Four shelters serve Beijing
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2003:
BEIJING–What Beijing dog and cat rescuers need most may be
PETsMART and a coordinated master plan like those required of U.S.
humane coalitions before they can apply for a Maddie’s Fund grant.
The U.S.-based PETsMART animal supply store chain does not
yet do business in China, despite persistent rumors that executives
are looking in that direction, and Maddie’s Fund does not fund
projects outside the U.S.
Just a few well-located adoption centers like the PETsMART
Luv-A-Pet adoption boutiques, however, could rehome almost every
animal now entering the four major Beijing shelters. Even if each
adoption center placed dogs and cats at just a fraction of the
typical U.S. volume, the cumulative effect would be to undercut the
pet breeding industry before it becomes big enough to produce a
A Maddie’s Fund-like incentive, meanwhile, might encourage
the Beijing shelters to cooperate to maximize their strengths and
Among them, the China Small Animal Protection Association
has the only centrally located shelter. It is relatively small, but
could serve as the primary collection point for lost animals,
rescued animals, and animals surrendered by the public.
From there, the animals could be relayed for long-term care
and rehabilitation, if necessary, to the outlying facilities of the
Beijing Human & Animal Environmental Education Center, the Animal
Rescue Branch of the Environmental Protection Assoc-iation, or the
Association for Small Animal Protection. Each could then furnish
pets to the adoption centers.
Beijing is big enough to need all of them, and to support
them all when they develop more fundraising knowhow. Each has unique
The Beijing Human & Animal Environmental Education Center,
winning the most U.S. and European grant support, is among the most
attractive shelters that ANIMAL PEOPLE has ever visited, with good
road access even though it is at the extreme northern edge of the
The Animal Rescue Branch of the Environmental Protection
Association shelter, at the northeast corner of Beijing, and the
Association for Small Animal Protection shelter, in Changping, even
farther to the north, are relatively difficult to reach, over
poorly marked dirt roads.
The Animal Rescue Branch, however, has made a promising
beginning toward renovating property donated by the Beijing Sherwood
International Equestrian Club into facilities much like those of the
Beijing Human & Animal Environmental Education Center.
The Association for Small Animal Protection has made a
comparably promising start at a former pig farm– including opening
the first pet cemetery in the Beijing area.
Each shelter offers the resident animals more space, light,
and companionship than most U.S. shelters, and each has room to grow.
The Animal Rescue Branch of the Environmental Protection
Association has extensive experience at providing veterinary care to
the public. Founder Wu Tianyu was originally an economist, but
retrained as a veterinarian. Until mid-2003 her organization
focused on providing pet sterilization and other out-patient pet care
at a storefront hospital that was recently expropriated by a
With more than 100 active members, the Animal Rescue Branch
has the largest and most active volunteer corps of any of the Beijing
shelters, and would be the logical choice to operate a downtown
animal hospital, if a site could be found, on behalf of all of them.
The Association for Small Animal Protection has the best
downtown office suite, on the third floor of a midtown hotel, and
has been the most successful at winning support from private
Founder Betty Zhao, whose given name is Zhao Xiao Qin, is a
non-practicing university-trained veterinarian, barely half the age
of any of the other shelter founders. She has the disconcerting
habit of saying “breeding” when she means “petkeeping,” and ANIMAL
PEOPLE observed that cat care under her direction was not as
well-informed as dog care.
Among the few things that the founders of the other three
Beijing shelters are unanimous about is that they conflict with Betty
Zhao, mainly over “commercialism”–but ANIMAL PEOPLE found that Zhao
seemed to be quick to learn, when given better information about how
to group cats to improve sociability, how to treat feline
conjunctivitis, how to treat and prevent mange, and how to keep a
potbellied pig physically and mentally fit.
Most of these skills are simply not taught at the
agriculture-oriented Chinese veterinary schools.
Fundraising & outreach
None of the four Beijing shelters are financially secure.
