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February 9, 2012

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Old couple at home with stray pets

WHEN the afternoon sunlight shone on three makeshift shelters set beside a waste-collection station, a small ruffle and noise came from beneath the canvas and wood boards.

A yellow cat sprang up from one, running across the small Tongzhou Road, jumping onto a bag of cat food.

"A cute and quiet one," murmured Wu Gendi, a 71-year-old woman, dressed in blue, one of her cotton shoes worn and with a hole in it.

She recognized the cat, one of the nearly 80 cats and dogs she helps raise inside the "home".

Wu emerged from one of the three shacks yesterday, where she lives with her husband, Zhou Hongnian, together with the cats and dogs, after waking up from a nap.

She waited alongside the road for Zhou, who had gone to take a sick cat for treatment.

"He's the one who loves the pets most for all his life," said Wu, talking about her 86-year-old husband.

The couple have been raising the stray and abandoned pets for more than 10 years.

The neighbors take walks on the same street in Hongkou District but seldom talk with the old couple. Wu, well-known within the community, seems not to be bothered by that.

The couple said the neighbors have petitioned the community and city sanitation departments to remove the "dog and cat shelter," and sometimes they've simply done it on their own.

"The makeshift shacks have been torn down several times," said Wu.

The couple moved out of their own home years ago and set up the temporary lodging, with cages occupying most of the space inside and empty ones stocked outside.

Wu's shack was torn down by the urban management team last year, she said.

"After they tore it down and carried the remaining materials away, we bought some waste board and plastic sheets and built the shacks again," Wu said. "They can't do much about us."

Wu said 14 cats once were poisoned to death but the suspects were never caught.

"They can ask us to narrow our space and not to affect others but they don't have the right to stop us from taking care of the homeless pets," Wu said.

By paying more than half of their 4,000 yuan (US$635) monthly pension to raise the dogs and cats, the duo don't have much left for themselves.

"We are now considering sterilizing the pets," said Wu, worrying they will have less ability to take care of them as they grow older and weaker.

Zhou had surgery last year and Wu worried that his health might worsen from taking care of the 70-plus pets every day. Zhou gets up early every day to clean up the waste from the cats and dogs, and the couple usually work until midnight to take care of them.

Now the two are getting some help from volunteers. Wu Jingying, a member of a civil organization dedicated to animal protection, started an online campaign last weekend to raise money for the sterilization of the couple's dogs and cats. So far the organization had collected more than 4,000 yuan, Wu told Shanghai Daily yesterday.

"Their living conditions are too poor. Look at Zhou; he's 86 and lives in a shabby board room aside the road," she said. "We're trying to improve their conditions."

The organization has ordered a military tent to replace one of the shacks to make the couple's life a little more comfortable.

However, not every animal-protection organization supports such benevolence.

"I'm worried about the health of the cats and dogs," said a member of JAR, an aid group for stray animals. "Finding adoption for the cats and dogs is the best way to save them. It's not good for them to be locked in the cages forever."


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