MACAU (AFP) - Fears for more than 500 greyhounds cooped up at a shuttered racetrack in Macau have been reignited after a plan to rehome them hit red tape.
Some 533 greyhounds still live in cell-like kennels at the shabby Canidrome, Asia's only legal dog-racing track until it closed down last month.
Operator Yat Yuen - run by one of Macau's most powerful women - failed to find homes for the dogs despite being given two years' notice by the gambling enclave's government, which has since stepped in to run the venue and threatened to fine the firm for abandonment.
In a last-minute proposal two weeks ago, Yat Yuen announced it would redevelop a new site into a rescue centre for the greyhounds, whose plight has hit global headlines. The plan was welcomed by animal welfare campaigners.
But now the greyhounds' fate is in question once more as the government said there were "land use issues" over the proposed location because it is currently designated for industrial use only, in a major disappointment for activists.
Campaigners say a new plan submitted by Yat Yuen to split the dogs over 11 vacant villa-style private properties by the end of September is unworkable.
Albano Martins, president of Macau animal protection NGO Anima, which has pledged to care for the dogs and prepare them for adoption, said the organisation was too small to operate across scattered venues.
He said he had asked the government for the dogs to remain in the Canidrome for another year.
"The conditions are poor but they can be improved. The dogs are used to the space so it should be the best solution," Martins said.
However, a spokesman for the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau (IACM) which is currently running the Canidrome said "it is not up to us to decide" when asked about the possibility by AFP, adding that it was only managing the land temporarily and that the site had already been taken back by Macau's financial services bureau.
Macau's leader Fernando Chui said Thursday the Canidrome would be redeveloped for education and sports purposes.
Yat Yuen did not respond to AFP's questions about its new plans for the dogs.
The firm is run by Angela Leong, the fourth wife of gambling pioneer Stanley Ho and the largest shareholder in the Macau casino giant he founded, SJM.
First opened in 1931, the Canidrome's closure was a victory for those who had spent years criticising its treatment of the animals.
Activists say injured dogs went untreated and believe up to 300 greyhounds were killed each year as they reached their racing shelf-life.
Today the greyhounds that remain at the track are looked after by former Canidrome workers as well as volunteers and Anima staff.
Many of the dogs seen by AFP have patches of fur missing, skin abrasions and dental problems.
Martins said fans had been brought in to circulate air and make sure the concrete floors are not wet - one of the causes of the skin conditions.
The floors have also been sanded to make sure they do not irritate the dogs' skin, he said.
The dogs are undergoing various treatments, including desexing.
One former Anima worker, Zoe Tang, said she had resigned over her concerns that desexing procedures were being rushed so they would be completed before the dogs are moved.
IACM, the government department overseeing the operation, has denied there is a requirement to desex the dogs within a 60-day time limit.
Tang has also filed a complaint to Macau's anti-corruption bureau, which she says is against a government official who she believes was pushing the dogs to be neutered by one particular clinic for an inflated price.
Macau's Commission Against Corruption confirmed it had received a complaint "concerning the care and placement of the greyhounds".
"The future of the dogs is still unknown," Tang told AFP.
"The most important thing now is to settle a place for their relocation," she said.