Dr John Wedderburn, together with other experienced volunteers, has tried his best to control the population of stray cats and dogs on Lamma Island for over 2 decades. In 2008, the Agricultural and Fisheries Conservation Department (AFCD) encouraged these volunteers to carry out Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return (TNVR) programmes. AFCD even lent animal cages to help trapping the animals yet the policy was changed all of a sudden.
On 25th November, 2011, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) intended to introduce Lo So Shing as one of the TNVR trial plots in Hong Kong. On that day, Dr John had a call from a local of Lo So Shing, stating that AFCD officials had caught two puppies and would send them to their animal detention centre.
Dr John, knowing that the puppies would be euthanized within 4 days, rushed to the centre. He had to “adopt” the dogs in his name. This meant he was forced to admit a crime of leaving dogs unleashed. The environment was terribly undesirable. Dr John had no options but to ask the officials to implant microchips into the dogs in order to save their lives.
Dr John had further brought the puppies to a registered veterinarian clinic for neutering operation, vaccination and deworming treatment at his own expense. Regrettably, on 6th December, 2011, the puppies fled up to the hill, making Dr John realize that they were having a family reunion.
On 14th December, 2011, the puppies were caught by the AFCD officials again. Dr John had to redeem the puppies again as he did not wish to see any euthanasia. Likewise, he was charged with leaving his dogs unleashed.
Dr John believed that the AFCD officials had partially selected simple cases since they had enough of his information, not because of the complaints from the locals. Since Dr John’s puppies had been neutered, they would be less aggressive and much easier to catch. It is noticeable that neutered animals are generally quieter and tamer. They would not be the subject of complaints compared with the wild ones which were more likely to bark and cause dog bites. AFCD picked Dr John for this reason.
Dr John also believed that the AFCD officials were serving the public only in response of complaints they have received, not giving accounts for the problem of nuisance. Dr John saw no way to admit the guilt and determined to defend, in light of the fact that charging him of leaving stray dogs unleashed is groundless. Stray dogs, by definition, have no owners. Volunteers have no obligation to leash stray dogs even.
Furthermore, Dr John denounced that the AFCD had its initial steps to work with SPCA on the pursuit of TNVR programme on Lamma Island yet the former one did not keep its promise. The programme turned out to be still-birth. On the other hand, TNVR programme held solely by non-government sponsored volunteers would not fail.
There have been no cases of Rabies for over 2 decades in Hong Kong but the AFCD has manipulated Rabies Ordinance (CAP 421) to prosecute Dr John.
Dr John truly believes that this law should not be used against devoted volunteers who have dedicated their time and resources for the betterment of stray animals; the government has yet to propose far-reaching plans to assist these constructive volunteers.
“I am a 71 yr old medical doctor who has lived and worked in Hong Kong since 1973. I became interested in animal welfare in the late 1980s. I have twice been vice-chair of HKSPCA and have founded many new animal protection organizations. I am a dog saver not a dog abandoner. All of the organizations I have founded or worked with have always worked strictly within the law. I have never in my whole life committed any offence of any kind, major or minor. And I am very upset that I am facing this charge now. I have several eminent witnesses who are willing to come to attest to my bona fides as an animal welfare worker and the unlikelihood of my ever putting any dog or human in harm’s way by my actions. My motivation in helping this puppy was to save her from death at the hands of the AFCD staff.”
UPDATE: 2 August
The Magistrate at Eastern Magistracy found him not guilty of the charges brought by AFCD