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September 5, 2010

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Home » Feature » Animal Planet

Auntie Wang a friend to strays

WE were welcomed by nearly 10 enthusiastic and adorable dogs when arrived at the shelter in the outskirts of the city. They crowded around, licking our hands and hopping up, trying to get big hugs. They all looked very healthy, energetic and clean -- you wouldn't know they had been through a hard life on the streets.

Once strays or abandoned pets, these small cute fluffies are now living a warm and comfortable life at their new home under the care of their "mummy," Auntie Wang, a 60-something retired animal lover. She spends nearly all her retirement pay and savings, time and energy on feeding and protecting around 35 dogs and 15 cats.

She doesn't want to publicize the exact location of the shelter because she could be overwhelmed by animals that are dropped off and bothered by visitors.

Auntie Wang, who lives in the downtown Zhabei District, starts her day early. She's up at 4am every morning, prepares food for the animals, feeds strays around her own community, then takes a 17-kilometer bus ride, and walks for another half hour to get to the animal rescue shelter at 7am.

"My dogs and cats are already waiting for me at that time," Wang said.

"They look at me anxiously, for food and compassion for them. This is a shelter and home away from the cruel world."

Founded five years ago by Wang and eight other volunteer aunties, the rescue center is located in a peaceful rural area in the city. The 30-square-meter shelter has eight separate kennels and a workshop, rebuilt two years ago with funds raised online.

"We save every homeless animals that we see and bring them here. We cannot resist their eyes," Wang said.

"I always think that if I reach out and help them, they will have a chance to live, but if I just leave them on the street, their end will surely be death. This thought spurs us on through any hard situation that we encounter. We know we are saving lives."

Wang, a slim white-haired woman, shows clear determination when talking about homeless animals. She's doing her animal rescue work every day for the past two years, even on Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve, and even if she has a fever.

"This is not an easy job, but someone has to do it. Everybody has his or her own way to contribute to the society -- this is my way."

Stray animals have long been a problem in China. There are few official rescue organizations or legal regulations on how to deal with strays or punish cruelty to animals.

According to some statistics, Shanghai families now own over 2 million pets, and there is likely a disturbingly high number of strays.

"It is very hard to estimate the real number of stray ... a conservative estimate on cats alone would be 100,000," said Zhang Yi, founder of the Shanghai Small Animal Protection Association. It is the only legal and nonprofit organization in Shanghai authorized by Shanghai Bureau of Civil Affairs and Shanghai Association for Science and Technology.

Zhang says there are no legal restrictions or regulations that prohibit people from abandoning their pets. Stray cats can be seen in every community, most of them not immunized or sterilized, so the numbers keep rising very fast.

There are also several non-governmental groups and individuals in the city who volunteer in animal welfare work.

They include Shanghai and Second Chance Animal Aid Shanghai, run by expat animal lovers. They are not only saving abandoned animals, but also seeking long-term ways to promote adoption, immunization and sterilization. They are also urging lawmakers to adopt regulations on animal management, health and safety.

One concerned and involved citizen is Jiang Jian, a member of Shanghai's Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that advises city lawmakers.

"The management of pets, the problem of abandonment and the issue of stray animals have been neglected in society," Jiang said.

He recently proposed a regulation for dealing with homeless animals. It calls for rescue shelters in every community and would use fees from pet owners to fund operations and management, feeding, immunization, sterilization and medical care.

"This could reduce the dangers to public health and safety and raise people's awareness of the problem and their responsibility in a harmonious society," he said.

Last September a National Animal Protection Law was drafted but has not been thoroughly debated by the National People's Congress.

One of the major drafters is Chang Jiwen, director of the social law research department at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The draft sets out guidelines for disease prevention and medical care of animals. It would also criminalize the torture and indiscriminate killing of animals, feeding zoo animals with live poultry, and some circus acts.

"Our aim is to propose a draft with experts' suggestions on how to protect animals from being mistreated, abandoned, and at the same time safeguard people's rights and maintain social order. Actually, the protection of animals' welfare eventually benefits people," Chang said in an early media interview in Beijing.

For people like Auntie Wang, an animal protection law that is really enforced would be a big step in animal welfare and help in her own rescue campaign.

"The big challenges that we are facing now are tight budgets and people's lack of awareness and understanding," Wang said. "Many people misunderstand and even criticize what we are doing, asking why we are spending so much money on animals."

Caring for animals, she said, is a part of social responsibility.

"I don't expect everyone to support us, but at least I hope people can show some understanding."

Wang welcomes all kinds of donations. She also welcomes adoptions but she has strict rules -- she checks identities, dog raising experience and family environment.

"I would rather keep stray animals than give them to irresponsible owners. They all have had bitter lives so I won't allow them to suffer in bad situations again," she said.

Every dog and cat has its own story.

Snowy, a schnauzer with six puppies, was almost killed at a dog breeding farm, one of those abusive puppy mills. Though she is cute and playful, the owner wanted to get rid of her because she hadn't a litter in a long time -- he was losing money on her.

Ironically, after Snowy arrived at Wang's shelter, she had a litter of six pups, four of which have already been adopted by expats and locals.

Xiao Bai, a Samoyed with thick white fur, has another horrible story. Her focal cords were cut out so she couldn't bark and annoy the owner. She was abandoned outside a stadium, wandering around, cold, wet and hungry, waiting for her master to return. Today she's a healthy and happy dog.

"They say one of the ways to evaluate a modern society is to look at how they treat animals," Wang said. "Animal have their right to survive and we have to respect life."


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