HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Authorities in Macau, the world's largest gambling hub, said they will care for more than 600 greyhounds after their owner renounced them ahead of the closure of China's only dog-racing track on Saturday (July 21).
The move comes after a long saga between government officials in the Chinese territory, animal rights activists, and one of the enclave's most well-known businesswomen, Ms Angela Leong, the fourth wife of billionaire gaming magnate Stanley Ho.
Ms Leong, a long-standing Macau legislator and executive director of Yat Yuen, the company that operated Macau's Canidrome Club, has been criticised by animal rights groups such as Macau-based Anima, which said the greyhounds had been subject to cruel and inhumane conditions.
Yat Yuen has repeatedly rejected cruelty claims and declined requests for comment.
The Macau government said late on Thursday that Yat Yuen had failed to provide a responsible solution for the dogs despite knowing since early 2016 that the company's lease would expire. The club closes on Saturday.
"Yat Yuen has been delaying the handling and placement of the greyhound dogs. The care of the dogs has been in an uncertain state, causing public anxiety and social problems,"the government said in a statement on its website.
The government said the company would be punished under the Animal Protection Act and that authorities would ensure that the greyhounds received adequate care.
It did not elaborate on the condition of the dogs.
Ms Leong manages her husband's family businesses, including Yat Yuen, its casino operations via SJM Holdings, and operates the Macau Jockey Club horse racing franchise.
The closure of the greyhound track marks the end of yet another of the often grubby old-time gambling businesses that long defined Macau before the arrival of luxury casinos.
Anima head Albano Martins, who has been a key figure in fighting for the greyhounds' release, said his organisation was ready to assist the government to help find homes for the dogs.
"If I were the government, I should not be happy with that irresponsible decision taken for saving money. This only means what we have said for so long - the canidrome just cares for money," said Mr Martins.