Every dog has its day

Taiwan showing improvement in its treatment of stray animals, says Animal Protection Foundation

Lazarus, top, gnaws on a bone at the Animals Taiwan shelter. Lazarus was in really bad shape when he was rescued by the shelter, left.

A woman, right, poses with her pet outside a veterinary clinic in Taipei.

Happy, left, rests outdoors at the Animals Taiwan shelter. Happy, below is treated upon arrival at the shelter.

Lazarus, top, gnaws on a bone at the Animals Taiwan shelter. Lazarus was in really bad shape when he was rescued by the shelter, left.

Napoleon, a German shepherd mix, sits in the yard at Animals Taiwan a few weeks after he was found roaming the streets in Taipei.

Happy, left, rests outdoors at the Animals Taiwan shelter. Happy, below is treated upon arrival at the shelter.

He was close to death when he was found lying motionless at an intersection in Taipei City last month. With an army of merciless fleas literally sucking the life out of him while roaming through his mangy fur; he was merely a hairline away from becoming just another road kill.
Three weeks later, the oversized German shepherd mutt, fittingly named Napoleon by one of his rescuers, is now a gorgeous looking dog with a healthy shiny coat of fur. True to his name, Napoleon sits proudly with a flair of chivalry, like a retired but highly revered commander of his pack.
"When he first came, he was covered with thousands and thousands of fleas. He was very weak and had a hard time walking. But now, he is happy and healthy. He even walks with a little bounce in each step," said Sean McCormack, the founder of Animals Taiwan where Napoleon is currently fostered.
Making Strides
Despite Napoleon's happy-ending story, his case is a rarity compared to the majority of stray dogs that are often shunned and despised by the public. In the past, very few stray dogs in Taiwan ever found new owners. However, many animal activists are now seeing a positive change in the situation.
According to latest Council of Agriculture statistics, there are currently approximately 180,000 stray dogs in Taiwan. Although the figure may appear dismal to some, it is considered a tremendous improvement from the 600,000 in 1999.
Animal Protection Foundation Representative Liu Yu-tong said that in the 20 years she has been fighting for animals rights, she has noticed an upward trend in the government's effort to curb the stray dog problem in the country.
For example, she pointed out, in Taipei City alone, there were at least 200,000 stray dogs 20 years ago. But now, the number has been reduced to the thousands.
"We have also seen a great improvement in the treatment of animals in shelters across the island. Instead of killing the animals by cruel means such as bulk drowning or burying, shelters are now required to use much more humane methods like euthanasia," she added.
McCormack agreed with Liu, saying Taiwan has the potential to become the leading animal welfare country in the Asia because of the country's flexibility in learning new things and its eagerness to improve.
Compared to the United States, he said, the Taiwanese are far more likely to adopt a dog from a shelter or from the streets.
"In Taiwan, there are community dogs, or dogs that are taken care of by a community even though they don't belong to anyone," he said.
Moreover, the younger generation is become more and more aware of the animal problems in Taiwan and is enthusiastic to do something about it. Most Animals Taiwan volunteers are young students who spend much of their own time promoting the cause.
Even the commercial sector is riding the wave of the latest animal protection movements by selling more pet goods, instead of actual animals, in the pet shops, McCormack added.
Fashion trend
In Taiwan, up to 95 percent of the dogs found in shelters were abandoned by their owners. However, only about 40 percent are eventually placed in new homes.
"Pets are like a fashion trend here. When the Japanese movie Quill came out, everyone rushed out to buy Labradors because people wanted dogs just like the ones in the movie. But now a few years later, we see lots of Labradors roaming around the streets because their owners realized it is a major responsibility to have a dog," Liu said.
Listing pet shop owners as one of the culprits in the stray animal problem in Taiwan, Wang Chun-ching, a lifetime volunteer at a private animal shelter in Kaohsiung, said to capitalize on the doggy trends, many animal vendors often mass breed and even inter-breed the "flavor-of-the-year" dogs without any regard to the health of the litter.
"When you breed a female dog with
her own male offspring, you are bound to have problematic dogs. These dogs often get killed or tossed on the streets," she commented, arguing that some breeds, such as Husky or Border Collies, should never have been introduced in Taiwan at first place because of the humid climate and lack of space.
"Without enough space to exercise, some dogs literally go crazy because of all the pent up energy. Some dogs lose their hair due to chronic skin problems. Instead of a source of joy, these dogs become a frustrating liability to the owners and they end up on the streets," Wang said.
Disobedience is another reason why people abandon their dogs, McCormack pointed out.
"Every dog can be trained to become a well-behaved dog. When a dog is not obedient, it is often the fault and of the owner, and not the animal," he asserted. Likening a puppy to a child, McCormack said if people refuse throw their disobedient children out on the streets, how could they justify abandoning a dog?"
Magic number
In the past, most of the stray animals were exterminated once they were caught. Dog catchers were also known to place rat poison around a colony of animal and come back to collect the corpses the next day.
However, the traditional method of catch-and-kill has failed miserably in minimizing the stray animal issue in the world because unless the dogs are neutered, they would just continue to have more puppies, said McCormack.
"When you kill a pack of dogs in one area, you are just opening up a new feeding ground for another pack to move in. The new pack will mate and produce puppies. Then the area becomes full of dogs in a matter of few months again," he explained.
What the government should do, he suggested, is to neuter the animals it catches and return them to where they were found. By doing so, thedogs will continued to occupy the territory without perpetuating the population.
"Killing should never be an option. Studies have shown once your neuter 67 percent of the population, the population of the animals will level off and eventually decrease," he said, adding the catch-neuter-return method is also far for economically sound in the long run.
The CNR, sometimes known as the TNR for trap-neuter-return, is considered to the "only effective, humane" method to control stray dogs and feral cats population according to the American Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty.
Wang said the CNR method not only allows the animals to live longer and better, it also erases the "cold blooded butcher" image people have of dog catchers.
"When images of dog catchers killing the animals appear on the news, people become so angry and disgusted that sometimes they think its easier to just turn away. But by practicing CNR, people see there is hope in reducing the stray animal situation without killing them and may become more likely to donate money to the cause," she said, calling CNR a "win-win" deal for the animals and for the public.
Foster, adopt
Talking to the animals welfare workers in Taiwan, one can hear a similar refrain of "I wish we could take more dogs, but we simply do not have space."
Wang said her shelter reached its maximum capacity a long time ago. Liu said her organization has no choice but to turn away drop-off dogs. Space is such an issue at Animals Taiwan that one of its newly rescued dogs had to be kept in a van for a few days.
"We are always asking people to adopt the animals, but when that's not an option, people can foster until we can find a more suitable home for the animals," McCormack said, stressing one must carefully consider the responsibility of owning an animal before adopting one.
The third way to help out, Wang suggested, is to donate money or better yet, space to the existing welfare organizations. Most of the donation usually goes to veterinarian fees because the workers are mostly unremunerated volunteers, she commented.
Another way to help is to simply spread the word on the importance of neutering, Liu said.
"Dogs have been men's best friends for ages," she said, "and now is men's turn to show their appreciation for their best friends."