A girl interacts with a dog at the 46th Beijing Pet Adoption Day on November 27 (COURTESY PHOTO)
The temperature is going down in Beijing but in Deng Di's office compound there is a warm "home" for those who need it badly in winter—street cats.
The shelter is a collection of cardboard boxes lined with bubble wrap for warmth. The compound is home to several stray cats and with the advent of winter, kind-hearted staff, who feed the feline visitors throughout the year, have thoughtfully created the homes to protect them from the freezing cold which will ensue soon.
"What cats dread most is the cold," Deng said. "I wish more people would spare a thought for those poor things and help them stay safe and healthy."
A cat owner herself, Deng gives a lot of thought to caring for street animals, especially in winter. "Some of my friends adopted stray animals through the Internet. But who knows how many not-so-lucky animals are still wandering in the chilly wind!" she exclaimed.
Doing what they can
More and more non-profit organizations are helping to care for stray animals. Chong Ai You Jia, or Homes for Pets, is one of them. The group was founded in Nanning, capital of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in 2009. Its volunteer-members prefer to call it a "small rescue station" instead of an official organization. Through WeChat, Weibo and other social media platforms, they share information on animals in need of rescue and adoption. They also discuss how to raise pets in an appropriate and responsible way and care for animals.
Many of the members have full-time jobs elsewhere, and some are college students. They are all willing to sacrifice their free time to help stray animals, mostly dogs and cats. Some of these animals have been rescued by themselves. With news of the organization's work spreading, other people now also contact them with information about stray animals.
The kind act started with a handful of animal lovers. They would hear about stray animals wandering on the streets or starving and they would try to help in any way they could, either taking food to the animals or taking them in. Gradually, more like-minded people joined the group, it became bigger, and its influence grew.
The members remain down to earth. "What we are doing is no big deal," Zi Ye, a long-time volunteer with Chong Ai You Jia, told Beijing Review. "We are just a small group of people doing what we can."
However, it still takes a lot of commitment. According to the volunteers, rescuing one stray means making a tacit promise to take care of it until it gets a responsible owner, which could take anything from one to 10 years or even more. After the animal has been located, if it's a pet that has been lost, the members try to find the owner. They also need to raise money for its medical treatment, including vaccines. It has to be cared for daily, and in case the owner can't be traced or the animal has been abandoned, they need to find someone to adopt it.
Even after an animal has been adopted, the organization's responsibility doesn't end. Its members visit the pet at its new home to see if it has settled in. It's common for them to keep three or four strays in their own homes since there's no permanent shelter where they can keep the animals. Often, they get bitten or scratched when taking care of wary newly rescued animals, but they remain undeterred.
In recent years, their work has become harder as the number of stray animals, which might be lost or abandoned, is rising while the number of volunteers is not going up accordingly. The small rescue station is in a dilemma, finding it difficult to find a permanent shelter for the rescued animals and to raise enough money for their daily expenses.
Moreover, they also come under fire for situations that are beyond their control or capacity. At times, when people inform them about stray animals in distress but they can't do anything to help because of lack of resources, they draw criticism.
According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China has more than 10,000 non-profit organizations working for animal rescue and protection like Chong Ai You Jia. Though facing difficulties in terms of funds, time and space, they are still hanging on, trying to find good homes for small strays.
"I wish more individuals or groups would join us," Zi said. "Even a small gesture by a lot of people would mean a lot of progress."
An event held by animal protection group Beijing Adoption Day attracts visitors on November 27 (COURTESY PHOTO)
Appeal for attention
In recent years, there's been increasing awareness of animal protection, rescue and adoption. People are becoming more supportive of animal rights and animal welfare.
In 2009, the government solicited public opinion on animal protection legislation. But till now, no such law has been created.
In 2013, several animal protection organizations, including the China Small Animal Protection Association, submitted a petition to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the national legislature, asking for legal protection for animals.
"Though such a law is highly necessary, I think it will take us a long time to achieve it," said Yang Yang, co-founder of Beijing Adoption Day, a non-profit organization that supports the campaign for an animal protection law. "But I can sense some differences. In the past, people were keen on buying pure-breed dogs or cats. But now, a lot of my acquaintances are choosing to adopt pets, be they hybrid or not."
Established in 2011, Beijing Adoption Day is, in Yang's words, a "matchmaker" between strays and people who want to adopt a pet. Through organizing events and posting adoption information online, the group has found a home for more than 2,000 cats and dogs. As they became well-known, animal-loving celebrities began to participate in their work, retweeting adoption information or attending events, which brought greater public attention.
"Having movie or TV stars run promotions for us definitely helps a lot. But that's an unexpected surprise. We didn't think we would go this far," Yang said, remembering the first adoption event in 2011. Held in a small park, it was watched mostly by curious exercisers. "Even our facilities were borrowed from a nearby small shop," Yang said. "We were thrilled when one dog was adopted."
In five years, the organization has extended to 27 other cities, setting up local groups and sharing experiences. Yang is optimistic, "We want to spread the idea of 'letting pet adoption replace purchasing' to more and more people. Changes are taking place. I can feel that every day."
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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