Li Yanling's phone is a lifeline for many of Guangzhou's stray cats. When she's not in the classroom, the 48-year-old kindergarten teacher is usually mobilising volunteers to rescue vulnerable strays in danger or plotting the next TNR project.
TNR means 'trap-neuter-return', recognised worldwide as an effective and humane method of controlling the stray-cat population in urban neighbourhoods.
Li, who lives with eight cats, a husband and their son, is better known by her online name, Wen Mao Ji Xing, which translates roughly as 'instant happiness whenever coming across cats'. She's a devoted pet lover who also maintains Guangzhou's largest online discussion board for cats, gzcat.org, which has garnered more than 36,000 registered members since it began in 2002. The discussion board also has other subsidiary online platforms, including micro-blogs and social-networking websites, to enhance its campaign and influence.
How did you go from being a simple cat keeper to a rights advocate?
I got my first cat in 2002 when rats were invading homes from gas pipelines installed on the exterior of the building. There was no turning back after our home was blessed by our first cat, Ding Ding. We kept two more cats later, but one fell from our building. I wasn't sure what to do, so I began looking for solutions online, and I found gzcat.org.
The website opens up a world of scientific approaches to keeping cats, and I was also informed about all sorts of human cruelty towards these vulnerable animals. I came across countless stories out there of eateries featuring feline and canine cuisines, stray kittens' tails being chopped off, kids pouring glue on cats, and so on. There was only so much I could take, so I decided it was time someone did something about stopping the senseless abuse.
How did the first campaign get started?
Before 2005, I was only an active member of gzcat.org, devising all sorts of marketing proposals to care for animals in Guangzhou, but none of them was fruitful. In January 2006, we launched our first outdoor campaign to spread the message against eating cats and dogs to the streets of Guangzhou. That was the first attempt ever in China. The action was not registered with local authorities, so our volunteers were often dispersed or harassed by security personnel. It wasn't easy.
What is challenging about animal protection in this part of China?
Guangdong is commonly known to be the worst disaster zone of cat- and dog-meat consumption. Guangdong people regard it as a local delicacy. The demand has created an extremely profitable national supply chain of culling pet cats and dogs.
How does gzcat.org work as an online platform in rescuing stray cats?
We have about 300 volunteers reporting and rescuing cats meant to be used for food from restaurants and markets. We also pick up ill cats and abandoned, frail kittens. Information about such rescues is posted online. The discussion board acts as a resource for members to donate money, food and medicine in cases of emergency. Rescued cats will be sent to veterinarians for treatment or caretakers' homes to become healthy and independent again before we find new, good homes for them online. We have stringent policies for screening pet owners for adoption.
What other work has gzcat.org done?
We also organise school tours teaching kids to love animals and ways of handling stray animals when coming across them, launch conferences for animal lovers and campaigns in neighbourhoods teaching people to become responsible pet owners, hold networking and training sessions for volunteers to share experiences as well as practise TNR in parks and neighbourhoods. We also manage a small fund of about 30,000 yuan [HK$35,800] to pay for neutering and medical treatment for stray cats.
How is the fund managed?
The fund is managed by five designated volunteers and accounts are published on the website. However, it is very difficult to maintain because sources of donations are extremely limited, so we have to be very stringent when granting money. Normally, neutering operations under 200 yuan paid by volunteers at designated vets could be fully claimed should a valid receipt be provided. We approve about 10 cases a month.
What is the most important aspect of your work in Guangzhou?
As Guangzhou rapidly urbanises, the number of stray cats in the city also quickly compounds over the years. There are no official statistics, but Guangzhou's neighbourhoods are way overpopulated with stray cats, as they breed extremely fast. Without proper care, the cats pose health and environmental hazards to people, which means stabilising the population is a top priority. The nuisance behaviour of stray cats, including yowling and fighting, as well as the odour of male cats spraying to establish their territory during mating often leads to animal abuse. Eating cats and dogs can also lead to severe health hazards, as the meat is often acquired from sick animals butchered without proper health inspections.
What difficulties have you experienced?
It is extremely difficult to obtain approval to practise large-scale TNR in parks and neighbourhoods without connections. People do not understand what we are doing and lack the patience to go through the rationale of our projects.
What are your plans?
We plan to focus on educating pet owners in local communities and extend the practice of TNR by motivating more people across Guangzhou to join us.