Lamma resident Tavis Du Preez was taking his two dogs for a walk on Tai Peng Tsuen Road, near his home, at around 10:30 Monday evening, when he noticed that his black labrador Jennifer appeared to be eating something under a cement mixer.

“And I called her and she didn’t come, so I finally sort of pulled her out by the collar. When I got her out into the light I saw that she was in terrible distress. I realised that she must have been poisoned.”

Du Preez immediately went home with Jojo, his other dog, who had also managed to consume some of the suspected poison when Du Preez inadvertently let go of his leash.

Jennifer (L) with Du Preez’s daughter Elisha, and Jojo (R). Photos: Tavis Du Preez.

Du Preez said he then ran back to Jennifer, who died within ten minutes. “[She was] choking, vomiting, shaking a little bit, and then just like motionless, glazed look in her eyes, not moving at all – her eyes were open and in the beginning I thought maybe she could hear us, so I just kept telling her ‘good dog, we love you,’ but it was really obvious that it was hopeless. And then just dead – that’s it.”

The police at first did not find anything at the site on Tai Peng Tsuen Road, but Du Preez went back and found a plastic bag containing a blue substance and “blue greasy stuff splattered on the cement.”

After he alerted the police, they took the bag away and told Du Preez it would take six to eight weeks to receive the test results. They only asked him to hand over Jennifer’s body on Wednesday, after it had already been taken away by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Du Preez said.

The police told HKFP that the case, classified as “request for police investigation,” is being investigated by officers in the Cheung Chau Division.

The cement mixer where Jennifer ingested poison, and the plastic bag thought to have contained the poison. Photos: Tavis Du Preez.

“Police have stepped up patrols and displayed warning notice[s] in the vicinity of the location concerned,” a spokesperson said in an email response.

Jojo is home after seeing a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) vet. Du Preez said the 10-year-old British bulldog is currently not exhibiting any symptoms, but they could only “wait and see,” as it could take days for the poison to have an effect.

Lamma vet Hans De Vries told HKFP that the symptoms exhibited by Jennifer before her death sounded consistent with poisoning, but it would be difficult to identify the poison without conducting tests at a forensic laboratory.

“As [the symptoms are] specific it is difficult to say which poison it is.”

De Vries and Du Preez say the poison may have been paraquat – a powerful weed killer that was suspected to have been used in previous spates of poisonings.

“With paraquat, usually it’s gastrointestinal upset – throwing up and diarrhea. If they survive that stage then – if they have enough of it – usually after one week they start breathing more and more [with more difficulty] and then they choke to death,” De Vries said.

The effect of the substance on canines can also depend on the dosage, he added.

A sign warning that the killing or injuring of animals could be punishable by a fine of $200,000 and three years’ imprisonment. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

Lamma residents have long expressed concern that there are people putting out poisoned food to kill dogs on the island. In 2014, residents estimated that over 100 dogs had been killed with poison in the preceding decade.

De Vries said there used to be spates of poisonings around public holidays, but things had quietened down over the past couple years.

After a wave of suspected dog poisonings in 2014, over a thousand citizens signed a petition calling on the police to take reports of dog poisonings seriously and open criminal investigations.

At the beginning of November last year, police investigated after 11 dogs from San Tau village on Lantau Island died in one weekend.

The SPCA told HKFP that there were seven suspected dog poisoning cases in Hong Kong in 2017, and that the last case occurring on Lamma was in 2014. No drug substance was found in the toxicology exam.

Cruelty to animals carries a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to HK$200,000.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.