More than 100 abandoned dogs bark and jump as if competing for the attention of their potential adopters inside the Hong Kong Dog Rescue centre.
The energetic canines include a golden retriever that used to live with a family in their 350-square-foot (32-square-metres) flat, typical in this densely populated city of seven million.
Advertisement"I asked the owners how often they walked the dog. They said 'never'," Sally Andersen, founder of the centre, told AFP.
The dog was not vaccinated, did not have a licence, and was already demonstrating behavioural problems due to the lack of care, she said.
"We took that dog into our centre. I can't let a dog live in that condition. It's awful."
"That's the sort of things we deal with all the time -- a total lack of understanding of what dogs need," she added.
Animal groups say abandonment has become an increasingly serious problem in Hong Kong with a lack of living space often cited as the key reason behind owners dumping the family pet.
"People in Hong Kong tend to live in small flats, with a few generations living under one roof," said Fiona Woodhouse, deputy director of welfare services at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Hong Kong.
"Problems will come when one person in the family doesn't like animals."
Now the dog rescue centre itself is facing desperate circumstances. It has to move to a temporary site on Saturday because its former address is being turned into a private home for the elderly, prompting a desperate hunt for a permanent location.
The number of abandoned dogs and cats at the government's animal management centres has dropped -- 3,180 last year compared with 4,870 in 2006 -- but Andersen said people could just be turning to animal welfare groups such as her centre which have a "no-kill" policy.
Hong Kong's government says pets in their animal centres that are unsuitable for re-homing and unclaimed after four days are put down.
The pet-dumping problem has been exacerbated by young people who buy impulsively after seeing cute, fluffy puppies in pet shop windows.
Sometimes the animal is a gift for a girlfriend or boyfriend but becomes the first "casualty" when the couple breaks up, said Woodhouse.
In 2006 -- the Year of the Dog on the Chinese calendar -- animal rights groups raised concerns after seeing a surge in the number of impulse buys.
Since 2003, the government has prohibited public housing residents from keeping dogs in their flats to improve environmental hygiene.
But in a report released in April, the Audit Commission said there were almost 13,000 suspected cases of unauthorised dogs in public housing flats.
Owners who refuse to claim an abandoned pet or are found guilty of improper care of an animal can be jailed for up to six months and fined almost 1,300 US dollars. But only two people had been prosecuted in the past three years, the Commission report said.
The tiny number of prosecutions was usually explained by a lack of evidence, said a spokeswoman for the city's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
"Prosecution could only be instituted if there was sufficient evidence," she said.
Andersen is calling on the government for tighter animal welfare laws.
"Hong Kong is now a pet-owning society, particularly a dog-owning society. But no provision is being made for that," she said.
Pet shop owners should also introduce a customer screening test to ensure that they have the money and suitably sized home for a pet, Woodhouse added.
"To have a pet is not a right, but a luxury, a responsibility."
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