Home of Strays
“Oh, those giant pandas are cute!”
“What a cuddly cat, I want to hug him!”
“That dog is so intelligent! I’d like to have the same…”
…and more of those praises when we see animals, probably from friends or colleagues on WeChat Moments or someone else’s Facebook wall. It’s not unusual to get a euphoric feeling when we see animals, though they may be as massive and feral as bears or as tiny and harmless as butterflies.
People take in animals as pets for companionship or protection. But nowadays, saying that pet-keeping is just as akin to commodifying animals, that is, they are “products” that can be easily bought and then disregarded, is quite a contentious issue. It is a sad reality, though, that we often see abandoned animals on the street, or people posting social media messages like these:
“Please help me find a new home for my cute dog. *sad face emoji*”
“Heaven is looking for new parents as we’re moving out of Beijing next month…”
Beloved pets they truly are.
When no one responds, either the pets end up on the street or, when they’re lucky enough, rescued by animal shelters. Ripley Frances, who launched a new shelter called Cat-Kind in Shuangjing in Chaoyang District, believes it is unacceptable for locals and expats going back to their home countries to just leave their pets dying.
When Frances arrived in Shanghai in 2015, she was welcomed by an unexpected family at the door of her flat – a mother cat and her three kittens. Rather than expelling the felines, Ripley found herself feeding them every day.
“I was calling up people, asking what do I do. Then I found online a few places that said, ‘We do animal rescue,’ but it was only for their own group members, they wouldn’t just take animals.” Frances, who has always been interested in animal rights, adopted the kittens instead.
Back in the UK, Frances had worked for a human rights organization that focused on asylum seekers. She went to Shanghai to tutor students in law and debating. But after finding a new family with the felines, Frances decided to stay in China and go to Beijing to launch Cat-Kind. The shelter, named in honor of the cats Frances rescued, also accepts stray puppies and dogs.
As a millennial, Frances utilizes the power of social media, and in this case, WeChat, to make her shelter known for people who want to rescue strays. “That’s when I realized this is working and it got a lot popular than I expected. It was just in Beijing at first and there were people going like, ‘Oh do we have something like this in Shanghai?’ So I made one. ’Do we have this in Shenzhen?’ Well there is now!”
The volunteer network in those three cities soon grew to more than 70, half of which are from Beijing. Frances describes the tasks done by her and the other volunteers as stressful but meaningful. “There’s this sense of fulfillment when animals find new homes. After the rescue, after they’ve been to the shelter, after they get adopted, then just seeing them in their new home and the impact that they’ve made on a life, I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m proud to have been a part.’”
She said that Cat-Kind, like any other shelters, is a community that finds solutions for the welfare of abandoned animals. Big cities like Beijing, Frances says, have a lot of strays but also have a high rate of adoptions. It’s not merely about adoption, though, as she says by doing so, people provide a sense of care for another living being.
“When you made a choice to adopt a pet, you will view more of it as a family member whereas if someone buys a pet, then it will be more likely viewed as a commodity – something that, ‘Okay, I’m leaving. Why would I want to bring this with me?’ Or more so, ‘That looks cute, I’m going to buy one.” Frances is concerned most about the type of buying where they didn’t do any research, and, when unhappy with their purchase, they just abandon the pet.
Though it will be a hard thing for most people to rescue strays, and Frances describing it to be a “problem” for many, it’s wise to seek help from authorities and call shelters. “A lot of people just leave an animal on the streets just simply because they don’t know what resources are available,” she said.
There’s a lot of work to do for the welfare of animals in cities, and it’s not mainly one community network heading the effort. Just as animals tell us how amazing nature is, and pets providing that much-needed companionship, it’s time for people to appreciate these creatures as an indistinguishable part of daily living.
Photos: Courtesy of Ripley Frances
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