Everyone believes in second chances, whether in a professional or personal context. A renewed opportunity is something we have all been thankful for at some point but what if you could provide a being with a renewed life? Irina Chan shares her experiences with animal adoption and how beyond its day-to-day joys and challenges, it is ultimately about giving our furry friends a second chance.
Mochi at present
Adopting and Adapting
Chan’s first exposure to adoption was when her family adopted a 3-month old tabby from The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) while she was studying overseas. Upon returning to Hong Kong, she met “Artemis” for the first time and learned that the feline had become her parents’ favourite. “I still remember that when I came home to spend the summer break the next year, Artemis thought that I was new to the family because she never met me before. Naturally, she considered me her “junior” and started to boss me around! There was definitely a lot of adjustment needed, but it was more than worth it,” Chan recalls. This experience of figuring out the nuances and quirks of the tabby’s personality was the origin of Chan’s continued interest in animal adoption and since then, her parents have adopted another tabby while some years later, Chan and her husband adopted two bunnies – Mochi and Doughy.
Chan’s own experience of adopting her first bunny is something she remembers vividly. “I remember that it was a quiet afternoon when we first went to the Hong Kong Rabbit Society (HKRS). Rabbits are nocturnal and spend most of the day sleeping, so most of the rabbits were taking their afternoon naps, but Mochi was wide awake and very excited to have visitors. He literally stood up inside his cage to say hello. After spending some time with Mochi, we just thought that we really “clicked” with Mochi and that he was really keen for a home! So we went ahead to apply for his adoption,” she recalls. Four years later, understanding that rabbits prefer the companionship of their fellows, Chan and her husband decided to adopt another one. “Again, we made an appointment with the HKRS, and were delighted to see Doughy, who was a very different size and breed than Mochi. Doughy was abandoned by his former owner at the door of the HKRS, with a serious liver disease that required a major operation. To have more time to observe his health, we first signed up to be his foster owners, which means that he would stay at the HKRS and we would provide financial support for his medical expenses, but we would have opportunities to visit and closely interact with him. After a few months, we thought that it was time for us to take him home. Doughy and Mochi bonded very well and are now inseparable,” she shares.
Chan finds her experience with animal adoption extremely rewarding. It has provided her with the opportunity to give a second chance to an abandoned or homeless animal as well as witness their recovery and healing first-hand. “You can see marked changes: their mood and health improve, and they will eventually open up and be able to rebuild their trust with humans. It is a wonderful experience,” she explains. Chan assisted both her bunnies in overcoming mental and physical trauma. “Both of my bunnies had been abandoned before they were taken into the HKRS. Mochi was aggressive after he first came home with us and would not let anyone go near him. He was cautious and defensive to strangers. Doughy suffered from physical illnesses and had to have a major operation. Now, they have both recovered and love a good massage by anyone! To see their recovery and transformation is one of the biggest rewards to me,” she shares.
Today, both Mochi and Doughy are very much a part of Chan’s family and the former was even a part of her wedding photoshoot. “When my husband and I got married, we included Mochi in our wedding photoshoot. His fur colour made him look like he was all suited up for the occasion!” she recalls. “Another fond memory would be when we took Mochi to a “bunny open day” organised by the HKRS. Mochi was reunited with his biological son, who was adopted by another kind family, at that event,” she adds. Chan believes that having them in her life has made her a more patient and attentive person. “Because rabbits do not make sounds and cannot vocalize discomfort, I have to observe their health closely and act swiftly if there are unusual signs,” she explains.
Animal Adoption in Hong Kong
As a firm advocate and proponent for animal welfare, Chan has her own share of thoughts on existing laws in the city – finding them dated and too lenient. “For example, the penalties for animal abuse are widely felt to be overly light and having insufficient connection to the standard of animal care that is generally expected in present-day society. Abandoning animals in streets, parks and other unsuitable places should be considered to be a form of abuse, as that can often lead to serious injuries and death, but abandonment is rarely punished under existing laws. Updating the laws is the first thing that would benefit animals in Hong Kong,” she explains.
