Feature Story - Driving Animal Welfare Journey to the Far Corners of Hong Kong!

Five days a week for the past 17 years, three members from the Veterinary Department and a 16-ton truck have set off on a journey to tackle what seemed at times to be an insurmountable problem. Over the years, the truck has driven thousands of miles to all corners of Hong Kong, sometimes crossing rough terrain to reach remote villages. The team always did their best with the limited time they had, barely having a minute to rest and eat as they completed one desexing operation after another in a well-equipped but tiny and confined space. Throughout Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories, over 56,000*animals have been desexed, an amazing feat all things considered! Let’s review this extraordinary journey.

 

Convenient and Inexpensive Spay-Neuter Services Targeting the Root Problem!

In the 1990s, there was a serious issue with over-breeding of animals in the community. Thousands of unwanted puppies and kittens were born every year posing a huge challenge for animal welfare. This problem was particularly rampant in the New Territories, especially in remote areas. Many residents kept animals in a free-roaming style, resulting in groups of dogs and cats living around villages and work sites. The owners often lacked an understanding of animal sterilisation or were unwilling to desex their pets, and sadly these problems were compounded by a lack of veterinary services nearby. Animals were allowed to reproduce indiscriminately, creating a vicious cycle, causing great harm to animals and sometimes damaging the relationship and coexistence of humans and animals in the area.

In September 2002, the SPCA launched its mobile desexing service taking the lead in introducing the first animal welfare spay-neuter vehicle in Hong Kong and the region. The vehicle made full and efficient use of available space decked out with all the surgical equipment required for its mission. The skillful design incorporated a preparation table, an operating table and 27 recovery cages. The commissioning of the vehicle allowed us to reach out to villages in the New Territories and provide residents with low-cost desexing services. Over time free microchip implantation, dog license application and rabies vaccination were added to our services. The problem of over-population has literally been “snipped” in the bud!

 

Performing Multiple Operations

Apart from being able to access remote areas, the vehicle’s versatility enabled it to support a number of the Society’s animal welfare programmes, including the Cat Colony Care, Mongrel Desexing and the Community Dog Programme. Whenever there was a large-scale desexing mission, the Animal Welfare Vehicle would play an important role, helping to carry out desexing operations in specific areas, thus relieving animals from the stress of having to travel. Over the years, the Animal Welfare Vehicle has visited the restricted border zone, travelled to Lantau, served a large number of animal shelters and assisted with “Cat Nips” at locations including the Tong Fuk Correctional Institution, Shek Pik Prison, Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre, Shek O and the Shatin Jockey Club.

In addition, the Animal Welfare Vehicle has from time to time transformed into a mobile education centre for the SPCA, spreading the message of responsible pet ownership, the benefits of desexing and various animal welfare concepts.

 

Successful Retirement – but the Same Service Remains

Over 17 years of service, the Animal Welfare Vehicle has never increased its low-cost fees, aiming to encourage and support the public in their responsibilities. Our aim is that every pet is desexed and has a caring home for life, coupled with improving the welfare and health of stray animals through desexing. During this time we have seen the desexing rate of cats and dogs rise to 77% and 82%** respectively, the vehicle has without doubt played a big part in this success story!

As mentioned, the Animal Welfare Vehicle has been silently helping animals, operating non-stop every week since 2002. We would like to express our sincerest gratitude to the Sir Robert Ho Tung Charitable Fund and EXTRA TRADING COMPANY LTD. for their generous donations enabling us to build the first Animal Welfare Vehicle. The vehicle has been operating smoothly and effectively over the years, but inevitably it has come to the end of its operational lifespan, the demand for maintenance of its support systems has also increased, which have impacted daily operations. However, with the generous support of the Andrew Sung On Ng Charity Fund we were able to plan for a new vehicle to continue our mission. The fund representative Ms. Albert Isabella recognises the importance providing mobile spay-neuter services, so that more pets can be desexed at low cost, effectively curbing the problem of overpopulation. With this belief in mind, Ms. Albert Isabella and the Andrew Sung On Ng Charity Fund donated a brand new vehicle to the Society. The Animal Welfare Vehicle was officially retired on 16 June of this year, and has been succeeded by a brand new truck. The new vehicle is more spacious and is equipped with extra surgical and support facilitates. Including the addition of a second operating table, an admission table, tailgate lift, a widened entrance, two canopies to provide shade and a reverse air-conditioning/ventilation system. These new facilities increase the space for clients and clinical operations, allowing the veterinary team to carry out procedures in a more efficient and patient-customer friendly manner. Meeting the needs of owners and their pets more closely and providing a spacious and comfortable environment for post-surgery recovery.

The vehicle will uphold its mission to promote the message of “being a responsible owner”, encouraging residents in the New Territories and beyond to desex their pets, plus continuing to support various animal welfare programmes helping control animal reproduction more efficiently in the community.

Three team members and the truck still set off five days a week on their journey to the far corners of Hong Kong, driving to improve animal welfare non-stop! If you wish to use the mobile Spay and Neuter Vehicle, please call 2232 5513 to make an appointment.

