By Sophie Chau

A pack of mixed-breed dogs drool over an iron dish. They peep at their lunch through the gate. Fung Li Choi-mui, who walks with a limp, feeds her 49 stray dogs and groups them by personality and size.

They were once ill, fragile and homeless cubs on the street, but Fung now cuddles her “sons and daughters” at home one by one. It’s been 15 years since she first started running a stray dog kennel in Yuen Long.

Photo: Sophie Chau/HKFP.

Her first encounter with stray dogs started when her son came across a litter of puppies weeping in a rubbish dump. It was such a sad sight, Fung decided to shelter them in the village.

She did it all alone – cooking, feeding, cleaning and nursing - every day for 15 years. Following her effort, Fung’s dog shelter has accommodated more than 1,000 dogs and cats in total. But at the age of 66, Fung is suffering from back pain and leg pain after laborious work over the years. “I am not young anymore. I am really tired,” said Fung.

In Hong Kong, there are more than 20 stray dog shelters in the New Territories alone. These animal groups are not as well-structured or as famous as larger, well-advertised animal organisations. The kennels, often overlooked by the government, have limited resources.

Every year, the government spends about HK$33 million on stray dog management – a euphemism for killing dogs. Cases of animal mercy-killing remain high in Hong Kong. According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, stray animal euthanasia has increased from 6,501 in 2015 to 6,686 in 2016.

In comparison, their budget for supporting animal organisations is HK$500,000 per year and goes to only seven organisations. Shelters like Fung’s rely mostly on social media crowdfunding to sustain their operations.

Photo: Sophie Chau/HKFP.

Currently there’s no effective way for the government to deal with stray dogs. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department plays a conflicting role – it is responsible for both killing stray dogs and subsidising animal organisations.

Legislative Councillor Roy Kwong Chun-yu said the government has turned a blind eye to small animal groups and geared itself towards medium and large animal organisations, such as the Society for Abandoned Animals and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

It is a vicious cycle. Groups eligible for public funding often maintain high profiles with advertising and promotional campaigns, leaving entities like Fung’s out.

Previous records show that applicants can obtain public funding for projects such as dog adoption, increasing public awareness, setting up educational workshops and creating websites.

Kwong said the subsidies allocated to large animal organisations would be more than enough to cover such activities, with some funds left to spare for small shelters to cover necessities like dog food.

Photo: Sophie Chau/HKFP.

“It’s meaningless if the funding is only for the famous and large animal organisations,” said Kwong, who advocated animal laws in the LegCo.

He described the government’s action as a “loop”. Instead of providing funding to encourage public effort in rescuing homeless dogs, the government insists on extermination. The officials do not recognise that by helping people like Fung, stray animal issues could be alleviated significantly.

Small animal groups are now reaching out to the public through social media. Supporters can read the latest information about dogs available for adoption, injuries and opportunities to donate.

More than 2,000 people have joined Fung’s Facebook group, but only five are core volunteers able to visit the field regularly. Volunteers are unable to cover all of the daily chores like cleaning the kennels and feeding the dogs.

Photo: Sophie Chau/HKFP.

Donations are a crucial source of funding. The cost of food for the 49 dogs is around HK$10,000 per month. Donors can join monthly sponsorship programs to support a dog so that each is matched with a donor.

However, many kennels operate in a grey zone– they are not officially registered as charity organisations. The key challenge is a lack of knowledge for the hosts to formally register as a non-government organisation.

Kwong suggests that a foundation could assist the kennel hosts. One proposal has been that legal or government retirees could form a legal entity of sorts. The estimated time to apply for government funding from scratch however would take three years, according to Kwong.

In the long run, the path to proper animal welfare in Hong Kong remains uncertain. Fung’s chief concern is finding a responsible person to inherit her role. Asking a volunteer to serve the dogs every day from 6am to 7pm with no pay is tough. Fung worries the dogs will outlive her.

“It’s really difficult. My last wish is to find a home for each dog, so they don’t have to stay here anymore,” she said.

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors for Hong Kong Free Press.