立場新聞 Stand News

一隻狗的故事與香港中產善變的態度 A dog’s life, and changing attitudes among Hong Kong’s middle class.

2017/11/29 — 12:09

編按:這故事是關於 Evan 家中小狗——雖然可能只是軼事,但亦悲哀地反映了香港變遷,是其中一件顯示出這個城市擁有特權的人之間表現出越來越自我中心與不合理態度的事。

This is the story of Evan’s family dog. It is a story that reflects sadly on a way Hong Kong has changed. It may be anecdotal, but it is one of many that demonstrate an increasing ego and unreasonableness among the city’s more privileged people.

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It is half past eight, and I am just back from walking my dog. She’s a cocker spaniel with a ginger mane. I sat on the sofa. She curled up beside me, her head tucked beside her warm body. Her eyes half open slowly close. This is her story.

13 years ago we welcomed her as a small puppy into our family. My sister, then a teenager, christened her Ginny after the girl in the Harry Potter stories. They both have golden ginger hair.

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Ginny

Ginny

At the time I lived with my brother, sister and our parents in the family apartment. By Hong Kong standards the apartment is part of a small and older development of four blocks set on a hillside with substantial private grounds. Close by paths connected to several walking trails. Since our family moved here over a decade before there had always been dogs — it was a dog friendly neighbourhood, and over 40 dogs lived in the estate itself.

Ginny soon had many friends, of both species. The security guards soon came to love our affectionate little dog, who would roll over beside them wanting a tummy rub. For many years, when my mother cooked a special meal, she would make a little extra to share with the guards. They were always very appreciative. Now in a beautiful example of paying it back, they bought dog treats, that they gave to our dog and no doubt others dogs in our block.

Ginny introduced my family to many of our neighbours. One of the great charms of walking a dog is the opportunities for friendship that this brings, not only with other dog owners but also with people, and especially children, who take joy from seeing a tame and loving animal.

Dogs are special. First domesticated 15,000 years ago, dogs have evolved to be sensitive to and responsive to human emotions. Over thousands of generations they have been bred to relate to humans in a way no other animal can. Indeed, it is now believed that dogs are better at reading human emotions than other human beings, and are also more emotionally responsive to feelings. Dogs feel a spectrum of emotions as wide as our own, and like us, dogs also dream.

For her first 10 years Ginny had a good life with my family. Then we were surprised to receive a letter from the estate management asking that we “remove” our dog within 2 weeks or face possible legal action. Apparently one resident owner, a recently retired senior civil servant who had herself once had a dog, had discovered that the deeds as written nearly 40 years ago stated that the estate was not to allow dogs. There had been no incident warranting this sudden demand; no dog had defecated in the building, nor barked loudly at night.

When we replied that the demand was unreasonable and that we would not be removing our dog, the management office, clearly unable to see our point, presented my family photographic “evidence” of our family keeping a dog. I was photographed reading a book in the spring sunshine with Ginny lying asleep on the grass next to me. More worryingly, we were also shown photographs of our dog at home, taken with a telescopic lens. Apparently the complainant’s husband is an amateur photographer.

After some deliberation the estate owners committee, chaired by a dog owner, decided to take a more sensible approach and published a dogs owners guide that all dog owners would be asked to sign. The guide insisted that dogs be on short leash and muzzled at all times whilst in the estate; not be allowed in the main lifts or use the main entrance to each block, but take the “work mans” lift and use only the back door; and that their ingress and egress of the estate must be made as quickly as possible. If any dog owner violated these terms, a warning letter would be issued. Three warning letters and legal action would be taken to have the dogs removed.

My parents signed. These restrictions alone greatly affected our relationship with Ginny. Restricted as she was every time she left the apartment left her literally brow beaten. She strained to run towards guards who had once played with her, but who know where ordered to ignore her. The dog treats stopped.

Over the course of a few weeks her spirit sapped away. She began to walk less and less, and instead spending much of the day slumped in her basket. She no longer jumped up on the sofa to snuggle. She stopped jumping at all. Soon she stopped moving.

Meanwhile we were sent a warning letter. The complainant’s husband had from his balcony photographed my father stopping momentarily upon entering the estate to greet a neighbour and friend. The moment had lasted as long as it takes to say “hello”.

We also began to hear stories. One dog owner claimed the complainant had tried to run over her dog one morning as she tried to cross the road. Others said that rat poison was being laid around the estate in places to tempt dogs. No evidence was ever presented. But with the complainant adamantly refusing to meet anyone but the estate manager, there was little opportunity to lay these stories to rest.

The environment became poisonous. Several dog owners left. But there were many who still choose to stay, including my parents. Some, like a gay American couple with three small dogs, had not yet qualified for permanent residency in Hong Kong when they bought their flat, and would be taxed for seemingly flipping properties should they have sold; others, the elderly lady on the top floor of our block, had lived there for nearly 40 years, and felt too old to go through the trauma of moving to a new home. Many also shared with my parents a sense that it was just not right to leave in such circumstances, and that they should not be bullied out of a place that they had made their home.