Remark:
* Data as of 19th June 2020
* Figures from Census and Statistics Department

 

Thank You for Being There Along the Way

The first-generation Animal Welfare Vehicle has retired, and the new Spay and Neuter Vehicle immediately took to the road, enabling the Society to continue to provide citizens with cheap and convenient animal desexing services. This is all due to Ms. Albert Isabella, an enthusiastic member who has supported the work of the SPCA for many years. Ms. Albert Isabella is the representative of the Andrew Sung On Ng Charity Fund. She loves animals and is committed to volunteer work, caring for animals in need, and has vigorously supported our “Animal Sponsorship Programme”, inspector and animal rescue services. More than two years ago she adopted a senior 11-year old female Maltese named Dor Dor from the Society, so that she can enjoy her remaining years in a home filled with love.

When Ms. Albert Isabella learnt that the Society urgently needed resources to replace the Animal Welfare Vehicle, she promised to support the project without hesitation, because she knew that desexing animals, especially stray or vulnerable animals, is the most important step in caring for them. On the eve of the second-generation animal desexing vehicle being put into service, Ms. Albert Isabella visited us and took a tour of the vehicle to understand the operation process. She praised the hard work of the team and asked us to seek greater welfare for the animals. We are very grateful to Ms. Albert Isabella for her generous donation and long-term support for the Society’s work. The second-generation Spay and Neuter Vehicle will travel far and wide for animals.

 

Brand New Spay and Neuter Vehicle Design Concept

The body design of the new vehicle uses animal footprints to display green grass on a dark blue back ground, this is intended to symbolise that animal reproduction continues to bring a lot of new life.The red termination sign placed in the middle, represents the mission of the vehicle to prevent this excessive reproduction of animals. There are also photos of Ms. Albert Isabella beloved pet dogs - Susie, Dor Dor, Momo and Lucia, to represent the Andrew Sung On Ng Charity Fund’s role in protecting animals.

 


 

Being part of the team that developed Hong Kong’s first mobile veterinary surgical unit veterinary surgeon Dr. Woodhouse says, “20 years ago, when coming up with the concept for the Animal Welfare Vehicle we did not have any local examples to refer to and relied on our experience and overseas examples. At the time, we considered how to fit the surgical equipment in a confined tiny space, safety when driving and the possibility of remote operations with the team needing to stay overnight. Over the past 17 years, focusing purely on sterilisation operations the performance of the vehicle and the team has been exceptional and the impact has exceeded our expectations. Recognising the programme’s important contribution and the need to continue we started to work on a replacement using our years of operating experience - working with the chassis supplier and body builder to maximize interior space and include new elements. We adjusted position of the generator and the cab size to increase space available to humans and animals and added heating to the air conditioning system. A tailgate lift can facilitate the entry and exit of large dogs or a large number of animals, and canopies help to take care of the needs of owners who may have to wait outside on sunny or rainy days. User friendliness was the key design consideration.”

Dr. Fiona Woodhouse
SPCA Deputy Director (Welfare Department)

 


 

Having worked at the SPCA since the early 90s, Dr. Jane was one of the first veterinary surgeons to perform surgery on the original mobile vehicle. Recalling the experience, Dr. Jane says, “It was a great honour to be one of the first vets to operate on the vehicle, especially as the concept was completely new to Hong Kong. Apart from the space factor there is basically no difference between performing an operation in the Animal Welfare Vehicle and a regular operating theatre, in fact “escaping” on the Vehicle to areas of Hong Kong I had never been to before made an exciting change from working in a busy hospital. I am really proud to have been involved in all the SPCA’s desexing initiatives, which have without doubt made a massive difference – reducing overpopulation and improving the health and welfare of dogs and cats”.

Dr. Jane Gray
SPCA Deputy Director (Veterinary Services) & Chief Veterinary Surgeon

 


 

It has been 14 years since Teresa founded RCAP, it continues to be a real struggle with new dogs arriving regularly especially during the breeding season. It is a very difficult job to cope with so many orphaned puppies one after another. In particular, the desexing of dogs at the shelter was a big financial and operational burden for the centre. Teresa recalls, “In the past, every time we needed to send dogs for desex, a great deal of effort would be involved. We had to make an appointment with a private vet clinic, and then arrange for volunteers and vehicles. We could only bring three dogs to desex each time, which not only took time and money, but the transport was also stressful for the dogs involved.” In recent years, the Animal Welfare Vehicle has been booked 4 times, the vehicle has driven directly to the shelter and has desexed over 40 dogs, which not only lowered the dogs’ stress, but also saved time and money. Teresa hopes that if the initiative is expanded and more mobile desexing services for shelters are available, more dogs can be helped.

Teresa Wong
Rescue Centre for Abandoned Pets Limited (RCAP) Founder

 


 

About the Animal Welfare Vehicle

The daily work schedule is generally a full nine hours. The mobile surgery also requires extra effort compared to a regular static operating theatre as the vehicle has to travel to and return from a different location every day, and be cleaned and re-stocked in preparation for the next day’s work. At 8:00 am each day, the vehicle departs the Wan Chai centre to its destination. From 9:00 am, it meets with owners and animals scheduled for surgery, one by one the patients are examined, admitted and their surgeries scheduled. The goal is to finish all the work so the animals can be discharged by 5pm and the vehicle can return to base. The time is very tight, but the criteria and operating standards are the same as those in a regular operating theatre! It’s an excellent combination of great teamwork and a slick operating schedule….all hands on deck!