Morbid reminders of one of Hong Kong’s most notorious serial killers line Bowen Road, urging people to remain vigilant: “Beware of Dog Poisoning” read the signs. But after a recent spate of canine deaths, animal lovers have taken matters into their own hands by starting a “neighbourhood watch” group.

Mia Fong founded Gamma.hkg — named after her family’s Golden Retriever — to patrol the city’s hiking trails, parks, and neighbourhoods, and remove any suspected poisoned bait.

Mia Fong
Mia Fong and husband Steven Sha in the T-shirts that she designed for the neighbourhood watch group. Photo: Mia Fong.

Fong’s beloved pet consumed spam stuffed with poison at Cyberport Park in early February. At least 15 dogs were poisoned after consuming laced meat at the park that day, according to the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Wanchai. Eight died; Gamma was one of them.

“Losing Gamma was one of the most traumatic things we had to go through,” said Fong. “But I didn’t want to sit around and do nothing. So I channeled my grief into creating this neighbourhood watch group to bring the community together to protect our dogs.”

Gamma.hkg is encouraging animal lovers to regularly come together and patrol the streets to remove any suspicious food.

gamma dog
Gamma at Cyberport. Photo: Mia Fong

“It’s not a novel idea,” said Fong. “But I really felt this is what we need to look out for one another.”

Over 200 dog poisonings

Dogs have been poisoned all over Hong Kong, but for more than two decades, an unknown serial dog poisoner has been in operation near Bowen Road and Black’s Link hiking trail on Hong Kong Island. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) estimates that more than 200 dogs have been affected since the early 1990s.

Dogs that have consumed the poisoned meat display symptoms shortly after, including vomiting, diarrhoea, trembling, convulsions, breathing difficulties, and collapse from lethargy.

Rosie the dog
Photo: bz_golden Instagram.

Gamma was given activated charcoal to coat her stomach, and eye drops to induce vomiting. Her temperature soared to more than 40 degrees Celsius as she fought the poison.

“She still tried to constantly sit up and give her paw to us,” Fong wrote on the Gamma.hkg Facebook page. “But after an hour, she just had to lie down.”

Soon, the poison began to affect Gamma’s nervous system and she was placed in a coma in an attempt to bring her temperature down.

Cyberport dog poisoning
Photo: SPCA via Facebook.

“After four hours of fighting, her body gave up on her and her heart stopped,” Fong said.

In a statement to HKFP at the time, the park expressed “deep concern” and “strongly condemned any act of animal cruelty.”

dog poison
Dog poison inside some meat. Photo: Hong Kong Dog Rescue.

“The Park has been the haven of many families and pet lovers with their pet members. To ensure the provision of quality environment and safety of park users, Cyberport has been working closely with the Hong Kong Police and the district councillor,” the statement read. “We have escalated our work with the Police and SPCA in discussing measures to be taken, while maintaining close contact with the district councillor and members of the pet-lovers’ community.”

Measures included increased park patrols, displaying more notices to raise awareness, and providing onsite staff with information on emergency pet services.

‘Protect your pets’

However, Eva Sit, a representative for local charity Hong Kong Dog Rescue, told HKFP that the case shows Hong Kong authorities are failing in their duty to ensure public safety.

Southern District Councillor Paul Zimmerman denounced the poisonings as a “malicious act” and called on dog owners to take precautions.

Dog owner Rebecca Jennings, who is a volunteer at Gamma.hkg, told HKFP she will join the neighbourhood watch to “be part of the solution to stop this happening again.”

Rosie the dog
Rosie the dog. Photo: Rebecca Jennings.

“People who poison animals are among the worst of humanity. As owners, the most we can do is be vigilant, responsible and ensure we do everything possible to discourage these acts,” she said.

“I hope this community initiative puts an end to these poisonings. Ideally we hope it will make the people doing this realise how deeply they’re hurting communities all over Hong Kong,” said Jennings.

People in Fong’s apartment building came together to stick posters in the lifts to mark her pet’s passing, while residents of Cyberport planted a tree at the park in Gamma’s memory.

“It’s so touching to see how loved she was,” said Fong.

Rosie the dog
Photo: Mia Fong.

Fong has made t-shirts for volunteers to wear while patrolling the streets, and will hold Gamma Hong Kong’s first group neighbourhood watch event on April 17. In the meantime, she is encouraging volunteers to continue to patrol the streets and remove any suspicious looking meat.

“If we can prevent even one more death, then we’re doing a good thing,” said Fong. “And it’s a beautiful way to remember our girl.”

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Rhea is a Hong Kong-based journalist interested in gender issues and minority rights, whose work has appeared in a number of publications across Asia. She is also on the 2019 Diversity List: a list of ethnic minorities that are qualified and committed to serve on Hong Kong government committees.