People in much of East Asia are marking the start of the Year of the Dog Sunday with celebrations and hearty feasts. While many astrologers are predicting the year will be marked by peace, animal rights organizations are worried that a surge in puppy love will also bring an increase in canine abuse.
The Year of the Dog makes canines a particularly desirable gift. But as pet stores in Asia are swamped with buyers wanting to bring a bit of good luck back to their homes, animal rights organizations are worrying about what will happen once the new year frenzy dies down.
Fiona Woodhouse is Deputy Director of the Hong Kong Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She says that in general, not all recipients of small animals are prepared for the full-time responsibilities of keeping a pet.
"You may see a week, or a month or two later, these unwanted presents being given up, as it were," said Fiona Woodhouse. "If the person who receives the present, which quite often is a dog or a cat, is responsible, they will bring them into some organization to try and get them a home. If not, they will just abandon on the street."
Kirsten Mitchull, the co-founder of Hong Kong Dog Rescue, says that because people tend to give puppies as presents in the Year of the Dog, this year is likely to be far worse than normal.
"Because it is the Year of the Dog, I can guarantee, there will be more abandoned dogs on the streets, there will be more puppies, there will be more adults," said Kirsten Mitchull. " I know for a fact that we are going to be inundated. I'm absolutely dreading it."
Mitchull says there is another serious problem connected to the season. She says despite government regulations requiring proof of vaccinations, some pet shop owners eager to make a profit will inject diseased dogs with antibiotics to make them temporarily look healthy. Mitchull says just days ago, one of her clients purchased a dog from such a pet shop.
"And it lived for seven days," she said. "And it had parvovirus. Which means every dog in that pet shop will be infected, and most likely die."
Woodhouse says government statistics from last year show nearly 9,000 animals in Hong Kong were abandoned or given to shelters by their owners. Animal rights organizations fear that figure will climb this year.
The organizations say they plan to use the Year of the Dog to advocate responsible pet ownership. They are urging those thinking of buying a dog to consider adopting an abandoned animal from a local shelter and to make sure they have the time, the money and the inclination to keep the animal as a long-term member of the household.