Christopher Barden is the founder and owner of Little Adoption Shop in Shunyi. Hailing from sunny California, he has lived in Beijing for almost 20 years. He first came here as a writer, working for Beijing Scene, one of the city’s original expat magazines. In 2000, Barden found himself picking up a few stray cats and dogs; with no real plans for what to do with them, he felt the need to help them in some way. His experiences fueled an interest in animal rights, and in 2006 Barden became involved with Chinese animal protection groups. Over time, he has earned a reputation as “the foreigner who saves strays.”
In 2007, Barden got involved in more formal animal activist groups and set up the Vegan Social Club of Beijing, through which he met a variety of people interested in animal protection. In 2010, the idea of setting up an adoption shop came about. “While there were many small animal rescue yards around, most were out in the middle of nowhere,” says Barden. “Yes, they provided shelter for the animals, but then what?”
He read about an adoption shelter in the US, which was located in a shopping mall. The high footfall, where shoppers could see the animals, led to high rates of successful adoptions. Barden wanted to recreate this model in Beijing. He wanted not to be a dog rescuer, but rather to provide an adoption system that would relieve pressure on animal shelters. He started writing about his efforts on Weibo, which led Barden to receive many requests for help.
In 2011, the animal activist was involved in the large-scale rescue of around 500 dogs from a truck bound for the meat markets. Barden himself took on 89 of the dogs, many of which were suffering from infectious diseases. Most went to a friend’s animal hospital for treatment; Barden’s plan was to adopt them all out.
“Not all of them made it, and by the time those that survived were fit and healthy, it was harder to have them adopted because they were bigger dogs,” he says. It was at this point that Barden started fundraising and renting a yard close to the airport, which housed 45 dogs during its first year. In 2012, he opened Little Adoption Shop in Shunyi and now has a new, much bigger shelter nearby.
Though there are around 20 cats at the shelter and the shop, the majority of Barden’s charges are dogs. He is currently looking after 320 dogs in four locations: 230 at his shelter (which is at capacity), 38 at the shop, some in-hospital, and the remainder in third-party foster yards. Although friends and family are very supportive of what he does, Barden jokes that “some Beijing friends are nervous that one day I’ll head back to the States, leaving them to look after all the dogs!”
Veterinary care – including spaying, neutering, shots, and other treatments – is outsourced. Barden takes in dogs that are often badly injured or very sick, and much of the care is provided by the veterinary chain Doctors Beck and Stone. Medical costs make up around 60 percent of Barden’s expenditure; the rest is spent on rent, animal food, and staffing. There are currently four kennel keepers, two of whom – Uncle Gao and Auntie Chou – have been with Barden “since day one.” More staff is needed to help the Little Adoption Shop’s efforts.
All of Barden’s funding comes from fundraising and donations through Weibo, WeChat, and Facebook. Throughout the years, he has built up a reputation as the guy who makes difficult rescues. He splits his time between building up the adoption side of his operation and rescuing dogs from yet another meat truck, which can tie him up for several months at a time. “Because we’re not a registered charity, it can be difficult to get donations from businesses and schools. It’s on my to-do list, but I first need to find a model that fits with what our charity is trying to achieve,” explains Barden.
A number of international schools in Shunyi support Little Adoption Shop; often, students volunteer as part of their IB Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) work. “We would love more volunteers, but you have to manage that process properly,” says Barden. “It’s more beneficial to have regular, committed volunteers rather than people doing a few hours here and there.”
Dog adoption is still a very new phenomenon in China, but the number of adoptive families is increasing exponentially. Barden usually meets with potential adopters to discuss their experience looking after animals and their reasons for adopting, as well as to get a feel for whether it’s right for both them and the dogs. The adoption process is free.
Animal welfare issues continue to be a major concern in Beijing. Barden says there need to be more TNR (trap neuter release) programs to deal with stray cats. In addition, the dog meat industry is completely unregulated in China and is culturally acceptable in certain parts of the country. Outlawing the eating of dog and cat meat isn’t a priority for the government, he says.
In addition, restrictions on the size of dogs permitted in apartments also impacts the numbers of abandoned and stray dogs. “The smaller dogs are easier to adopt out. Those we save from trucks tend to be bigger, especially by the time we’ve gotten them healthy again,” says Barden. His biggest challenges are funding, the shelter’s legal status, and implementing a more efficient adoption system. “We’re at capacity right now. A more efficient system is needed to manage the process from rescue through adoption. That’s the challenge.”
Follow Barden on WeChat: openeverycage
Little Adoption Shop 领养小铺
Daily 12-8pm, Shunyi Villas and Pinnacle Plaza area, west of the New Exhibition Center, Tianzhu, Shunyi District (136 8360 2305, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.lingyangxiaopu.com
This article originally appeared on page 64-65 of the beijingkids June 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email email@example.com.