This is Tiger. He is not some weird rare breed of pole cat; he is a tiny black puppy, dyed with chemicals by Shanghai traders to make him look like a rare breed.
Tiger and hundreds of puppies like him are sold every day outside the city’s metro stations, shopping malls and flower markets. They are just regular mutts, taken from their mother at only five weeks old and then dyed with bleach to make them look exotic. They are sold cheaply, maybe RMB200 or 300, depends what buyers are willing to pay, says Lee-Anne Armstrong. She’s the executive director of Second Chance Animal Aid (SCAA), www.scaashanghai.org , one of the city’s few credible animal welfare groups.
Sadly, often Shanghai “rescue” organisations and shelters turn out to be profit-making scams or fronts for the fur and dog and cat meat market. Others are well-meaning hoarders who end up swamped with a thousand or more animals crammed in cages. Such is the enormity of the unwanted animal problem in cities like Shanghai.
When puppies like Tiger are bleached, the chemicals burn their skin and eyes. Many of the young pups die, being already sick with deadly Parvo virus or distemper. Armstrong says painted puppies are common.
“We lost another striped one to distemper and another female survived and thrived in foster care and was adopted,” says Armstrong. Her organisation SCAA has no shelter – “shelters fill up immediately,” she says. Instead SCAA operate with volunteers who foster stray animals until responsible owners can be found to adopt them. They save and find homes for about 80 cats and dogs a year, relying solely on donations and fund raising to pay vet and food bills.
Pets are big business
Along with China’s embrace of all things international has come a burgeoning pet industry, with pedigree dogs selling in pet shops and local vet clinics for RMB8,000 to RMB25,000, depending on the breed. Breeding dogs in China are kept in horrific conditions and puppies separated from mothers when too young, for maximum cuteness. If they survive and are unsold past the “cute” stage, even pure bred pups are chucked into the garbage or dumped on the street by shop owners.
Tiger was one of the few lucky ones. His weird stripes caught the eye of a guy on his way back from work who bought him on impulse at a metro station. When he got home his family said no way to the pup. So he put the tiny Tiger out in the garden of his apartment compound, a higher end one in the Pudong suburbs with a mix of local and expat residents, explains Armstrong.
A young lady from the management office found Tiger and wanted to help, but her family also refused to let her bring the striped pup home. “That's when a pet owning expat resident contacted SCAA to see if we could help. He was sent to the vet, PAW (www.pawivs.com ) which tends to SCAA rescues, for a check up. The rescuer kindly donated RMB500 to SCAA towards his vaccination and neutering cost.
Tiger went to a foster home and turned into a lovely dog. Several months later his stripes grew out with his adult coat. Now he's back to black again.
In order to set him up for life, SCAA provided Tiger with imported parasite control, vaccinations and split the cost of neutering with the adopters. The adopters also donated RMB500 to SCAA. Owning a dog is not cheap. In central Shanghai a dog licence costs RMB500 – halved if the dog is desexed – and the desex surgery costs RMB 700-1,000 with one of the rare fully western trained vets. Local vets, often cowboys who are lack the qualifications to access the proper medical veterinary drugs, will charge less.
Then there are vaccinations and parasite prevention to pay for.
For SCAA, it all adds up to an average monthly discounted vet bill for foster animals - 30 to 50 at any given time - of RMB15,000. To meet the cost, Armstrong and her SCAA crew run monthly quiz nights and an annual Grand Raffle.
Tiger is now called Cosmo - suits him better as the stripes are gone, says Armstrong. He suffers from recurring skin problems that are easily treated. He's adopted to an American family with kids. He comes to school visits with SCAA to educate children about responsible pet care, adds Armstrong.
Before you say this kind of thing could never happen here in Hong Kong, it used to, says Shelia McClelland from Lifelong Animal Protection, (www.lap.org.hk ). “I just hope it doesn’t start again now.”