A prison on Lantau Island has agreed to keep dozens of stray cats on its premises after news that it was ordering officers to kick them out alarmed the Correctional Services Department and animal groups.
An officer who wished to remain anonymous told local media earlier that the new senior superintendent of the Tong Fuk Correctional Institution did not like cats and ordered staff last month to remove all 70-odd stray cats from the prison area within a month.
He said around 40 cats were kicked out, and suspected that some of them had been attacked or killed by dogs.
Despite the order, the officer said many inmates and prison staff enjoy the felines’ company and want them to stay.
The incident sparked an outcry, with at least three lawmakers demanding an explanation from prison authorities. Animal groups such as the Lantau-based NGO Tai O Stray Cat Home also offered to help.
The Correctional Services Department told HKFP on Thursday that the increase of cats in recent months “created disturbance and hygienic problems to the institution.” It did not address the whistleblower’s claim.
A day later, it said it was “highly concerned” about the incident and sent Assistant Commissioner Woo Ying-ming to visit the prison on Friday.
Woo visited the site alongside animal welfare group SPCA, which has helped the prison neuter and vaccinate 151 stray cats as part of the SPCA’s Cat Colony Care Programme since 2008.
The cats were trapped by prison officers who served as the programme’s volunteers. The animals were typically returned to the prison area on the same day or put up for adoption.
“The staff and prisoners take care of them very well and we have never received any complaints or calls for assistance from them,” a spokesperson for the SPCA told HKFP earlier.
The correctional authorities said after the visit that the Tong Fuk prison agreed to remain in the programme and allow the remaining dozens of cats to stay, “on the condition that they do not affect the security, discipline and hygiene of the institution.”
“The department has instructed the institution’s management to reference the past practice of seeking assistance from the SPCA or other animal groups on the issue of stray cats,” it said.
It said the prison sent a “small number” of felines to the SPCA for adoption last month.
The SPCA told HKFP that it was “pleased” with the prison’s decision. It said it made recommendations on how to prevent cats from entering buildings and kitchens in order to minimise their impact on the prison’s operation.
“The institution understands that the programme is only effective in the long run as we must wait for the animals to perish naturally,” a spokesperson said. “We agreed to arrange a large-scale neutering operation in the coming months.”
But Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong criticised the Tong Fuk prison for “abandoning” the animals by sending them to the SPCA for adoption last month. He urged the management to allow all of the cats to remain in the area.
Meanwhile, lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung expressed concern that the cats might be put to sleep if no one adopted them.
He also said he was “extremely disappointed” at the Correctional Services Department’s failure to meet with concerned civil groups and to promise to protect the officer who exposed the incident.
Earlier, the officer said prison management was hunting for him for leaking information to the media.
The lawmakers urged the department chief to monitor the issue and set up animal-friendly policies.