The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) is reviewing its policy after a public outcry last month over the euthanisation of a stowaway dog from Thailand.

AFCD Director Leung Siu-fai said that his department was looking at alternative ways to deal with overseas dogs arriving in Hong Kong that were lost or had owners.

Hong Kong’s animal euthanisation policy was in the spotlight after officials killed a stray dog which boarded a cargo ship in Thailand and landed in Hong Kong. Critics – including a relative of the dog owner and the Democratic Party – blasted the AFCD for not following its policy of a four-day waiting period.

Leung Siu-fai
AFCD Director Leung Siu-fai. Photo: LegCo screenshot.

However, Leung reiterated the government’s stance that the waiting period did not apply to animals entering illegally.

“In general, animals that are smuggled or have entered illegally come with a high risk. If the smuggler abandons [the animal] or if the owner cannot be found, we will typically deal with the animal as soon as possible, without any waiting period,” Leung said on Wednesday.

Leung said that the cargo ship owner surrendered the dog, and did not specify any details of its ownership or origin: “We only knew that it was very likely that it came from Thailand, a high-risk region for rabies. Therefore, we dealt with the animal humanely. We only found out afterwards that it had an owner.”

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said the main concern at the time was the risk of rabies, but agreed that there was room for improvement.

The government initially stood firm on its policy, saying that AFCD staff did not deviate from proper procedures when dealing with the dog – named Heaven.

dog Thailand
The dog on a cargo ship from Laem Chabang port in Thailand to Hong Kong. Photo: Hong Kong Animal Post/Handout.

However, less than two weeks after Heaven’s death, the AFCD Facebook page published a statement in a more conciliatory tone.

“We are listening carefully to your voices, and this case is very special with no comparable cases for reference,” the post read. “We have started to seriously review the procedure and methods to deal with overseas animals that are lost and have come to Hong Kong.”

“Besides protecting public hygiene and the health of local animals, we also have to consider the needs of the animal, its carer and owner. During the review period, if we encounter these type of cases, we will pause and think, and we won’t deal with it using the same method.”

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Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.