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2020-08-31 10:52:59

A Hong Kong pet hotel on Saturday denied resorting to smuggling to return animals to their owners on the Chinese mainland.

“We didn’t participate in any pet-smuggling activities. We only provide accommodation and other legal services,” Pet Oasis Hong Kong wrote in a statement posted to its official Facebook page. The company added that it reserves the right to take legal action against “libelous accusations.”

Hong Kong police told RTHK, a local media outlet, that they had raided Pet Oasis, located in the western Tuen Mun District, on Friday, confiscating 48 pets set to be transported to the mainland.

According to the report, two people in charge of Pet Oasis Hong Kong — a 54-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman — were arrested after the raid and have since been released on bail.

The police investigation into the company began on Aug. 21, when Hong Kong police and customs officials seized goods including 12 pets from a speedboat, financial outlet Caixin reported Saturday. The police then found the bodies of three dogs and 12 cats that washed up on beaches near Lamma Island and the seaside village of Stanley last week.

Police suspect the smugglers, upon being pursued, threw the animals overboard in order to destroy incriminating evidence. The animals’ corpses were all microchipped — a requirement for pets passing through Chinese customs — suggesting they may belong to pet owners who returned to the mainland after studying or working abroad.

Pet Oasis Hong Kong is a 40,000 square foot complex with two fields, a garden, and two swimming pools, according to its website. Its “five-star hotel service” includes pool use, grooming, and daily boarding.

Pet owner James Wang traveled to Shanghai on Aug. 10 after graduating from university in Australia. He paid 3,000 Australian dollars ($2,200) to Easy Pet Flight, an Australian company, to transport his 4-year-old cat Rennie to China.

“I was notified that Rennie had arrived at the Hong Kong airport on Aug. 13, and she would be residing at a local pet hotel until she cleared customs,” Wang told Sixth Tone.

Wang didn’t know which pet hotel Rennie was staying at in Hong Kong, but he was originally told she was scheduled to leave Hong Kong for Shenzhen at 11 p.m. on Aug. 23. “The late hour was suspicious to me,” he said.

After the appointed date and time came and went without further notice, Wang contacted Easy Pet Flight to inquire about Rennie’s whereabouts. He said all he received in return were three videos of his furry friend looking anxious.

An Easy Pet Flight employee who identified herself as Meimei told Wang the Hong Kong police were investigating a “serious smuggling case,” and that the driver who had been tasked with escorting Rennie through customs might have been involved.

“They told me even they didn’t know where the driver was,” Wang said.

Wang called the Australian police, who rejected his case, suggesting he first file a complaint against the company.

“Now my only hope is that Rennie is still alive,” said Wang, who is part of a chat group on messaging app WeChat with other pet owners, some in similar situations.

At least 40 Chinese pet owners, he said, are anxiously awaiting information about their beloved companions. Around half of them, upon learning their pets were boarding with Pet Oasis Hong Kong, have filed complaints against the company and are still trying to retrieve their animals.

A Hong Kong police spokesperson told RTHK that the animals rescued during Friday’s raid on Pet Oasis in Tuen Mun are now in the care of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Attempts to reach Pet Oasis, the municipal agriculture department, and the Hong Kong SPCA on Monday were unsuccessful.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: EyeEm/People Visual)