We’ve all seen it. Those ragged, matted, bug-eyed dogs sitting idle on the sidewalks, searching through garbage bins, padding along after pedestrians in search of a piece of bread or a pat on the head. If you’ve stayed in Beijing for more than a week, it’s a given you’ve come across at least one stray dog. They’re everywhere: some are abandoned by locals after they move house, some escaped from dog meat slaughterhouses, some still have grown up on the filthy streets of Beijing, or still continue to – it always seems to be puppy season here.
But who cares? Homeless dogs have become as much a part of the accustomed scenery of Beijing as the jianbing stalls. It’s become ingrained in our minds to accept that they somehow belong on the streets, that that’s where they were born to live. I’ve even come across some individuals who defend the dog meat festival at Yulin – I mean, we slaughter millions of pigs and chickens and cows every year, right? What delineates the difference between dogs and livestock so that we can define one as edible and the other not? It’s just a social construct that makes eating one, illogically, taboo, they argue.
Only it’s not illogical. Humans have domesticated dogs for 30,000 years, picking the most docile and loyal pups from every generation and turning the species from an independent Paleolithic wolf into loving, subservient pets who are utterly helpless in the wild. They are bred to love people, to live alongside them. Ever since the Last Glacial Maximum, the Canis familiarisand Homo sapienhave been cooperating, socializing species. A wolf would never leave any man behind, nor would any man leave a wolf behind.
And that has continued, in the most part, in the present day. A lot of families own dogs and love them and as their dogs love them back in return. You often hear stories about dogs saving their owners’ lives. But in this modern Chinese society, it’s become acceptable to manacle them with barbed wire, starve them, kick them, beat them, eat them, abandon them to fend for themselves, ignored on the streets.
South African expat Chenoa Sankar, from a heroic family of five, has rescued four dogs so far. I asked her what she thought about the issue, why she chose to take strays in, and why she recommends it to all readers of beijingkids. “It’s horrible,” the Durban native tells me, “being able to save them is really rewarding. I found two of the dogs as puppies. They were kept in a cage and starved, with other dogs, and I would pass them every day on the way to the local orphanage where I volunteer. It was a really cold winter and one by one the other dogs started dying. I took the puppies in while they were still alive and nurtured them back to health. I gave one to a family who moved back to America, and kept the other. Butterscotch is 2 years old now, and even more loving, loyal and lively for knowing that she was rescued.
It was really hard convincing people to take rescued dogs in. They thought ‘mutt’ was somehow synonymous with ‘rabies’ and ‘aggression’, even though I repeated several times that the dogs were vaccinated, washed and groomed, neutered, and the most amazing dogs you’ll ever find. Mutts are as healthy and sweet as any breed – if not healthier, because their immune systems are tougher and hereditary diseases are less likely because purebreds have been inbred over centuries. If you have room in your homes and room in your hearts, you really should save a life. You won’t regret it,” she says.
Amy Wei is a Year 13 student at the British School of Beijing (BSB Shunyi). Having grown up in The Hague in the Netherlands, she has lived in Beijing for four years and hopes to share her views on current affairs through her blogs.
Photos: Courtesy of Chenoa Sankar