Saving dogs from kill order

Driving in to Dujiangyiang yesterday morning, we passed so many people leaving their now-destroyed homes. Trucks, trikes and even bicycles loaded up with meagre belongings and heading for places far away, to build anew.

Driving almost side by side were the industrial earth-movers - long lines of them - shuffling in to remove the rubble.

Christie, Rainbow, Heather, Wendy, Hong Chuan, Suki, Howard, Rocky and I first arrived at a tented area, connected up with two local vets, members and volunteers from the Chongqing Small Animal Protection Association, Purina which is providing us with dog food and Intervet which kindly passed over rabies vaccines in a cool-box.

First, we talked to the officials in control, who told us no dogs were there. We wondered how they could be so sure until we saw an official government notice that said any dog found in the camp would be killed. We had already printed out a notice, together with a hotline number, saying that we would collect all dogs and cats and provide them with a safe and happy foster home until they were ready to be returned.

Rainbow quietly put this beside the government notice - “a contrast to the current ‘solution’,” he said.

The officials seemed understanding and promised to call us if they did find any dogs - we said we could be there in a few hours and to please give the animals a chance.

Within a few minutes we received a call from a woman who had picked up a Pekingese on the street. She had fallen in love with him, called him Pan Pan, but couldn’t take him now as her apartment was destroyed. Quickly vaccinating him, we plopped him into a cage, on to the truck and promised his new owner we would take good care of him until she was ready to claim him back.

Next we arrived at the surgery owned by the local vets. Their rooms upstairs were no longer safe, but they had provided a temporary holding area for displaced dogs and cats on the ground floor and proudly showed us one of their first “clients”. He vaguely resembled a dog. In fact he looked more like a piece of building material than anything canine but, perhaps in his previous life he had been something akin to a Yorkshire terrier. His fur was matted and clumped together with debris and he had conjunctivitis and sores all over his body. Hungry, thirsty and pitifully thin, he was nevertheless bright and alert – and “Rubble” romped his way into our hearts and became Dujiangyiang dog number 2.

Next we headed off to a “pet market” where we heard that a row of pet shops had been badly affected in the quake and the resident dogs were still inside. We arrived to find the shutters down and heard the distressed barking and crying of what appeared to be dozens of dogs.

Christie and Rainbow called the community committee and one of its officers arrived in seconds and advised that they had given the owners until 5.30pm that day to remove all their dogs because neighbours were complaining about the smell.

It was now 2pm and we talked with the officer about why we were there and begged for his help. He was truly wonderful and told us that he would get back to us very soon after he located the owners. For now he suggested we go in to a refugee camp close by to see if anyone needed help there. Just before we left, we found a pregnant tortoiseshell cat with an injured front paw and she too went into a cage and onto the truck for her eventual new home in Chengdu.

We walked into the refugee camp behind the officer - silent with sadness and disbelief. The floor was muddy and wet, a tarpaulin for a roof and temporary beds lined side by side, with thin quilts and pillows, which doubled up as an entire home for each family. Shattered buildings formed a backdrop behind. The people could not have been more kind - here they were with devastated lives politely enquiring why we were there, sharing their pot noodles and water, laughing as their children scribbled in our notepads and talking about the plight of dogs and cats, hoping that we could help. One elderly man in threadbare clothes simply said – “killing the animals is so bad, I hope you can help them”. They were so proud of the government and rescue services too - many times we heard “our country helped us”.

Suddenly we were approached by an elderly couple holding their two pomeranians. The sadness on their faces told us what they were about to say. They had been feeding the dogs in the shell of their destroyed apartment, but were now so fearful for their lives and didn’t know what to do. They weren’t allowed to have the dogs in the camp and asked if we would take them. Bao Bao and Mei Mei were dear little dogs and obviously so well looked after and loved. Poor Mei Mei was shaking like a leaf, but calmed down every time she was patted on the head by her doting owners.

The old man gave them both one last stroke and with tears in his eyes, turned around and walked away..... without looking back. We have his details and in a few weeks time when a little calm has returned we’ll be bringing them over to Chengdu to see their four-legged family once again.

At 3pm the officer quickly hustled us out of the camp and back to the pet-shop area where the owners had apparently returned. Walking into the square, we saw the shutters were now up and the most foul stench was permeating the air.

The noise of the dogs was deafening and cages were stacked on top of each other with the urine and faeces of the animals above pouring onto those below. Over the next 30 minutes, we ran into each shop lifting cage after cage of terrified dogs, lying in their own excrement, and brought them out into the fresh air.

They were thirsty and ravenously hungry. Many were thin and old too and we learned later that they had been “breeding” animals, used time and time again for the value of their offspring. Still, like so many other people, the owners had lost their homes and this was no time to talk about the horrors of the pet industry. We simply asked them if we could take their dogs and desex them for when they were eventually returned, but were told that they didn’t want them back.

We worked throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening: vaccinations, a quick health check and necessary medication given before settling the animals into the truck for the two-hour drive “home”. At one point, an aftershock, which we later learned measured 6.4 on the Richter scale, caused an air-conditioner to crash into the square and some rubble to fall from the buildings around. I was glad when we were finally on our way with those lucky dogs and cats.

So, by the end of the day, we had 49 dogs, two cats and one kitten rolling into Chengdu. Four dogs - including Rubble, the pregnant cat and kitten came with us, whilst the rest went to a wonderful lady called Qiao Na, who has a rescue centre nearby. By midnight, we had settled the animals at her place with food and water, with the promise that we would see her again within a few hours.

We’re returning to Dujiangyiang today as it seems that the notice is doing its job and we have had calls alerting us that more dogs are waiting to be picked up.

Just before leaving we had the sorry task of gently putting to sleep a little, old pug - emaciated, possible distemper or lung infection, rotten teeth, painful glaucoma and ulceration of his eyes. Just as he was fading away, I asked Heather what she would like to name him and she quietly answered “Close” because he came so close to being saved.

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