By Sheila Jin
The smell of chicken spread throughout the small shop, located on Dong Feng Dong Road and owned by Xiao Fei. The smell came from the dishes cooked by Xiao’s husband, Martin Liu, cooking inside the tiny room. But they were not cooks. They were preparing food for abandoned dogs and cats.
With her husband, she spends nearly all of her free time as a volunteer for Love Traveling, a private organization saving abandoned animals in Guangzhou.
“We don’t have a salary. We even need to spend money on it,” Xiao said. “But all of us are doing it voluntarily without complaints because this is our choice.”
Love Traveling is a private organization founded last December. It has over 40 volunteers, who donate money for animals’ food, medical care and rent for the shelter. One of the founders, Sui Feng said that all of them had jobs, and they were here just because they wanted to help the animals.
“We run this without any profit,” Feng said. “And we would not ask for donations from the public because some people keep suspecting that we are earning money.”
Last month, a volunteer from Love Traveling stopped a truck loaded with over 400 cats and 100 dogs at midnight on Huangsha Road in Guangzhou. The message was spread throughout Wechat and Weibo. Many more volunteers came to the scene.
Hundreds of cats and dogs were locked in cages and piled up in the truck. Each cage had a label to show which restaurant was getting the animals.
To avoid confrontation, volunteers called the police and official of Guangzhou Food and Drug Administration. As the driver could not provide the certificate to prove that he legally owned these animals, a GFDA official asked the driver to give up his ownership of these animals.
About 100 cats and dogs were already dead when the volunteers found them because of dehydration or sickness. Some cats were pregnant, and a few of them had even given birth in the cages.
Chen Beiji, one of the volunteers at the scene, said: “Most of them were domestic dogs. Some of them even had a registered dog tag. But they would have been sent to the restaurants if we didn’t find them. ”
Whether these animals were stolen, picked up on the street or bought from a market is still unknown.
The 500 animals that survived were then sent to an empty warehouse owned by another volunteer in the Fangcun District.
Dozens of volunteers came, including some veterinarians. Some of them provided materials such as cages, medicine and food, and some helped to check animals and separated them according to their health. Xiao and her husband prepared 300 packets of food for these animals.
The first team that stopped the truck kept working for at least 20 hours that day.
“We don’t know each other. People come to help voluntarily,” Yu Yu, one of the founders in Love Traveling said. “We have the same belief, and we wanted to save them.”
It is the first time in Guangzhou that volunteers saved so many animals.
Love Traveling’s regular task is to protect abandoned animals in Guangzhou. It has an action group on Wechat. Whenever someone finds an abandoned dog, they notify others. People living in the neighborhood would bring the animal to the hospital. If the animal were healthy, it would be brought to the Love Travelling shelter in Nansha District. Volunteers would look for appropriate adopters then. If the animal is old or sick, they will let it stay in the hospital until it is healthy enough to live without medical treatment.
“Honestly, usually we felt helpless,” Chen said. “Especially this time there are a large number of animals here. Where should they go? It is already a huge burden for all of us to take care of those animals in our shelter. And now, hundreds are added.”
Chen said most of the similar charity organizations in Guangzhou were full. They have to contact organizations from other cities to distribute the animals.
“The best way is adoption,” Chen said. “But not many people are willing to do it because they are afraid that abandoned dogs are sick.”
In Love Traveling, volunteers confirm the animals are healthy enough to be adopted first. People who want to take a dog need to fill a form and mark down their personal information, including ID number. Later, volunteers would pay a visit to find out whether this adoption is appropriate.
Since the end of last year, Love Traveling has saved over 1,000 abandoned dogs, according to Xiao, who mainly takes charge of the adoption work. But only half of them have found a home.
The Guangzhou government has only one official shelter for abandoned animals. According to the Guangzhou Dog Management Regulation, the Public Security Bureau should send abandoned dogs to the official check-up location. Those dogs that are healthy would be placed on the adoption list. The check-up site kills those dogs that are not adopted.
Similarly, according to Hong Kong’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a non-profit animal welfare organization, thousands of stray animals are euthanized every year simply because they cannot find homes.
Many of the abandoned animals are left because of sickness. And when they are left to roam and reproduce freely, the number of animals on the streets keeps increasing.
An animal’s life on the road can be tough. Many of them are vulnerable to illness, accidents and injury. And because of it, even though volunteers save them, some of them are unsuitable for adoption as they have never been confined and are not socialized to humans, Xiao said.
The Hong Kong SPCA runs a program to help to control the animal population through sterilization. According to the SPCA, “by preventing future births, we aim to reduce the number of unwanted animals. ” Presently, about 56 percent of pet dogs are neutered in Hong Kong.
In Guangzhou, welfare organizations are the only outlets doing rescue work.
“Not many people can understand us,” Xiao said. “No support from the government. We are doing this all by ourselves. Even some of my family members asked me to quit.”
But Xiao persists in her choice.
“We are trying to help each life, ” Xiao said. “It will take a long time for Guangzhou or China to treat animals in a way like other developed countries. But every day animals die on the street. We need to do something.”