Though Xiangping Xu works for an investment group by day, animals are his true passion. “I grew up with cats and dogs. When I see poor, helpless creatures on the street, I just want to help,” says the 32-year-old Beijing native. Xu volunteered for seven years at dog shelters around the city before opening two centers of his own in Shunyi less than a year ago. When we meet Xu at one of them – the Loyal Dog Adoption Center – for the interview, we’re greeted by scores of happy, wagging pups. Xu shares the story of his involvement in Beijing’s fledgling animal activism scene as well as his hopes for the future of animal rights in China.
How did the shelters begin?
They started because of an incident last August. There was a truck full of dogs going from Beijing to Changchun [the capital of Jinlin Province]for the annual Dog-Eating Festival. I found out about it after seeing posts on WeChat and Weibo, and banded with a group of volunteers to stop the truck. There were more than 400 dogs in total. Other people took the purebreds; there were 223 dogs left and I took them all. I couldn’t just let them die. The same day, I rented this space.
Afterwards, many dogs got sick. We took them to the animal hospital and got them medication, but around 40 died. These remaining dogs are the survivors. Since then, we’ve brought in about 40 to 50 more strays and abandoned dogs. People know us now; they’ve left dogs at our gate when they couldn’t take care of them anymore. Sometimes, people spot strays on the street and bring them here.
What kind of services do you provide?
We provide all shots, vaccines, tick treatments, and spaying and neutering through licensed veterinarians. The other thing we do is adoption services. Aside from the official documents, the veterinarians must sign off on adoptees to get the dog licensed. We also have our own terms that new owners must agree to, which include having sufficient indoor space and pledging to have the dog on a leash every time they go for a walk. The owner must also promise not to abandon the dog for reasons like marriage or childbirth. The whole family must agree to these terms.
What are some of the challenges of running a dog shelter?
Since this is a private shelter, we don’t receive funds from any governmental organization and our budget is limited. In the beginning, it was just a friend and I running and financially supporting both shelters. Then, three more volunteers came on and in the end we all became financial supporters.
It’s expensive, however, and we’re in debt. We have four full-time employees at each shelter. We have to cover salary, rent, and utilities. Dog food is our biggest expense. We make our own food, which consists of a mix of corn powder, meat that changes daily, eggs, and carrots. We also have snacks for the dogs. Overall, monthly expenses total between RMB 25,000 and RMB 30,000.
Every now and then, the dogs need medical attention or medication. Sometimes, they fight each other. Right now, we have 160 dogs at Loyal Dog Adoption Center and about 130 dogs at the second shelter. Capacity is about 100 per shelter, so we are far over. Many are big dogs and need to have their space. We’re currently looking for larger accommodations, but it’s hard because either the rent is very high, or the landlord or owner doesn’t want to have a dog enclosure on their property.
We want to continue finding homes for the dogs to let new dogs in, otherwise our model doesn’t work. So far we’ve found homes for just under 20 dogs. We want to start a trend in our society where people adopt from shelters instead of buying from pet shops. I post about this a lot on my WeChat and Weibo accounts.
What has the overall response been like to your posts?
The thing is, Chinese people care a lot about the dog breed. Most don’t want a tu gou [mutt]. To them, a mutt’s duty is to guard the gate and it’s really hard to change that perception. I try to convey that all lives are equal. What I really appreciate about foreigners is that they aren’t as selective about breeds. Some dogs have been adopted by international families; when they go home, they bring the dogs with them. We have even sent dogs to foreign adopters in other countries.
What are the biggest issues concerning animal welfare in Beijing?
The biggest issues are the number of stray animals and people abandoning their dogs. Not long ago, a dog came to the shelter abandoned by a couple that had broken up. Fortunately, that story has a happy ending because he was adopted by a family. I found another dog in March on Third Ring Road on a rainy day. When I found him, he couldn’t walk because he had been hit; he was lying there, stuck in a pit. I brought him here and took him to get surgery, and now he’s learning to walk again. In moments like this, you have this flash of thought about whether to save the dog or just leave him there. If you decide to save the dog, he lives. Many people would leave without doing anything.
Another big concern is animal abuse. China doesn’t have animal protection laws, which means you can’t prosecute offenders. There are many people abusing and killing animals and these acts are not considered criminal.
What kind of reactions do you get about the work you do?
My family isn’t very supportive because nearly all of my earnings are spent on the shelters. In the beginning, many people didn’t understand why I was doing this. Their arguments were that there are so many homeless people out there, why not help them instead? But actually, there are many foundations in China for children, women, homeless people, the elderly, etc. They get media coverage and donations from many sources, but animals don’t receive the same attention and I’m hoping to change that. All I can do is keep doing what I’m doing and hope I can change people’s opinions.
How can people be more responsible with their animals?
You must accept the idea that the dog will be part of your family. If you plan to have dogs, think carefully before making a decision. For those who already have dogs, don’t abandon them. My hope is that more people will pay attention to stray animals and help them. We welcome people for visits, especially if they’re interested in adopting.
To enquire about adoptions or make a donation, contact Xu at xxp190 (WeChat and Weibo) and email@example.com (email), or 185 1369 9018. He speaks Chinese only.
Loyal Dog Adoption Center
Daily 9am-5pm. Beilangzhong, Changjin Lu, Shunyi District 顺义区昌金路北郎中村
Homeless Dogs’ Home
Daily 9am-5pm. Gaoliying, Shunsha Lu, Shunyi District
This article originally appeared on page 66-67 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
With translation and additional reporting by Patrick Li
Photos by Dave PiXSTUDIO