It’s rough to be a homeless cat or dog in Shanghai. The city has no state-run animal services, shelters, or animal cruelty laws. Instead, we've got the pound. For animals caught on the street, that's where they get sent to starve to death. Not good. Not good at all. Very much less than ideal. For animals with the good fortune of being purebred, things are a little more optimistic -- there’s a lot of demand. They're a status symbol. This doesn’t necessarily mean owners will know how to train them properly or care for them, but if they do somehow end up on the street, they're likely to quickly find new owners to begin the cycle again.
But yeah, for mutts, off to the pound you go. For those that do somehow survive on the streets, they're probably benefiting from the generosity of people who feed them, but that only increases the homeless animal population in the end.
It’s a dark world out there for these animals in Shanghai, but there are some rays of hope. For one, there’s charity organizations like Best Friends China.
Da Mi (大咪) was rescued in 2007 when she was found just two months old, found abandoned in a box on Anfu Lu.
In 2012, Jane Saw, an eight-year China veteran originally from Singapore who had previously worked in animal aid in the US and in Shanghai, started her own charity organization, Best Friends China. The group is most famously known for their 2014 attempt to rescue 80 sick puppies from an illegal breeder that was neglecting them. Of those 80 pups, 30 survived thanks to their efforts. Today, the organization and its five core members (who all who have full time jobs on top of working with Best Friends China) have moved away from direct rescue efforts and are focusing on raising awareness and animal adoption.
They're trying to address the root of the problem as well as its consequences.
Best Friends doesn't ask for monetary donations and are completely driven by volunteers. Most of their time is spent on finding homes for animals rescued by local cat ladies and dog uncles, through adoption days, occasional fundraising events for private shelters, and maintaining a foster network. Last year they organized 42 adoption events, finding homes for nearly 300 discarded, injured, and owner-less cats and dogs.
Best Friends' Rescuers
Best Friends’ adopted animals come from several rescuers -- the local uncles and aunties who save injured and discarded animals from the street and take them into their own homes. There are no rules in China on how you treat your animals, meaning a lot of people just throw their animals away when they don't want to take care of them anymore.
A lot of these pets end up in the pound, which Jane says is basically a giant cell. The pound she visited had no proper procedures to put down the animals and are basically left to their own devices until they eventually die. A few fortunate animals do, however, get picked up by rescuers who personally pay for all the costs of the animals they take, including food, medical, and housing expenses.
One of these rescuers, an older Chinese man who wishes to remain anonymous, lives on the street in a small self-built tent at the center of Shanghai. His tent contains around 20 cages where he keeps the dogs he rescues. By day he collects trash, which he sells for 0.8rmb per kilogram. At night he releases his dogs, feeds them, and cares for them. Typically the pets he rescues are sick. Once he nurses them back to health, he gives them to adopters either through his own network or through Best Friends China.
Feeding time at Mrs. Pang's cat sanctuary.
Another rescuer, Ms. Pang, 63, has been saving cats since her first rescue of Da Mi (pictured in the beginning of this article) in 2007. She now rents an apartment with four rooms just for her animals, where she keeps nearly 100 cats and a few dogs. She invited SmartShanghai to take visit her private shelter for this article, but asked us to keep the location private because she feared that, if the location was known, people would discard animals at her doorstep.
Like Best Friends, Ms. Pang doesn’t accept monetary donations. She believes money changes people and is afraid of going down that path. She figures since she is capable of taking care of her 100 or so cats on her own, there’s no need to ask for assistance.
These are just two examples of the near 200 rescuers that Best Friends works with.
The Best Friends Foster Network
Best Friends has a foster network, allowing people who live in Shanghai to provide temporary homes for rescued animals, giving them the individual attention and love they need. Fostering greatly increases the chances of the pet being adopted, as the foster parent is expected to actively help the pet find a permanent home. Best Friends facilitates meetings between rescuers and potential foster parents and makes them sign agreements on the duration of the fostering as well as responsibilities.
Best Friends' new focus is on raising awareness. Jane has come to realize that despite their best efforts, solving Shanghai's homeless pets problem is impossible to do only through rescuing. People contact Jane constantly and demand that she rescues the animal they’ve found on the street, which just isn't possible. Best Friends doesn’t have a shelter of their own, nor do they have the resources to pay for every injured or sick animal they find.
Best Friends believes that the most effective way people can help is to start taking responsibility of their own. More hands on deck helping the rescue efforts. Best Friends doesn’t want to be a service that people call whenever they find a needy animal -- they want to empower people through education and awareness, so people know what to do when they find an abandoned pet.
So What Should You Do When You Find A Stray?
What should a person do when they come upon an animal in need and they want to help? Bizhou, one of Best Friend’s core members, says to ask yourself, "Can I assume the financial and temporary physical responsibilities for this animal? If the answer is yes, then do it. If the answer is no, then use social media and see if you can get help. But chances are it's up to you."
Without animal services, it's really up to individuals to act on their own. So when you see an animal in pain or in need of aid, it very well may be that you will have to decide the animal’s fate -- whether to nurse it to health and provide it a home or to put it down. These are tough decisions, but Best Friends encourages the people who really care about animals to act and do something about it, instead of turning a blind eye or expecting that someone else will take care of the problem.
How You Can Get Involved
Obviously the best thing you can do is to adopt one of the pets from their rescue network or become a foster parent -- IF you have the time and resources to handle that responsibility. You can see a list of some of the current adoptable pets on their website. To sign up to be a foster parent, email email@example.com. For adopting and rescuing, both Best Friends and the rescuer will arrange a meeting to ensure you truly willing and capable of taking care of the animal.
For those who want to get involved but don't have the financial resources or a living situation that allows you to personally take care of a pet, there are still ways to help. Best Friends is on the constant lookout for people willing to volunteer their time and expertise in a multitude of areas, be it helping with their web design, adoption events, translation, transportation, and more. You can find a full list and further contact info here. You can also follow their bilingual official WeChat account: BFC_520 to keep updated on the latest news and pets that are available for adoption.
So if you've been thinking about adopting a pet or if you want to help these little friends, Best Friends China is a community worth joining. They have events every month, so keep an eye on the Wire and our events page.