It’s A Dog’s Life

I love dogs so much that I have always refused to have one in Hong Kong. That may seem paradoxical, but I can explain.

A man’s dog is his truest friend. The pair form a bond together that grows only stronger over time. They get to read each other’s moods so perfectly that the mere intake of breath by the human as he gets to his feet in the evening tells the creature that it is time for a walk.

And by walk I mean proper exercise together with the owner, not a session spent crouching by the domestic helper’s feet while she chats with friends just out of sight of the apartment. In addition to the opportunity to perform necessary ablutions, a walk is a dog’s opportunity to find out what has been going on in the neighbourhood using time-honoured methods such as sniffing every lamppost, every other dog’s bottom, and even the nether regions of passing humans if there is the scent of something interesting.

The exercise the human gets in return is beneficial to his health.

Man and dog have responsibilities towards each other. The man must make sure the dog is fed and watered and gets lots of exercise. The dog’s job is to be a source of unquestioning support and love.

The reason I won’t have a dog in Hong Kong is that I know I do not have enough time to fulfil my share of the bargain.

All this is by way of introduction to discussion of the recent episode where a stray dog wandered onto the rail tracks and, after a brief attempt to lure him to safety failed, was killed by a passing train.

The incident was followed by an outpouring in social media of criticism of the MTR staff who had resumed rail services. The overwhelming view of the commentators – presumably those not stuck on unmoving trains – was that the company should have waited much longer than the reported six minutes before resuming normal transport services. They should have sent for staff of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to catch the animal and take him to a shelter.

Despite my love of dogs – perhaps indeed because of it – I think the criticism is misplaced, misdirected and misinformed. The whole episode is instead a reflection of how gullible people can be swept along by a tide of emotion without pausing to consider the options and take a reasoned view. And how ready so many are to simply lash out at any organisation which might loosely be described as part of the establishment.

First of all, does anyone know how long it would have taken to AFCD dog catcher to entrap the dog and bring it to safety? Judging by their performance elsewhere with dogs, monkeys and other creatures, you are looking realistically at a delay of several hours (the unkind would say weeks). Would it have been acceptable to bring the SAR’s transport system to a halt for such a period thereby disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people?

And what would have happened to the dog once taken into official custody? The most likely outcome would have been its humane destruction after a suitable interval in the pound unless claimed by an "owner".

Which brings me to the real villains. How did the dog become a stray in the first place? If it was yet another abandoned pet, who was the irresponsible owner concerned? If it was a building site guard dog kicked off the premises once the project was finished, who were the contractor and developer and what responsibility belongs on their shoulders?

The MTRC has been under the cosh recently mostly because of delays in its various extension projects but also because of service disruptions on existing lines. On this latter point, even reliability in excess of 99.9% is not enough for some people.

I think that’s just unfair. It took great courage to order even a brief halt to services, and similar bravery to order services to resume after a short break. Hats off to the railwayman concerned. As far as I am concerned, he deserves the biscuit in this case.