Persecuted by Both the Government and Their Fellow Citizens, a Few Dedicated Women Are Attempting to Save China's Cats
"If I don't take them in, the government will kill them. I keep all the cats in my house and one-hundred of them sleep in my bedroom at night. I am too frightened to let them out. If they go outside, they will be taken away and killed."
-- Hu Yuan
While both the government and people of China are being justifiably condemned for not only their long history of abusing and killing cats but for more recently slaughtering them en masse during the run-up to the Summer Olympics, a handful of dedicated cat-lovers are putting their lives on the line every day in a heartfelt effort to save as many of them as they can. One such courageous individual is Hu Yuan.
The eighty-year-old retired physician is currently sheltering around two-hundred-fifty cats in her home in the Long Tou Jing section of Beijing. Seventy of them have been there for less than a year. (See photo above.)
"If I don't take them in, the government will kill them," she told the Daily Mail on March 8th. (See "Olympics Clean-Up Chinese Style: Inside Beijing's Shocking Death Camp for Cats.") "I keep all the cats in my house and one-hundred of them sleep in my bedroom at night. I am too frightened to let them out. If they go outside, they will be taken away and killed."
She also does not believe one word of the government's outrageous claim that the cats are being killed because they carry infectious diseases. "Look at me!" she exclaimed. "I live with them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and I am very healthy."
Like everybody else, she knows exactly why the cats are being killed. "It is all connected to the Olympics," she told the Daily Mail in the article cited supra. (See Cat Defender post of March 27, 2008 entitled "Tens of Thousands of Cats Are Being Rounded Up and Sent to Death Camps as Beijing Prepares to Host the Summer Olympics.")
In Shanghai, retired herbalist Duo Zirong has rescued more than fifteen-hundred cats during the past twelve years and she has the scars and depleted wallet to prove it. For example, in July of last year, a friend of hers shelled out $712 in order to purchase the lives of eight-hundred-sixty cats that were destined for the pot in Guangzhou.
Duo in turn gladly gave the cats refuge in the two-story house that she and her husband, economist Liu Junlou, rent in the Minhang District even though she already was caring for around four-hundred cats. (See photo below of her and her cats.)
Like cats everywhere, some of her charges are healthy and adoptable while others are chronically ill and therefore require extensive medical attention. Plus, caring for that many felines requires an inordinate amount of cleaning and sanitizing as well as socialization and nurturing.
It is also expensive. Duo spends around $4,277 each month on food alone and that is in addition to the $969 that she and her husband pay in rent. She also must pay for vaccinations and sterilizations out of her own pocket. It therefore is not surprising that she already has run through about $285,164.
"I just can't tolerate other people or animals living in misery," she told the Shanghai Daily on July 11, 2007. (See "Cat City - Cat Woman - Cat Crisis.") "That makes me heartbroken."
Since she has the misfortune to reside in a country that is so abysmally backward that it does not have a single anti-cruelty statute on the law books, Due is swimming against the current. The disturbing fact that the vast majority of her fellow citizens look upon cats as either bargain-basement mousers or as a means of getting rich quick through the sale of their flesh and fur, does not make matters any easier either.
Most notably, she is constantly being harassed by governmental officials who seize and kill any of her cats that they discover roaming outside her residence. Other bureaucrats even have cut off her water and electricity in an effort to get rid of both her and her cats.
The most flagrant abuse, however, emanates from private citizens who not only capture and kill her cats, but also have made threats against her life and repeatedly attempt to extort money from her. In one particularly horrific incident back in 2004, her mother-in-law lost her sight when she was severely beaten in an extortion attempt.
"People hate my cats, and they kill them, cut off their tails, gouge out their eyes, and drop their bodies at my door," she told the Shanghai Daily in the article cited supra. "Sometimes I feel like I'm going crazy, but I would hate to part with my cats."
Malicious juveniles who get their kicks by preying upon cats are another major problem. In fact, it was the brutal hanging of a white cat by a group of kids back in 1996 that proved to be the catalyst for Duo's activism.
"I remember the day. He was hanged on a tree, beaten by wicked children. His eyeballs fell out and blood was everywhere," she recalled for the Shanghai Daily. "I scared away the children and saved the cat, my first cat. I untied him off the tree and brought him home. I had to shoulder the responsibility."
All of the abuse heaped upon Duo has turned her and her husband into vagabonds in that they often are forced to change residences. Ethnic bigotry sans doute also figures into the equation somewhere in that she is a transplanted member of the Dawoer minority from Inner Mongolia.
Even though she is forced to live in almost constant fear, she is nonetheless somehow able to summon the courage and resources in order to persevere. This is in spite of seldom being able to get more than three hours of kip a night due to her weighty obligations. "All I want is peaceful coexistence of man and cat," she insists.
Au premier coup d'oeil, that does not seem like too much to ask, but as events all over the world have proven time and time again when it comes to cats nothing can be taken for granted. Although they have many dedicated defenders like Duo, they also have attracted some very nasty and unscrupulous enemies.
In the Wenshan district of Taipei, Taiwanese writer Chu Tien-hsin and her sisters, Tien-wen and Tien-yi, are spearheading a drive to replace the odious practice of trap and kill with TNR. (See photo above of her with some of her cats.)
Chu, who owns sixteen cats and seven dogs that she rescued from the street, also feeds about thirty ferals from her neighborhood each day. The cats are vaccinated and sterilized and an effort is made to find homes for those that are adoptable.
The remainder are either returned to the street or, if space is available, go to live with Chu and her family. "We keep the not-so-pretty and sick animals for ourselves," she told The China Post on April 3, 2007. (See "Taipei Woman Adopts Strays, Treats Cats as Family.") "This method (TNR) is a much cheaper alternative than the current method in Taiwan of trapping the animals and destroying them if no adopter is found after ten days of having been in foster care."
While the advisability of keeping large numbers of cats under one roof is debatable, it is still far preferable to mass exterminations. Cleanliness and medical care are paramount, however. The Chinese's attitude towards cats is slowly beginning to change even though recognition of the fact that they are sentient beings endowed with inalienable rights is still in its infancy.
In the meantime, whether it be scrapping with the authorities and ailurophobes, trudging to feeding stations in all sorts of inclement weather, or taking food off of their own plates in order that hungry cats may eat, individuals who are daring to care about animals are establishing a new standard that is saving precious lives.
Photos: Daily Mail (Hu), Shanghai Daily (Duo), and The China Post (Chu).