None have even begun to develop strong community support, and none
are comfortable yet about soliciting funds from the public. China
has little tradition of public charity, though the concept has been
introduced to address other social problems, and the shelter
founders worry that seeking funds to help animals may not be
well-received. They fear that placing donation cans and mailing
appeal letters, for example, might be misconstrued as begging,
long decried by the Communist government as “parasitism.”
Yet the four shelters demonstrated their value to Beijing
during the spring 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome panic. They
were at the forefront of the public education effort, at least
informally, answering thousands of calls from frightened petkeepers
and accepting hundreds of dogs and cats who might otherwise have been
dumped in the streets.
Everywhere in Beijing are fashion-oriented stores selling
clothing and accessories, attesting by their presence to the growing
economic strength and independence of young, mostly single or
childless working women.
Around the world, ever since female donors including the
future Queen Victoria helped to build the institution that became the
Royal SPCA, the emergence of well-funded animal advocacy charities
has always closely followed the economic emancipation of working
women. Even when men held all the executive positions, women have
historically constituted more than 80% of the animal protection donor
Women hold all the executive positions with the Beijing shelters.
Lu Di, 71 according to one published source and 76 according
to another, founded the China Small Animal Protection Association in
1988, winning official nonprofit status in 1992. Reputedly the
first Beijing shelter operator, housing more than 400 dogs and 100
cats at her shelter site, Lu Di is quoted often by news media,
including The New York Times. China Daily reporter Ye Jun profiled
her-and counted her animals-shortly before ANIMAL PEOPLE visited.
Lu Di is a retired professor of ancient literature at the
Renmin (People’s) University of China. After deceased dictator Mao
tse Tung took power, Lu Di–a generation younger–was for a time his
teacher and associate. But she was imprisoned during the Cultural
Revolution, with only a cat for company. When she was released and
returned to teaching, she dedicated her life to helping animals.
Interviewing Li Du at her apartment on the Renmin University
campus, listening to her recite a litany of unfounded allegations
against the heads of other organizations, ANIMAL PEOPLE was alarmed
at the conditions under which she kept more than 50 cats, 30 dogs,
several caged birds, a chicken, and a monkey confined to a cage
that is much too small–conditions much more like an “animal
hoarding” situation than a reputable animal shelter.
Lu Di is reportedly heavily in debt to feed and care for all
the animals, but there appeared to be two donated computers going
unused as well as stacks of unopened boxes which might contain
donated supplies. Lu Di told Ye Jun that she has attracted 1,600
dues-paying members over the years, who pledge $7.22 annually, but
most have dropped out after just one or two years.
Also in 1988, Wu Tianyu, 60, founded the Animal Rescue
Branch of the Environmental Protection Association. Her impetus,
volunteer Wu Haiyan told ANIMAL PEOPLE, was her outrage at seeing
wild birds netted for sale as meat and by seeing a friendly yellow
dog being bludgeoned to death in front of her keeper.
Beijing Human & Animal Environmental Education Center founder
Zhang Luping started her shelter more recently.
Wu Tianyu and Zhang Luping have in common that their
facilities are conspicuously clean.
Wu Tianyu, called Miss Wu, is outgoing and revered by her
growing numbers of volunteers, who say she is the only person Lu Di
will ever listen to. Wu Tianyu herself is less certain of that.
Zhang Luping is contrastingly quiet. She smiles a lot. Like
Wu Tianyu, she radiates strength of character, but while Wu Tianyu
seems to be the human incarnation of one of the energetic white
Pekinese dogs who fill the Beijing shelters, Zhang Luping is
The price of petkeeping
Lu Di, Wu Tianyu, Zhang Luping, and Betty Zhao are agreed
about the basic problems of petkeeping in Beijing.
Summarized Ye Jun in July 2003, “The city charges $602 U.S.
for a dog license, and an extra $240 annual registration fee. This
is simply too much for many residents. As of June 2003, there were
about 130,000 licensed dogs in Beijing, according to the Beijing Dog
Limitation Office, but according to one estimate 40% of the dogs in
Beijing are not licensed.”
Even that estimate turned out to be wildly optimistic. In
early September the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Public Security
acknowledged that the actual city dog population is about 1.4
million, meaning that not even 10% are licensed.
“The fact that only rich people can afford to keep licensed
dogs is not in line with the principle of social equity,” Lu Di told
In September 2003 the Beijing municipal government agreed,
in accord with Bureau of Public Security recommendations, to reduce
the dog licensing fee to $120, and to cut the annual registration
fee to $60.
At the same time the previous prohibition on keeping any dog
more than 14 inches high was replaced with a ban on keeping any of 41
specific breeds that are officially believed to be dangerous or
commonly problematic for other reasons, such as loud barking or
boisterous behavior. Among the banned breeds are Dalmatians, German
shepherds, pit bull terriers, collies, and Old English sheepdogs.
Beyond the legal and economic difficulties of petkeeping,
there are also logistic issues. Beijing, with 13 million human
residents, has twice as many people as New York City, sprawling for
more miles in all directions than Houston. Already Beijing may have
as many petkeepers as New York City, though fewer than half as many
pets because relatively few Beijing petkeepers have multiple animals.
The growing numbers of Beijing petkeepers urgently need
support services of every kind, including pet care instruction,
access to sterilization and vaccination clinics, and access to pet
supplies. Limited selections of basic pet care supplies are
available in most neighborhoods, but there are as yet no pet supply
Equally problematic from a humane perspective, in all of
Beijing there is not even one centrally located and easily accessible
place to adopt a pet.
That’s why Beijing needs PETsMART, or something like it.
Most pet dogs and cats in Beijing still come from backyard
breeders or as giveaways. Some are sold by small conventional pet
stores. The pet adoption concept is not unknown, but has barely
begun to be promoted.
Beijing as yet has no pet overpopulation. More than fifty
years of official discouragement of petkeeping, reinforced by
frequent dog massacres, ensured that dog-keepers do not let their
animals roam out of sight. Random breeding occurs, but at the end
of a leash, and so far the supply of offspring has not markedly
exceeded the fast-growing demand for pets to fill the empty spaces in
homes and lives left by the one-child-per-family limit in effect
The Beijing shelters do not receive many puppies. Mostly
they take in poorly trained year-old dogs who have lost their homes
in apartment blocks because too many neighbors complained. Even the
influx during the SARS panic came largely by demand of apartment
block managers or because petkeepers feared harm to their animals
from terrified neighbors.
Cats, officially better tolerated than dogs, are still
allowed to roam for the most part, but cats who survive the heavy
Beijing traffic are at constant risk from eating poisoned mice and
rats. According to the ANIMAL PEOPLE counts, dogs with homes
outnumber cats by about eight-to-one. The ratio drops to about
five-to-one in older neighborhoods with less traffic, more open
storefronts, and more garden space.
Dog meat in Beijing
Theft of dogs and cats for human consumption occurs, but is
rare enough that it shocked and outraged the Beijing public when
exposed in early 2000 by one of the local television stations. The
story spread to international print media. Zhang Luping told London
Daily Telegraph correspondent David Rennie that she had lost six cats
to restaurant suppliers who baited their traps with live sparrows.
Lu Di told New York Times correspondent Erik Eckholm that cats had
been stolen from 500 families in six months.
Most of the reportage associated the thefts with the recent
influx into Beijing of job-seekers from the Cantonese-speaking
south–and in particular, with the opening of Cantonese-style cat
Recorded in Guangdong since the 14th century, cat-eating is
relatively rare in the rest of China. Dog-eating occurs throughout
heavily populated southern China, and in the northeastern coastal
regions, close to Korea, but is less accepted in the
Mandarin-speaking northern interior.
“There are dog meat restaurants in Beijing, and some are
famous,” Animal Rescue Branch volunteer Wu Haiyan told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, naming three. One restaurant specializes in southern-style
dog meat. Another, specializing in the “northeast China cooking
style,” Wu Haiyan said, operates at multiple locations, including
as the house restaurant in several downtown hotels.
