(VIDEO) Bowen Road Dog Poisoner: Why are the poisoners still at large?

Around 6 a.m. on a beautiful Sunday morning in 1995, lawyer Jonathan Midgley was walking his dogs on Bowen Road, a popular dog-walking road in the Mid-levels when he came across a Chinese man with a pink plastic supermarket bag who appeared to be putting down food on the ground.

The man, approximately in his mid-40s, had a particularly round face, spoke broken English and wore cotton blue tops and matching bottoms. As Midgley was suspicious and challenged him politely, the man responded that he as an animal lover was here to “feed the birds and animals that are around”.

Very soon after the man departed, Midgley’s dog Ruth began to shake and foam. Midgley gathered up some of the food and took it to the university for testing. And a cocktail of poisons was found.

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Midgley’s dog Ruth was poisoned shortly after his encounter with “a weird-acting man”.

Since the 1990s, poisonous baits have been continuously found in the popular dog-walking areas, Bowen Road and Black Link’s areas. At least 200 dogs have been poisoned and the perpetrator remains at large.

“The big problem with this type of poisoning incidents is that it tends to be a crime that occurs at a distance from the victim. The bait can be laid a day or so before the dog actually gets around to eating it,” Fiona Woodhouse, SPCA Director of Animal Welfare said. “So it can be very difficult to identify potential suspects with the incidents because there may be a big time gap available.”

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Bowen Road is one of the most popular dog-walking area in Mid-level.

SPCA, Hong Kong’s largest animal non-profit, has taken various strategies looking into the poisonings. Apart from visual patrols by security guards, the organisation has had undercover patrols with inspectors and volunteers pretending to be hikers around the areas. A reward of $200,000 is also offered to capture the poisoner.

Amanda Whitfort, associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong who specialises in animal-related crimes, believes that it all has to do with the outmoded animal laws in Hong Kong.

“Cap. 169 hasn’t been amended since it was introduced into Hong Kong back in the 1930s. It has a very out-of-date view as to what is animal cruelty. It only thinks about cruelty in the same way that the Victorians thought about cruelty.” Whitfort said.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, also known as Cap. 169, was modelled after the British Protection Act of 1911 drafted a century ago. Under this ordinance, only averted acts of cruelty are recognised, such as cruelly beating and kicking.

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Protection of Animals Act 1911 was passed in 1911 in the U.K. to prevent merely outright cruelty  such as overdriving animals or beating animals.

“You have to be able to prove that there was an averted acts of cruelty involving that event with that animal in order to prosecute the poisoner, which is difficult to prove to the criminal recurrence and standards and beyond all reasonable doubt at court,” she said. “Unless he is caught in the act it will be very difficult to prosecute him under the current law.”

Whitfort suggests an amendment to the law to ensure the person caught can be prosecuted simply for leaving the meat behind, regardless of whether they are seen at the crime or that there is any other kind of witness who can provide evidence of “that was the particular individual who poisoned that particular dog”.

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Amanda Whitfort thinks that it is difficult to prosecute people who left poisonous bait behind as one has to be proved cruel with proof for the intention to cause cruelty, under the current law.

A combination of outdated laws and poisoning cases that show no signs of stopping has put the government under fire, with dog owners blaming them for taking a passive role. Sarah James, who has had three occasions when her two dogs Holly and Max were poisoned on Bowen Road, is one of them.

“I don’t think the government are animal lovers. If they were, perhaps they would take these crimes more seriously,” she said. “It’s a shame that they don’t realise how much love we have for them and how much we care, and how much pain this poisoner causes us.”

“It shouldn’t matter if it was a human. If this kind of thing happen to a human they would of course call it a crime. But just because it’s a dog they don’t care? It’s not right.” she added.

Midgley also described the police as “not being terribly interested” in the poisoning when his dog got poisoned.

“They weren’t interested to take a statement,” he said. “They became interested actually when Chris Patten’s dog Whiskey was hurt by the poisoning. And at that point they became very interested in the whole thing.”

And poisoning incidents never left town. In April 2018, 10 dogs were found dead in Fanling due to suspected poisoning.

While public demand for the government to do something escalates, legislator Claudia Mo was pessimistic about the future of local animal laws after a one-on-one meeting with Chief Executive Carrie Lam when she took office last year.

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Claudia Mo is pessimistic about Carrie Lam’s eagerness to work on improving animal rights during her current term.

“The impression I got at the time is that Carrie Lam couldn’t care less about animal welfare or animal rights. She’s got too much already on her plate.” Mo said. “She just couldn’t have the time nor the energy, and probably not the heart to deal with it.”

“I would suspect that in the next four years of her term,  Carrie Lam is unlikely to do anything to upgrade Hong Kong’s laws.” she said.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Lawrence Wong says:

    I appreciate this article contributed in connection with dog welfare. There are various measures to tackle the issue such as web cam surveillance, regular patrol … etc. I however would like to share my thought at another angle. This is undoubtedly correct that the law is outdated. But I think any kinds of appropriate and effective law and fund appropriation should impress the public that all offenders should be caught-able as well as the the penalty is enforceable and sufficient. I don’t see any precedent case in this regard suggested the penalty is effective enough to punish the wrongdoing. Equally important, an enforceable law should convince the public any offender is caught-able. Two years ago, lego members did not follow the animal welfare stakeholders’ opinion to implement animal police idea; among other well developed cities, police to public ratio in Hong Kong is the highest, we have very sufficient law enforcement establishment for law and order but we even have no one single government office to safeguard animal welfare. I can imagine if dogs and cats will be able to join protest on the street, SAR Government will think otherwise.

    Secondly, our society does not have respectable standard of animal friendly policy: dog is not allowed at public transport, shopping mall, and even cafeteria; as well as not enough trash can for canine excrement disposal. Needless to say, we even don’t have a consensus to allow all residential area including public housing estate for pet. For instance, Germany is fairly dog friendly country, many places allows dog, but the Government also imposed a strict system to require dog owner to apply for registration; their law also requires all dog owners need to walk their dog at least once for every three days. As a dog owner in Hong Kong, I sometimes feel a bit confused that many dog owners has been doing very hard to raise their four legged family members. Cited for an example, I had helped a friend to run district councilor election two years ago, I found many households at public housing estate raised dog when I helped to deliver election flyers to each flat, those dogs are quiet, but they are not officially permitted under the shadow of an old fashion regulation by Housing Authority, Hong Kong being a populated and busy city, having a pet at home can definitely help to relieve pressure from our daily life.

    My opinion is that unless the government change their old fashion mindset about animal welfare, I find no hope for giving our pets a better life. We need to educate public about animal welfare.

    Last but not the least, I found we have too many animals concern groups Why don’t we centralize our resources?

    Thanks

    Lawrence Wong

    Liked by 1 person

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