It’s only once in 12 years that the Chinese lunar year cycle provides an excuse to talk about my very favourite subject: dogs. So, in the Year of the Dog I make no apology for the indulgence of writing a few words about these truly wonderful creatures.

As matters stand the Vines household is home to three exceptional thoroughbred Hong Kong mutts. They are all rescue dogs, the latest of which was dumped with his sister in a cardboard box in Yuen Long very shortly after birth.

This new puppy, now a sturdy eight-month old called Marco, was so tiny on arrival that he had to be fed goats’ milk through a syringe because he had not been weaned and did not know how to suck.

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Marco now, and then. Photo: Steve Vines.

He very quickly got the hang of the syringe and in no time at all was slurping up milk without any form of assistance. The other dogs appear to have house trained him in other respects as he also soon also got the hang of banging on the door to be let out for toilet purposes.

I’ve never had any truck with pedigree hounds but have always found mutts to be quick on the uptake. They also tend to be resilient and highly adaptable. Oh, and did I mention that at the puppy stage they are mercilessly adorable, demanding constant attention and, of course, getting it.

Marco is still busy chewing his way through most of the Pearl River Delta and given an opportunity to gnaw on the belt part of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road project, he will most definitely give it his best.

Dino, the oldest dog, was not too keen on Marco when he arrived on grounds of being far too small and far too annoying, so he largely ignored him.

This left the second oldest dog Zoe to do all the heavy lifting of constantly keeping the new arrival entertained. I would argue that her demonstrations of patience in this respect went well beyond what is customarily regarded as saintly.

Now the three of them have settled into the sort of comforting pack behaviour that dogs are so good at. As happens in even the best of families there are occasional altercations but they soon pass and give way to a more companionable routine.

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FIle photo: Pexels.

What puzzles me are the kind people who say how good us dog rescuers have been to take these hounds into our homes. The plain facts however are that dogs tend to do far more for people, than people do for dogs.

There is nothing quite like a quick bout of interaction with a canine to lift the spirits, to put life into perspective and dispel any amount of gloom. Dog friendship is unequivocal and constant.

What else? Well, there’s a lot but in my case I have the dogs to thank for an exercise regime that I strongly suspect would not occur without them. They just love a hike and insist that their owners come along with them.

Then, there’s the matter of contemplation. Only a very shallow person would be embarrassed to admit that they can have a really good conversation with a dog. If I’ve got something on my mind, a spot of canine interaction helps miraculously in sorting things out.

Experts, whoever they are, have cast doubt on the simple truth that dogs have an acute sense of mood. But trust me the average dog is very well aware of their human companion’s moods and have a charming ability to respond in a helpful way.

And then there’s the question of loyalty. After a recent nasty tumble down a hill during a hike the dogs instantly understood what had happened; my pathetic attempts to get back on my feet might have provided a clue.

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FIle photo: Pexels.

Anyway, clue or no clue they gathered round and would not be budged until I was able to move and then, contrary to all normal practice they stuck very close and slowed down to my hobbling pace. Can any of this really have been a coincidence?

I doubt it because the interaction between dogs and humans close to them is uncanny and almost always for the good.

If you’re not a dog person you have probably given up reading this by now and even if you are, it’s highly likely you will be thinking, well, I know this stuff, so apologies for the indulgence and have a truly wonderful Year of the Dog.

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Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship