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‘These animals are my life’

At 2pm on Monday we arrived again at our temporary registration and collection station in Dujiangyiang and found a queue already forming. It was reassuring to know that our hotline was doing its job and this, together with a local TV programme, which went out the night before, was alerting local pet owners that help was at hand for their dogs and cats.

The hotline calls had indicated that some seven or eight owners were going to show up, but it was clear already from the queue that we were going to see more than this. Sad owners were holding their precious family members one last time before they would have to give them up. What choice do they have?

Already the tented areas where they are all living are bursting at the seams (the Government has requested tent manufacturers to continue making 40,000 tents a day) and neighbours just inches away are not always so tolerant of dogs. The authorities haven’t had an easy time - between the people who desperately want to keep their pets and complaints from the rest, rumours of disease and so on - clearly the dogs are not going to win.

But culling is not the answer and in Dujiangyiang at least we are able to offer a little help and hope for people so clearly fearful for the lives of their pets.

After setting up the veterinary table, our first visitor was a lady holding her two small pomeranians. Miss Xiao Ru Lan told us their names were Niu Niu (Little Girl”) and Fei Fei (Fat Fat) - and we found some humour in a bleak moment when we realised that Niu Niu was the podgy one of the two.

Incredibly, during the earthquake Niu Niu had run away and hadn’t been seen for nine days - Miss Xiao finally found her quivering in their damaged apartment, having found her way back through the rubble-strewn streets.

She couldn’t stop crying and said more than once “these animals are my life” - and now she would return to a strange and sparse tent minus the two companions that had been comforting her though such hard times. She couldn't understand really why she had to let them go and even emphasised how clean they were: “I bath them even in winter”, she said sadly.

Here's a pic of a different Niu Niu (it's quite a popular name!) and Xiao Xiao, all ready for their trip to Chengdu.

Next a little chihuahua - Wang Wang (Prosperous) - belonging to an elderly man who was also close to tears. Clasping her to his chest he explained that Wang Wang was his only companion now that his children had left home - miserably repeating “I don't want to let her go”.

And yet another pom belonging to Huang Jie Yiang, who had sent him to the countryside but then changed her mind when she read about our fostering option closer to where she was staying in the refugee camp. She was happy that her precious dog was being looked after and even happier that she could come and see him soon.

At the end of the day, 18 more dogs had been rescued and transported back to Qiao Na’s Qi Ming Rescue Centre. We are beginning to struggle there now too - the sheer weight of the numbers coming in is worrying. When do we stop - how can we keep building shelters for dogs when the land is just about at maximum capacity.

The funding too of course is always a concern - each enclosure for approximately 30 dogs is going to cost in the region of US$10,000 (not expensive in Western terms, but a fortune here in China). But we have to try. Although eating and drinking, the dogs are miserable and confused and we have to release them from their cages soon.

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