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Paws and passion

By Gui Qian | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-24 05:58
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One of Meowzart's posters for this year's "Best Meow Alumni "competition, featuring cartoon figures of the top stray cat candidates from various universities. [Meowzart/For China Daily]

Meowzart's innovative cat competition in China, led by Gen Z, fosters creativity and compassion, uniting communities to rescue and adopt feline friends, Gui Qian reports.

A unique cat competition is happening right now, featuring stray cats from more than 280 universities across China. They're all competing for the title of "Best Meow Alumni" from Jan 21 to Feb 21.

This event is in its third year and is organized by Meowzart, one of China's largest animal welfare platforms for college students. Using a mini-program on the Chinese social media platform WeChat, people can view profiles of the cat candidates from each university. The profiles include pictures and detailed information about the cats, such as their age, breed, personalities, and even "highlight moments on social media".

On the Meowzart mini-program, there are profiles of over 18,312 cats from more than 340 university cat care communities.

It is hoped that the increased attention on these newfound feline celebrities will boost their chances of adoption. The sales revenue generated from merchandise featuring their adorable images will also contribute to supporting the operations of university stray cat care associations.

For example, Big Head, the "representative" of the Sea Cat TNR team at Shanghai Maritime University, was successfully adopted after participating in 2022's competition. Now, this year, Big Head's friend, Sea Cucumber, is a top contender, thanks to his undeniable cuteness.

Across China, young people are actively involved in rescuing and adopting stray cats in their own unique ways. Almost every university has student-led associations dedicated to protecting stray cats on campus. These organizations not only provide food for the cats but also assist in their spaying or neutering and facilitate their adoption.

Meng Yan, the founder of Meowzart, emphasizes that student communities play a significant role in the rescue of stray cats. However, these young people face numerous challenges.

As students, they often struggle with financial problems and lack the means to sustain their organizations beyond fundraising efforts. Their limited experience and resources also put them at a disadvantage when dealing with schools and negotiating with those responsible for severe cases of cat abuse. Some students even face misunderstanding from others who perceive them as neglecting their studies.

Meng hopes that her platform can unite young cat enthusiasts and amplify their voices.

Since its establishment in 2021, Meowzart has been working to establish connections with university communities. By assisting them in raising cat food and encouraging the creation of cat-related works, the platform gradually build trust among its members.

The platform now provides guidance for students and operates a mini-program that allows student communities to easily share adoption information.

All of these initiatives encourage students to promote "star cats" on their campuses, create merchandise for charitable sales, and organize activities to fully unleash their potential for rescuing stray cats.

"I hope that young people, while focusing on animal welfare and their living environment, can also showcase the spirit of Generation Z and leverage their strengths and interests," Meng said.

Every year on May 21, Campus Cat Day is celebrated. Devoted members of university stray cat communities express their creativity by crafting various artworks inspired by these charming felines, which they then share on Meowzart. The platform will select the most outstanding pieces for recognition.

This year, students from over 200 universities across China and individuals from all walks of life created over 40,000 works in various artistic fields, including photography, video production, creative design, meme crafting, painting, writing, dance, and music. Nearly 4,000 works were chosen as finalists, resulting in 20 university societies being honored with the Best Society Award.

The winning pieces have been curated into the Meowzart metaverse, boasting 521 museums that are accessible to everyone. This virtual world, centered around and inspired by stray cats, even features a post office and a police station, mirroring their realworld counterparts. For instance, the post office is situated at 197 Luban Road in Huangpu District, Shanghai.

With the help of Meowzart, student communities collaborate with professional veterinarians to develop educational materials about rescuing and caring for cats. For example, the cat society at Xinyang Normal University in Henan province wrote about the basics of the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) method. TNR is a globally recognized, humane, and effective approach for managing the population of stray cats.

Volunteers capture stray cats without harming them, and they are then taken to veterinarians for health examinations and sterilization if suitable. Those cats that are friendly to humans may be kept until they are adopted, while those unsuitable for adoption will be returned to the wild.

"The TNR approach not only prevents the overpopulation of stray cats, but also reduces the risk of illness among them," wrote the students.

"One characteristic of Gen Zers is that they act out of genuine intention or love," said Meng. "In the compassionate endeavor of rescuing stray animals, love holds particular significance."

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