Hundreds of Macau greyhounds await their forever homes

A volunteer walking with a greyhound at the shut down Canidrome Club in Macau, which was Asia's only legal dog-racing track, on July 26, 2018.
A volunteer walking with a greyhound at the shut down Canidrome Club in Macau, which was Asia's only legal dog-racing track, on July 26, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

MACAU (AFP) - On a sweltering afternoon in Macau, panting greyhounds lie in tiny concrete kennels at the gambling enclave's notorious dog-racing track, as a new plan to save them emerged following the venue's closure.

The dogs are currently walked each day by an army of dedicated volunteers from all over Macau, who have been helping out at the deserted Canidrome Club since it shut down on July 21.

Some 533 greyhounds still live at the shabby venue, which was Asia's only legal dog-racing track.

Many of those remaining have patches of fur missing, a result of sleeping on wet concrete according to activists, who say injured dogs went untreated when the Canidrome was still operating.

They believe up to 300 greyhounds were killed each year as they reached their racing shelf-life.

First opened in 1931, the track's closure was a victory for those who had spent years criticising its treatment of the animals.

But the firm which operated the track, Yat Yuen, failed to rehome the animals ahead of the shutdown, despite being given two years' notice by authorities.

Macau's angry government stepped in to guarantee the dogs' safety, slamming Yat Yuen as irresponsible and threatening heavy fines for abandoning the greyhounds.

It was a direct challenge to Ms Angela Leong, fourth wife of Macau casino pioneer Stanley Ho and a legislator in the city, who runs the company.

Yat Yuen finally seemed to cave to public and political pressure on Friday (July 27), announcing a joint proposal with Macau animal protection NGO Anima which would see the dogs looked after at the Canidrome for another two months at the firm's expense then moved to a newly renovated shelter, where any who are not adopted would be cared for until the end of their lives.

Anima would run the shelter in the Taipa area of Macau, to be called the International Centre for the Rehoming of Greyhounds, and would also be in charge of the adoption process.

Ms Leong would make a "financial commitment" to running the centre, the statement said, without giving a figure.

The plan has been submitted to the Macau government.

"We hope we can assist in rehoming all the greyhounds - we hope they will have a safe family forever," Anima board member Zoe Tang told AFP ahead of the announcement.

The adoption process for the dogs could still take as long as a year, Ms Tang said, given the medical treatments and paperwork required.

Yat Yuen organised adoption days in the weeks before the closure.

But Ms Tang says eight of the more than 100 dogs found homes through the firm's adoption drive are already back in Anima's care. One dog adopted out has died, she said, adding that adoption procedures must be properly supervised in future.

But some of the greyhounds at least have started a happier chapter.

Macau pet shop owner Fei Chan, one of the volunteers at the Canidrome, adopted two of the dogs in the last few weeks.

When she took in female greyhounds BoBo, 9, and Choi Choi, 8, they had skin conditions and some of their teeth had to be removed because they were rotten, she says.

They are now recovering and roam gently around her store.

"I thought: 'Why not let them live in our pet shop, and educate our customers about the good things we discovered in our greyhounds?'" Ms Chan told AFP.

"In the end, I see no difference between greyhounds and other dogs. The ferocity of greyhounds only came from the training humans gave them. Why can't we teach them the other way around and tame them?" Another Canidrome volunteer, Ms Georgina Lao, who is considering adopting a greyhound, dropped into the shop to spend time with the pair of dogs.

She is still undecided on whether to take in a greyhound of her own because she is looking after a baby at home.

But Ms Lao says her volunteer work has opened her eyes to a gentler side of the dogs.

"I found them very polite - like well-trained soldiers," Ms Lao told AFP.

"Even when they want to dash out, as soon as you tell them to they will follow you back. They are very affectionate and very kind."