Wuqiao’s Abandoned Dog Haven

When strangers came close, the room full of dogs started barking. But a white dog lay quietly on the table, waiting for a girl to come back and finish drying him off.

Dogs in their cages at the Abandoned Dog Rescue Center in Shantou

Dogs in their cages at the Abandoned Dog Rescue Center in Shantou

He had just been washed by “Volunteer Rang.” The 22-year-old has been working voluntarily for three years, the youngest and newest volunteer of the Abandoned Dog Rescue Center in Shantou. The center is located in Wuqiao, one of the poorest areas of the city.

The Abandoned Dog Rescue Center is the first and largest dog rescue organization in Shantou. It was set up in 2006 and started with the rescue of two dogs abandoned on the street. Now there are about 40 dogs in the two-room site the center rents. Supported by donations of people who love dogs, the center provides abandoned dogs with shelter, food, and medication.

A number of high-profile cases have drawn attention to the treatment of animals in China —— especially dogs.

Most recently, the dragging of a dog down a Shantou street behind a mini-van and the subsequent netizen-excoriation of the individual responsible have drawn attention to the issue of animal cruelty. Last spring, according to Xinhua News, two men caught stealing pet dogs to sell for food were brutally beaten by a mob in Guilin. Also around that time, according to Sohu.com and Weibo, about 100 dogs were buried alive in Zuoqi, Inner Mongolia, resulting in a humane organization’s attempts to save them. In 2011, according to a People’s Daily report, volunteers stopped a truck on the highway from Beijing to Harbin and took over 500 dogs which were going to be sold into restaurants. Each case caused public discussion and resulted in a degree of criticism of the purported animal-abusers.

Volunteer Rang cleans up while a dog watches on

Volunteer Rang cleans up while a dog watches on

The public outcry over these cases, coupled with a growing number of organizations such as the Shantou dog center, offer evidence of changing attitudes toward animals — dogs especially — and their treatment in China. But the issue remains one with a variety of views — some people view dogs in particular as pets, while others view them as a food source, medicine, or the source of disease. With little clarity in Chinese law and custom over the treatment of animals, animal treatment issues often are hashed out on the Internet. Online forums are also places where animal-lovers such as the Shantou group find organizing ground.

The center in Shantou has only five volunteers, including its founder Zhao Xiucong, who calls herself “A Mao” among the volunteers. They communicate through a QQ Group and online forums. About 100 members have joined the center’s online forum, but only five volunteer on a regular basis.

“We divide our work on QQ and absorb volunteers and donations through forums,” Zhao said.

Because of limited space and shortage of money, the center hasn’t taken in new abandoned dogs for one year. Volunteers have day jobs and come to the center once or twice a week, working over two hours each time to clean the rooms and feed the dogs.

Volunteer Rang said it was a pity that they could not rescue more dogs. “We cannot afford more room to get more dogs,” she said.

If Rang and Zhao represent one view on dogs, perhaps Chen Zhanxin represents the other end of the spectrum. The ex-soldier said eating dogs brought back good memories for him.

“When I was a soldier in Beijing in 1998, my buddies and I made fires, ate dogs and drank beer in the winter. It tasted good and nothing could be more fun in those tough winters,” he said.

Traditionally, dogs have been a food source in China, and, in Shantou, traditionally eaten in winter. Some people believe that dogs are nutritious and they can get warmer by consuming them. In other parts of China, such as Guangxi, a summer festival revolves around cooking thousands of dogs, eating lychees, and drinking alcohol.

Some people said it was hard to tell whether eating dogs was an act of cruelty or not.

“How could you call it bad and cruel when you eat pigs, chicken and other animals?” said Li Ziwei, a Shantou University student.

Mixture of old vegetables and bits of meat serve as dog food at the center

Mixture of old vegetables and bits of meat serve as dog food at the center

In contemporary China, laws exist for wild animals’ protection but there has never been a general domesticated animal protection law. And, while eating animals such as dogs does not necessarily equate to animal cruelty, the government appears to be taking steps to address animal treatment. According to Chongqing Evening Paper, the proposal for a regulation of animal protection has been completed and opinions have been collected from the public. Yet so far, it has not been proposed in people’s representative meetings, nor voted to be passed.

As organizations such as the Abandoned Dog Rescue Center in Shantou are not supported by the government and law, they face problems like lack of money, which limits their capability to rescue more animals.

Lacking cages and room to keep abandoned dogs, the Shantou center kept some smaller dogs behind a shabby piece of wood. One dog had sickly-looking, red eyes but the center cannot afford treatment for it. They feed the dogs once a day. The volunteers sometimes pick up rotten cabbage from the markets. They cut up meat and put a very small bit of it into the dogs’ meals.

Sometimes people just came to the center and abandoned their dogs. Zhao said that’s why they moved to such an off-the-beaten-track site.

“We cannot afford to keep more dogs. Sometimes people just abandon their dogs in front of our gate,” Zhao said. “That’s why we’ve chosen a remote place.”

By: Hailey Ren and Christine Liu


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