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September 6, 2015

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Stray Dogs, cats in crisis numbers

DOGS may be man's best friends, but stray dogs - and cats - have become an urban scourge in China, scaring neighborhoods that fear the scavengers might spread disease or get aggressive if starving.

One solution to the overpopulation problem is neutering strays. Shanghai's Liu Lang, vice president of the China Veterinary Association, estimates that his profession has neutered some 70,000 strays in the past eight years.
But that's not enough to dent an explosion in feral populations. In the two cities of Beijing and Tianjin alone there are an estimated 1.3 million homeless dogs and cats.

China is not alone in facing the problem, which is largely caused by people abandoning pets. The World Society for the Protection of Animals estimates there are 500 million stray dogs and cats globally. About 70 million strays live in the US, with 70,000 born every day, according to the nonprofit Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society.

"The number of stray animals is growing, but the methods of curtailing their numbers are limited,"said Xia Zhaofei, a professor at China Agricultural University. "This problem demands the attention of all governments, organizations and the public at large."

He added, "Everybody in this society should know what to do when they come across a stray cat or dog. We also need more shelters for the animals and government support."

He said there are many reasons why people dump pets. Sometimes they move to another city and don't want to take the animals along. Sometimes they believe old wives'tales that pets can jinx pregnancy.

In some places in China, the problem is exacerbated by the Buddhist believe in "freeing captive animals,"said Bo Jue, who has worked with the Hangzhou Animal Protection Volunteer Association for 10 years.

Indeed, the city of Hangzhou has an estimated 300,000 stray cats, according to the association, and many congregate around Buddhist shrines in the West Lake district, where people feed them.

A year ago, Hangzhou initiated a pilot project to trap, neuter and then return the strays to their habitats. It was one of the first so-called TNR programs in China's mainland, modeled after similar projects overseas.

Authorities in the city said more than 600 feral cats have been trapped, neutered and released back in the city so far.

"If nothing had been done, we were looking at the number of stray cats rising into the millions,"said Mu Anxiong, an official with the Hangzhou Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine Bureau, the main authority responsible for the program.

"Too many cats in one place will lead to more fights among themselves, less food and more spread of disease,"said Dr Pei Zengyang, director of the Pet Shield Animal Hospital in Hangzhou.

Without neutering, ferals breed rapaciously. One unspayed female cat gives birth to litters three times a year, with up to five kittens a time.

Strays typically don't live much longer than five months because of lack of food, illness or traffic accidents. Some are poisoned by irate residents. In recent years, most stories have appeared in the media about dogs biting people. The animosity such reports create pits dog lovers against dog haters.

On July 8, a stray dog was beaten to death in a residential complex in the Shangdong Province city of Zibo while the neighborhood committee was on an authorized hunt for strays that were interfering with nearby livestock. A city official said the dog had tried to attack committee members.

Six days earlier, a stray dog injured a supermarket worker on a school campus in Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province. Residents complained to authorities that feral dogs often attacked young children with food in their hands. A campus crackdown on the strays was stymied by local dog lovers.

According to a college security guard, the strays were pets abandoned when the students went back to their hometowns during school holidays.

Veterinarian Liu and Professor Xia said neutering is probably one of the most effective ways to control the soaring population of ferals.

"Some cat and dog lovers worry about the effects of neutering, but there's no reason to worry,"Liu said.

"Beyond the animals probably putting on a bit of weight, there's no harm to their health."Every month, Liu and his colleagues neuter about 1,000 strays, most of them are cats rounded up under Shanghai's trap-neuter-return program. Stray dogs are neutered before they are put out for adoption.

"Some cat and dog lovers will argue that these stray animals also have reproductive rights,"Xia said. "But due to the current condition of unrestricted breeding and overpopulation, we have to do something."

And that something is the recent establishment of the China Stray Pet Care Project, sponsored by pet food maker Royal Canin and animal protection organizations. The long-term project will support neutering programs for cats and dogs and also assist in programs seeking to find new homes for neutered strays.

Another method sometimes used is implanting chips in the bodies of registered pets, so the owners can be traced if the animals become strays. In China, chipping is a hard policy to implement. Many pet owners object. The method is now mainly used on dogs.

“The Beijing government started promoting the chips about 10 years ago, but there are only a small number of dog owners who complied,”Liu said. “Many dog owners worried their pets would suffer pain or thought chipping was useless.”

Shen Ruihong, an executive at the Beijing Kennel Club, said suitable stray dogs are trained as “hearing” guide dogs to assist deaf elderly people.

Wang Yue, who joined the project when it was launched in 2012, said the idea was borrowed
from the Japanese.

“So far we have trained 10 stray dogs, and they are working out very well,” she said. “They help their owners in daily activities, such as letting them know when someone is knocking at the door.”

The main problem with this method of dealing with strays is the time it takes to train a dog. Dong Zhenjun, an executive with the Shenzhen Dog Protection Association, said the public needs to be educated about the problems and solutions to feral overpopulation.The threshold for owning pets should be raised to prevent casual abandonment, he added.

“We see that some Western countries have better systems for addressing the stray animal problem,” Xia said. “But our country is catching up and making progress on this problem. We just need to do more in the future.”


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