But not all dog meat restaurants profit. Wu Haiyan recalled
one that opened in her own neighborhood last year. It was not
popular, and within a few months dropped dog meat from the menu.
Beijing natives mostly speak Mandarin. Many associate
dog-and-cat eating with rural poverty and backwardness.
Mandarin is the official first language of China, but
Cantonese may be spoken at home by more people. Both are languages
of the ethnic Han, who make up from 91% to 95% of the Chinese
The Korean people are also chiefly descended from the Han,
but their language is farther removed from whatever origin it may
share with Mandarin and Cantonese, and is disputedly placed by some
linguists in the Altaic group, with the Turkish and Mongol languages.
The cultural differences among Mandarin, Cantonese, and
Korean speakers might be compared to the differences among U.S.
northerners, southerners, and Hispanics.
Which language or accent a person uses does not by itself
define how that person views animals, but much as coonhunters are
more likely to be southern Americans and cockfighters are more likely
to be southern or Hispanic, the dog-eating minority of Chinese are
more likely to speak Cantonese or Korean, while Mandarin speakers
are more likely to keep a pet dog or cat as a self-defining aspect of
lifestyle, associated with affluence, independence, and
To be sure, Cantonese and Korean speakers in Beijing are
rarely from the best-educated and most affluent strata. Most are
poor people who came to the big city to fill menial jobs that few
urban-born people want.
About two-thirds of the Cantonese and North Korean influx are
believed to be young men, often blamed by Beijing media for offenses
from littering and public drunkenness to violent crime–not that
disorder of any sort is conspicuous.
An indicative poster appeared in Beijing during the SARS
panic: a warning against public spitting, showing a black cat
running away from an expectorating youth. The public was meant to
sympathize with the cat–which could not have happened in a city
where cat-eating was acceptable. The poster equated spitting with
mistreating cats, and associated both with uncouth behavior.
Whether eating dogs, cats, and wildlife is disfavored by
most Mandarin speakers because it is seen as a Cantonese practice,
or whether the Cantonese are disfavored partly because they eat dogs,
cats, and wildlife, ANIMAL PEOPLE observed as far south as Chengdu,
a two-hour flight from Beijing, that the mostly Mandarin-speaking
residents often took pride in showing off a well-kept dog or
Those who knew that they were seen by westerners would often
smile at the animal and nod, or pet the animal if within reach.
An indicative incident occurred one evening in a restaurant
district close to the Forbidden City, the ancient Beijing capitol
district. The staff at a small bar had two six-week-old kittens in a
cardboard box, taking care of them as best they could.
Found on the street earlier that day, one kitten was quite
lively, but the other was dehydrated and listless. The bar staff
explained that they could not keep the kittens at the bar for much
longer. Our translator/ guide, Irene Zhang, referred to us by
IFAW, agreed to take the kittens home that night. We would then
take them to Betty Zhao, whose shelter we were visiting in the
A block down the street the female owner of a larger and more
prosperous bar rushed out to ask if she could adopt one of the
kittens as a companion to her older cat, who was wandering around
the patio and obviously thought he owned the place, since everyone
present paid him tribute with pats and treats.
ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett agreed that the bar
owner could take the healthier kitten. When she did, all the people
inside the bar came out to admire him.
A quarter mile beyond, across the chain of lakes that winds
through central Beijing, in a mercantile neighborhood, Bartlett and
Zhang entered a three-story grocery store to buy baby food for the
remaining kitten. Wolf Clifton, 13, remained outside holding the
kitten. If he had been able to speak Mandarin, he could probably
have made the acquaintance of at least 50 people who stopped for an
admiring look at the kitten, including many young women. Three
young men in karate uniforms, carrying athletic bags, also seemed
to be kitten-lovers.
No one acted alarmed or afraid. No one rubbed his own
stomach and said “Good soup,” as a man pretending to be Chinese once
did when ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton held a kitten in a
similar situation in downtown Montreal. Whatever Chinese attitudes
toward animals have traditionally been, in Beijing they are clearly