Having said that, given the difficulties in enforcement, Chan also believes that animal welfare is a broad subject and legal tools alone cannot tackle every angle of it. “For example, while animal breeding is somewhat regulated in Hong Kong by a licensing regime, there are still existing unethical practices with breeding and selling pets that not only harm the pets being bought and sold, but more importantly, those animals that are used to breed. I have personally seen cats that have been used to breed all their life, suffering lasting physical and mental injuries as a result – these damages are often so deep that they cannot be rectified even if those animals eventually get adopted,” she shares. Instead of relying solely on law and enforcement, Chan believes the welfare of animals should be a concerted personal effort by society as a whole. “Ultimately, it comes down to raising public awareness about the potential downsides of supporting pet shops and animal breeding, and popularising the idea of adoption.
After all, animals for adoption are not “second-hand goods” but are just as good, if not better, than bought animals,” she adds. In this regard, Chan is quite optimistic as more and more people are choosing to adopt rather than buy pets. “There is even a hashtag for it - #adoptdontshop. The number of animal shelters in Hong Kong is also increasing. I certainly hope that this trend will continue to grow,” she shares.
Part of the deal is also clearing common misconceptions about adopting animals. A brand new infant pet bought at a pet store is believed to be healthier and easier to bond with – both of which are not true according to Chan. “When you adopt, you are more likely to find a healthier pet as most animal shelters do not allow adoption until an animal is old enough. Some pet shops tend to sell animals at a very young age because they would look cuter, and younger pets are sometimes preferred by buyers on the assumption that they can bond with humans more easily. But weaning too young can cause health problems, which may not surface until sometime after the pet is taken home. Animals that are adopted at an older age are equally capable of bonding well with humans – my bunnies were adults when we adopted them and they successfully bonded with us within a short time after their adoption,” she explains. “Another benefit of going to an animal shelter is that they tend to be more transparent about existing health issues of their animals, so you would also know what you are getting,” she adds.
Every adopted bunny gets a certificate!
Adopting the Lifestyle of Adopting
For those looking to adopt animals, spending time with and familiarising yourself with such animals would be a good starting point. Chan believes that adoption is very much a mutual process where the cute looks of the animal are merely a starting point. Ultimately, both the pet and the pet owner’s personalities must be compatible. “There are many NGOs and charities in Hong Kong which provide opportunities for adoption. My recommendation would be to start volunteering at these NGOs and charities – for example, the Lifelong Animal Protection Charity (LAP) and the Hong Kong Paws Foundation,” shares Chan. Besides getting accustomed to abandoned animals, understanding and being able to maintain the level of commitment that adopting an animal entails is also crucial. “I would say that a sense of commitment is the most important thing when keeping pets, bought or adopted. Domesticised animals are not well-equipped to survive in an urban environment without care and for some animals, such as rabbits, they almost always die if abandoned,” she explains. “Pets do require a lot of attention, time and money. For busy lawyers, time commitment may be the most important consideration to think about. I set aside time every day, before and after work, to care for my bunnies. This actually helped me manage my time and achieve a better balance between work and my personal life,” she adds.
In fact, Chan believes lawyers to be particularly suited for animal adoption, given their propensity for details and ability to apply rules. “This is handy when it comes to caring for pets methodologically and observing their health conditions,” she explains. She believes the legal community can get further involved in animal adoption by “holding information sessions with animal shelters to educate members on the ins-and-outs of animal adoption, informal gatherings where members can bring their pets and share their experience with each other, and by providing legal support to those charities that need it.”
Looking back at her experience so far, Chan is certain of one thing - when you adopt a pet, you are actually the one getting selected and adopted by your pet. While we can choose which pet to adopt, the pet itself is very much choosing the person they will trust in their journey towards a better life.
Young Doughy at home (he was about two years old)
Artemis, my family’s first pet.