Animal lovers marched to the government headquarters in Tamar yesterday calling for the creation of a special police squad to deal with abuse of pets.
The demonstrators also demanded that penalties for those guilty of animal abuse be raised.
Fight for Animal Police, a Facebook-based group that organized the action, said 1,000 people plus 70 pet cats and dogs were on the march.
Various animal rights groups had heeded an online call to head to Tamar from Chater Garden in the afternoon.
Marchers carried placards and banners reading "Animal abuser today, serial killer tomorrow" and "Fight for animal police." They also observed a minute's silence at Tamar in memory of animals that had died from abuse.
A 62-year-old retired merchant, Yip Kuen, carried a niece's nine-month-old cat.
"The sentences in animal abuse cases are too lenient and do not have a deterrent effect," Yip said. "Instead, cases of animal abuse are increasing, and the setting up of an animal police team to investigate specific cases is the best answer."
Civic Party lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, who joined the rally, said she has talked to Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung about animal rights. She now intends to help arrange a meeting between him and animal rights groups.
Abuse of animals can mean three years' imprisonment and a fine of HK$200,000. But the heaviest penalty has not exceeded a year's imprisonment.
The protest came a day after the police commissioner, Andy Tsang Wai-hung, said the force lacks the manpower for a team dedicated to investigating animal abuse, though it is seriously concerned about the issue.
He also said the approach by the force to abuse is the same as in most countries, though an exception is the Netherlands with 500 officers on cases.
Whether a special team should be created, he added, is a question for government policymakers.
But the convener of Fight for Animal Police, Roy Kwong Chun-yu, asked: "If there aren't enough officers, then why not recruit more?"
As it happened, police were yesterday working on what was thought to be a case of cruelty involving the death of a cat in San Sang Tsuen, Tin Shui Wai.
A village resident said a couple with five cats moved into the ground floor of a three-story village house six months ago. On Friday, the cats were seen in three one-meter-long cages and were crying. Police were told one cat died.
A 21-year-old woman named Suen was arrested and four cats removed by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.