When I was in Taiwan recently a friend asked if I would like to visit the zoo, I immediately said: "No way."
Sadly, we sometimes unwittingly contribute to animal exploitation or animal cruelty, especially when their suffering is not too obvious, or is disguised and packaged as exotic and cute behaviour.
For example, you would not give much thought when being photographed riding an elephant in Thailand, or riding a donkey in Greece.
But what we see as an innocent tourist attraction is in fact the result of a life of misery these animals endure to provide us with entertainment.
The sad truth is that most of us tend to have little or no awareness of how much animal suffering is involved in taming and training these creatures to serve us, or satisfy our curiosity.
A rule of thumb, as advised by World Animal Protection, an international non-profit animal welfare organisation, is that if you can ride it, touch it, hug it, or take a selfie with it, the facility is contributing to animal exploitation or animal cruelty.
Think of it this way: you would not be able to engage in such behaviours with these animals if you met them in their natural habitat.
So, if you accept or pay for such animal performance or buy their services, you will be complicit in an illegal and immoral activity.
However, a glimpse of hope emerged last year when Greece announced a ban on overweight tourists riding donkeys on the popular island of Santorini, after activists complained the animals were suffering spinal injuries.
Besides outlawing donkeys from carrying excessive weight for their size, age, or physical condition, the ban also highlighted the importance of ensuring the health of the working donkey population. This move included banning unfit or injured animals, or those in an advanced state of pregnancy, from working, and reminding owners and keepers to provide the animals with adequate food and fresh drinking water daily.
Hong Kong should take a leaf out of Greece's book, and treat dogs and cats as equals, not just as pets or personal property.
We might have rescued an animal from the circus, or inhumane conditions in a zoo, but we have yet to learn to treat them humanely, and welcome them into our homes like a family member.
The heart of the issue is our attitude towards animals as well as our relationships with them.
Fundamentally, we need to be aware of the fact that their suffering continues no matter where they are if we don't change our attitudes towards their existence.
First, animals do not exist to satisfy our curiosity, or entertain us to the detriment of their health, safety, and dignity.
Just because they cannot complain to us of their discomfort, we should not dismiss their feelings and make excuses when we extend reasonable demands and sometimes even abusive treatment of them.
Put ourselves in their positions; would we want to be treated in the same way? The experience might be fun for the giver but probably hard to stomach for the recipient.
Going back to the point about changing our mindset and treating our pet dogs and cats as family members, we would certainly not abandon our family, even when they become inconvenient; at least I certainly hope so.
I was saddened upon hearing the news that some 4,000 animals, mostly dogs, will be made homeless when villagers relocate because of urban development in the northeastern New Territories.
It is difficult for villagers to take animals to their new homes because the Housing Authority only allows tenants to keep small household pets, such as desexed cats, that do not pose a health hazard or the potential to cause disturbances.
Consequently, this rule excludes all dogs.
Only those who need a guide dog for physical support, or companion dogs for mental support, may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
These poor animals that have served their owners providing protection and companionship will be left homeless, abandoned or possibly put down.
Jason Pang, director of development of World Dog Alliance, a local non-profit dog welfare group, considers it a shame that the government's urban development has never taken animal welfare into consideration.
Hong Kong people love keeping dogs as pets. A 2016 survey by Petfood Industry of 27,000 online consumers ranked Hong Kong second in Asia in pet ownership, with 35 per cent of interviewees saying they kept pets, after Japan's 37 per cent and ahead of South Korea's 31 per cent.
Government statistics show at least 250,000 dogs share lives with humans; but sadly they don't always enjoy the same care and respect, and more often than not have to share cramped living spaces in our densely populated city.
"It is a similar kind of indifference and uncaring attitude that we've encountered in many parts of Asia while campaigning against dog meat consumption," Pang said. "During our anti-dog meat campaign, many governments and people we came across have insisted that solving human problems should take priority over the welfare of animals like dogs. It is so wrong to dismiss the welfare of dogs because we can deal with both in tandem."
Some have even accused Pang's group of taking away people's rights to consume animal meat.
"Hong Kong is such an advanced civilised international city but sadly it lags far behind in animal welfare and animal protection," he said.
"Here we mostly deal with animals from a human perspective rather than what is best for the animals including our pets that are indeed our lifelong companions. The harsh reality is that they are often our lowest priority or not even one of our priorities, unfortunately."
The government should establish a special body to coordinate and manage the resettlement of dogs and cats as well as adopt a no-kill policy, provide resources for sterilisation, and build shelters for dogs and cats that are made homeless as a result of urban development.
The northeast New Territories development is not the first, and probably will not be the last, that puts the welfare of dogs and cats at risk to the point of being slaughtered. There should be an official approach to prevent pets and animals from facing the same predicament in other future urban developments.
Luisa Tam is a correspondent at the Post
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