Then when a new estate owners committee were voted in, the complainant began to turn the screw. She threatened the estate management and the new committee with legal action for not enforcing the deeds, and demanded again that all dogs be removed immediately. Ignoring the tacit understandings that had been reached with the previous committee and the implementation of the dog owners guide, legal letters were sent to all dog owners again demanding that dogs be removed with 14 days. Legal action was threatened.

The new committee included three dog owners, yet all soon resigned as it became clear the chairman, who was not a dog owner, had decided to side with the complainant. Meetings were convened without the knowledge of those dog-owning committee members, and votes taken in their absence.

I meet the chairman. A factory owner who had done well from his business, he boasted to my family during a day spent on his boat of his membership of private clubs. There were two types of people, he said: those who are club members and those who are not. “Those non-members just don’t understand things as we do,” he said. Frankly, though they were too polite to say, my parents didn’t understand things in the way he does either.

On the “dog issue” his line was certain as that of the establishment: the deed says no dogs, and that is the law. There was nothing more to say.

Having failed to appeal to his heart, several dog owners appealed to me to meet the committee and appeal to reason. I informed them that it was common practice in public housing estates, which also by deed do not allow for dogs, that should the rules not have been enforced, existing dogs owners are allowed to keep their dogs to live out the remainder of their lives, but no new dogs would be allowed. I also pointed out that this was consistent with the way the courts generally decided in such cases that had been heard.

When I had finished, the committee, who had seemed distracted whilst I spoke, all now turned to the chairman who, without a word of thanks, simply repeated his line: “The deed says no dogs.” And that was the end of the meeting. There was no discussion. Not a murmur of consideration, criticism or challenge was heard from a committee compromising of supposedly educated and professional people.

But our home has changed fundamentally. The young have become radicalised in heart, if not always in action. And the old, my parents generation, in whose hands so much of Hong Kong is owned and shaped, have adopted the ways of our new power brokers.

This was most disgracefully on show at the most recent estate owners Annual General Meeting when an American resident and property owner tried to raise the same points I had raised privately with the committee. A few members in what had been a quiet crowd rang out in Cantonese as he began to speak.

“If you can’t speak Chinese then go home, foreigner,” rang one voice, “this is no longer England now.”

Another voice rang “shut up you homo!”

The American, unable to comprehend what was being said but feeling the hostility in the room back down. A small and vocal minority had come with the issue already decided. The chairman grinned, and added his own contribution to the homophobic slur. Watching my eyes began to water, and I left.

Not a single person, even among other dog owners and our friends, batted an eye at what had just been said. Some looked cowed, and others in awe at the spectacle of power.

Ginny now lives with me, in a small apartment I share with my wife Jennifer. Our estate, in a far less salubrious neighbourhood, allows dogs. Once again, for the past year, she has had many friends, both human and canine. She is again greeted each time she goes out by our security guards. Now it is Mr Lum and not Mr Lui who rubs her tummy. “You’re a real lady,” he says.

Living with us Ginny and I have discovered the delights of the school bus run, whose passengers delight at playing with her. Even those children initially afraid of dogs will now happily stand beside her stroking her golden hair. By contrast, those children living at my parents estate have slowly disappeared behind shaded windows — they are now driven to school, activities groups and, no doubt, private clubs. The treehouse my brother’s generation of children made on the hillside has slowly been dismantled as expatriate families and their dogs left.

With love, Ginny has again begun to walk. She jumps up on the sofa to snuggle between Jennifer and me. Sunday afternoons she snoozes to the soothing arias and sonatas of BBC radio 3. Every day she gives me love and asks for nothing in return.

Every few days my parents visit. They come by see the family dog. Somedays they take her for a walk, or for a long drive around the New Territories. When she sees them Ginny howls. It is a bittersweet sound.

Ginny cannot go home. She can no longer play with Mr Lui, the security guard, who showered her with as much affection as anyone. I still see him when I go home for family meals, and he never seems anymore to smile.

This may be one story, but it is one of many. I have heard many such stories. A member of a dog association has told me that she deals with many golden retrievers put up for adoptions for the same reasons: the sudden and uncompromising enforcement of regulations that had for years and with no negative consequence been ignored. People, I am constantly being told, are changing.

Earlier this year I was with my family when one of my mother’s lunch friends, the wife of a well known doctor, ran into us waiting for the lift. She had been at the annual general meeting. Out of curiosity I asked her what she thought, knowing that our family had a dog and also how much my mother, my good friend, loves her.

“I don’t care,” she replied, “I don’t like dogs. The place is much better now that I know I won’t see any dogs when I walk to my car.”

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