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Heartbreak as Hong Kong pet owners give up hamsters for Covid cull

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Hong Kong (AFP) – Time was running out for Pudding.

The hamster, a new addition to the Hau family, was to be given up to Hong Kong authorities for culling after rodents in a pet shop tested positive for coronavirus – leaving Pudding’s 10-year-old owner wailing in grief.

“I don’t want to, I don’t want to,” the boy cried, his head buried in his hands as he crouched next to Pudding’s pink cage, according to a video shown to AFP by his father.

But the older Hau, who would only provide his last name, said he was worried about his elderly family members who live in the same household.

“I have no choice – the government made it sound so serious,” he told AFP, shortly before entering a government-run animal management centre to submit Pudding.

He was among a steady trickle of Hong Kong pet owners arriving outside the facility on Wednesday (Jan 19) afternoon to give up their unsuspecting furry friends.

Hong Kong on Tuesday ordered 1,000 animals in a pet shop to be culled, along with another 1,000 hamsters in other shops across the city.

Authorities also urged owners to turn in any hamsters purchased after December 22 to be put down.

The decision comes after the discovery of Covid-positive hamsters in the store. Authorities said an employee had contracted the Delta variant – now rare in the territory – and they ordered the cull as a “precautionary measure”.

Process my emotions

Like mainland China, Hong Kong adheres to a staunch “zero-Covid” policy, intolerant of even the merest appearance of the virus in the population of more than seven million.

But the government’s latest target appears especially harsh, and swift rebukes from outraged animal lovers have pinged across social media pages.

The mood Wednesday among parents waiting to give up their pets for “humane disposal” was more forlorn.

“It began as something happy, we bought (the hamster) so the kid can have some company,” a father, who provided only his surname Tsui, told AFP.

“Now it has come to this.” He and his wife had gifted Marshmallow – a grey twitchy-nosed hamster scurrying through plastic tubes – to their five-year-old son.

“It feels like I’m ending a life,” Tsui said, adding that he did not dare break the news of Marshmallow’s fate to his son.

“I need to process my own emotions before I know what to say to my kid.” He added he was disappointed the government did not offer alternatives, such as teaching people how to properly quarantine their pets.

Save as many as we can

Hong Kong’s hamster hunt has led activists and animal lovers to fret over pets being dumped on the streets en masse for fear of contracting the virus.

Cheung, 32, is part of an online community of Hong Kong hamster owners who have volunteered to foster any abandoned due to the policy.

“It’s devastating. I couldn’t sleep last night, because I really love small animals,” he told AFP, providing only his last name over fears about criticising the government’s policy.

Hong Kong already has a problem with overwhelmed first-time pet owners deserting their furry companions, and Cheung said the numbers are likely to spike after the policy.

His own two-year-old hamster, Ring, is safe for now, and may soon be joined by others.

“We want to save as many as we can,” he said.

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