectiveness of the programme.  Overseas experience and data show that the TNR programme for dogs is controversial and has never been implemented in the major cities of European countries and the United States.  Places with similar programmes in place have also failed to achieve satisfactory results.  For instance, a study in the United States shows that euthanasia is more effective than the TNR programme in controlling the number of stray cats.  To make the trial programme a success, i.e. to effectively achieve the objectives of controlling the number of stray dogs and reducing nuisance caused to the public, the programme should be implemented under proper supervision and with professional support.  Many dogs may be left wandering in the street after neutering due to lack of proper care.  This causes both nuisance to the residents and potential threats to the animals' lives.  As such, we must take a prudent approach in implementing the TNR programme for dogs.  Our reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) The AFCD has been maintaining liaison with the animal welfare organisations concerned to discuss and study the feasibility and details of the introduction of a TNR trial programme for dogs in a particular district, including the responsibility issue regarding the dogs returned after neutering. The AFCD discussed with these animal welfare organisations again on October 22, 2009 and will continue to follow up on this.

(b) Hong Kong has a very good track record of rabies control and has been rabies-free for years.  Rabies is a communicable disease transmissible from animals to humans with a high mortality rate.  Besides, stray animals easily serve as a reservoir of rabies virus, strict enforcement of provisions of the Rabies Ordinance on dog management, implantation of microchip in dogs and licensing control are crucial to the maintenance of public health and prevention of importation of animal diseases.  To safeguard public health, the Administration will follow up on or prosecute any dog owners who have contravened the Rabies Ordinance.

(c) Generally speaking, stray animals caught or animals received from owners will first be taken to the AFCD's Animal Management Centres for observation.  During the observation period, veterinary officers on duty will closely monitor the animals' health and other conditions to ensure their suitability for re-homing.  Health conditions permitting, the animals will stay for four days so their owners may reclaim them.  Arrangements will be made for unclaimed dogs and cats to be re-homed through animal welfare organisations if they are found to be healthy and of an acceptable temperament.  Only animals which are assessed to be unsuitable for re-homing due to health or temperament reasons, or could not be re-homed by animal welfare organisations will be euthanised.  The numbers of stray cats and dogs caught or received by the AFCD in 2007, 2008 and 2009 were 18,760, 16,750 and 15,600 respectively.  Among them, the numbers of cats and dogs euthanised were 16,770, 14,500 and 13,310 respectively.  The AFCD has been maintaining liaison with the animal welfare organisations regarding the ongoing TNR programme for cats.  When compared to stray dogs, the risk of bite and the noise nuisance caused by stray cats are less serious.  Apart from discussing the TNR trial programme for dogs with non-governmental organisations, we consider that the most effective way to tackle the problem of abandoned or stray animals is to raise public awareness of the concept of responsible pet ownership, i.e. pets should be treated as members of the family and kept properly, and should not be abandoned easily or become a source of nuisance.  As such, the AFCD has been stepping up promotion and education at various levels and through different channels, including Announcements of Public Interest on television and radio and posters on public transport to promote care for animals.  In addition, the AFCD produces promotional leaflets, posters and souvenirs for free distribution to the public and organises other promotional activities to enhance publicity.  The AFCD will continue its work in this regard to promote the message of responsible pet ownership.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Issued at HKT 16:05


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