Hong Kong police have quashed suggestions that their dogs have either died or fallen sick as a direct result of tear gas being fired during protests. On Thursday morning, the force posted a 20-second video on Facebook, showing a police dog playing and following basic instructions.
The clip, which quickly attracted thousands of views, was aimed at dispelling rumours that some dogs had been harmed or died as a result of police action in protests. The video said: “We understand public concern about police dogs’ health, so every handler takes good care of his or her “partner”. Never believe in unverified rumour!”
But many Facebook users left comments on the video, asking police to stop using dogs in protests. The police video came after pictures surfaced of a riot police officer wearing a mask, with a panting dog not wearing a mask, at Monday’s protests where tear gas was fired.
Animal concern groups have since urged police to stop deploying dogs during protest operations, warning they also suffer the effects of tear gas – skin allergies, a burning throat, nose and mouth. In a statement, Hong Kong Dog Rescue said it strongly condemned the use of police dogs in areas where tear gas or other irritants were deployed, describing it as “animal abuse” and “cruelty”.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said it noticed police dogs at protests since early August, and had twice sent a letter to police urging them to stop and explain how they are protecting the canines.
Mark Mak, chairman of Non-profit-making Veterinary Services Society, said he was not optimistic that the police would stop using dogs at protests, and he was considering applying for an injunction order against such animal use.
“From their point of view, the dogs are just tools who are supposed to do their job regardless of their health and well-being,” Mak said. “It is obviously against the animals’ welfare.”
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said she believed police dog handlers treated their partners well, and the force would communicate any issues with the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department. Hong Kong’s police dog unit keeps more than 200 dogs of six different breeds, which serve different purposes.
For example, German Shepherd patrol dogs help in situations such as street brawls, while Springer Spaniels with their superior sense of smell act as search dogs for narcotics and explosives. Belgian Malinois and Rottweilers have been seen assisting police in protests since August.