Dogged by misfortune

Updated: 2012-02-21 10:01

By Han Bingbin (China Daily)

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Dogged by misfortune

Clockwise from top left:

The homeless dogs are temporarily relocated to the home of Chen Mingcai, chairman of the Chongqing Small Animal Protection Association. Some dogs have fatal infectious diseases. A volunteer feeds a puppy milk.One of the priorities is to provide medical assistance. Care for each dog costs slightly more than 2 yuan (31 US cents) a day, including fresh meat, rice, eggs and canned dog food. Urbanization has left many dogs in the countryside homeless. Photos by Wang Jing / China Daily

Dogged by misfortune

A group of hounds bound for the dinner table was intercepted in Chongqing. The problem now is how to nurse them back to health and care for them. Han Bingbin investigates.

Dressed in a hazmat suit, 28-year-old Wang Chengye cautiously tries to take saliva and nasal mucus swabs from a dog to test for canine distemper in Chongqing. Scared, it backs off, trembles, then suddenly jumps and barks. "Be a good baby," Wang says, patting his head. "I'm here to help you." Nearby, veterinarian Chen Zewu tries to insert some drips in an equally frightened dog.

Around him in the old depot, people in masks carry bed quilts and water bottles, while fear seems to be spreading fast among the 800 dogs that constantly bark, a sound that is only occasionally drowned out by the loud whistles of passing trains.

The only dogs that aren't barking are those that are dying, huddled in their cages, whimpering, suffering from canine distemper, parvovirus, pneumonia and hepatitis. Some of them have been denied treatment by veterinary clinics, which are cautious when it comes to treating fatal infectious diseases.

Despite the fear and pain, some of these dogs can be considered lucky as they were saved from the dinner table. On Jan 15, Chongqing police stopped a truck delivering more than 1,100 dogs to Zhanjiang in Guangdong province, where dog meat is a popular dish.

Peng Tao, a local animal protection activist who reported the case to the police, recalls the scene as "miserable".

In the 7.2-meter-long truck, cages were stacked on eight levels and as many as eight dogs were squeezed together in every cage. The cages were no more than 30 cm high. Some had died of suffocation. Many had bone fractures and wounds because of the crowded conditions. Others were diseased.

Peng says some of the dogs were in pain from the wounds caused by the tranquilizing crossbow darts, which is how they were captured in the first place.

Police confiscated the dogs but were unable to deal with so many animals. That's is when Chen Mingcai, chairman of the Chongqing Small Animal Protection Association (CSAPA), stepped in.

A sympathetic acquaintance lent him a freight depot in Jingkou, Shapingba district, and he moved all the dogs into this temporary shelter to be treated and await adoption.

Chen says that it is essential to ensure the dogs are healthy before a home is found for them.

He made an online appeal for donations to provide medicines, cages, quilts and food. The addresses for three bank accounts were posted online, a Taobao (online shopping service) account was also set up to receive money and the response was enthusiastic.

It didn't take long for Chen to receive nearly 700,000 yuan ($111,200) in the form of cash donations, food and medicine - which was all logged on the association's website. Chen also hired an accountant to manage the funds and ensure that the money was handled in a transparent and appropriate manner.

Chen says care costs slightly more than 2 yuan (31 US cents) a day per dog, not including the unpaid medical bills. Most of this goes to fresh meat, rice, eggs and canned dog food, which doctors say provides enough calories and trace elements to nurse the hounds back to health.

So far, between 200 and 300 dogs have been adopted. Most are pedigree dogs, but the rest, mostly mongrels, will be more difficult to place.

Before the Spring Festival, there were up to 50 volunteers helping with the dogs' daily care, feeding, disease testing and disinfecting. But that number has reduced to about 20, as volunteers return to school and work. Chen says at least 48 people are needed.

Moreover, there are not enough veterinarians to provide medical care. Chen Zewu is currently the only vet involved, and the young man admits that giving 200 injections a day is time-consuming and difficult work. He will leave soon, too.

But this is not Chen Mingcai's most pressing problem. Since the dogs were transported "illegally" to the Jingkou zone, the animal quarantine station in Shapingba district insists the dogs have to leave because the industrial area is a livestock-breeding-free district.

The station did provide emergency injections for the dogs on Jan 30, but they must leave soon after the antibodies become effective beginning Feb 22.

Chen's plan B for these dogs is to move them to the association's base in Baishiyi, Jiulongpo district. The 8,500-square-meter compound in the countryside has 125 kennels that already accommodate more than 700 dogs. Chen says he intends to use a 2,000-square-meter plot of vacant land to build an extension to the kennels.

Construction started but was halted by Jiulongpo government, which required the association to go through the regular planning permission procedures, CSAPA volunteer coordinator Zhu Qian says.

When the base was originally built, it was fortunate enough to be treated as a special case, Zhu says.

"As this really is an emergency, I hope the government can offer us special support again," he adds.

Chen has written a report to the municipal government on behalf of the CSAPA, describing the emergency conditions but has so far not received a response.

"What we are now doing is helping the government tackle the problem. We have the passion, but we don't have enough resources or personnel to solve all the problems," he says.

"I will really be lost if the government doesn't offer help. Otherwise, the dogs may die."

In the long term, Zhu says the biggest problem is money. While CSAPA does profit from selling pet products such as dog food, the association largely relies on donations and it is getting increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

Zhu believes it's now time for the association to be managed in a more professional manner and have its own vets, clinic and even merchandize, such as T-shirts and badges.

"We can't always beg for money and resources. We require professional planning and operations. Only in this way can the dogs live a good life in the long run," he says.