Buddhist monk & U.S. teen sparked the Taiwan animal cause
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2010:
TAIPEI–Horror stories about Taiwan animal shelters still
surface, despite the progress of recent years, long after an
international hue-and-cry brought the 1998 passage of the first
Taiwanese humane law.
The law forbade dog-eating, rare in Taiwan even then, and
addressed individual acts of abuse and neglect, but focused on
animal control practices.
Taiwan animal advocates are still struggling to ensure that
the law is observed, and to win improvements.
Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan director Chu
Tseng-hung, known in the west as Wu Hung, in November 2009 reported
that 83% of Taiwanese townships still relegate animal control duties
to garbage collectors. Wu Hung told Jamie Wong of The China Post
that he and other EAST investigators had discovered many examples of
neglected shelters, animals left without food or water, and
“animals eating moldy feeds from containers with worms, ants and
droppings mixed in the boxes,” Wong summarized.
Wu Hung noted that many badly designed shelters were wrapped
in canvas and plastic sheets to try to stop the winter winds. The
government shelters in the Taipei suburbs of Tucheng, Yingge, and
Hsindian prohibited EAST from taking photographs.
Visiting some of the same facilities, and others, I
verified Wu Hung’s complaints. But, largely through Wu Hung’s work,
the worst examples of Taiwan shelter neglect have receded from the
Taipei region, where about 10% of the Taiwanese population lives,
out into the rural districts–which 12 years ago usually had neither
shelters nor animal control departments. Problematic dogs were
typically poisoned, using strategms that enabled the poisoners to
pretend that the dogs’ deaths were accident, and would therefore not
bring bad karma to those who put the poison out.
Since 1998 the reported volume of animals killed in Taiwanese
shelters, including through neglect, has dropped by 40% to 70%,
depending on how the somewhat ambiguous official statistics are read.
Wu Hung founded EAST after leaving the Life Conservation
Association, his first organization, began in 1994. Sponsored by
the late journalist and animal advocate Ann Cottrell Free, who
reported on the retreat to Taiwan by the pre-Communist Chinese
government that made Taiwan a nation, Wu Hung later in 1994 toured
Wu Hung vigorously exposed and denounced the then-common
Taiwanese practice of deliberately locking up problematic stray dogs
to starve to death. This, like the “accidental” poisoning, was
done to avoid directly killing the dogs.
Wu Hung, a Buddhist monk, pointed out that this was a
travesty of Buddhism. He took his campaign on to Europe. By 1996
the World Society for the Protection of Animals, People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals, the International Fund for Animal
Welfare, and the Humane Society Inter-national division of the
Humane Society of the U.S. had all sent investigators and consulting
experts to Taiwan–who all affirmed Wu Hung’s charges, and pressed
the Taiwanese government to do something about it.
In 1997, a year before passage of the humane law, the
Taiwanese government announced a costly plan to end the controversy
and foreign criticism by exterminating all street dogs. Two visiting
consultants encouraged the plan by demonstrating the use of
pentobarbital to kill dogs, unaware that importing or possessing
pentobarbital, at the time, was illegal. One of them also asserted
that Taiwan, where up to 93% of the residents observe Buddhism or
Buddhist-influenced faiths, needed to scrap the Buddhist life ethic
in order to accept routinely killing homeless dogs.
Taiwan moved toward U.S.-type animal control, including
killing impounded dogs after a holding period, but the scheme to
annihilate street dogs was not seriously pursued. Instead,
Taiwanese street dogs found an unlikely young defender.
At age 12, in 1994, American teenager Mina Sharpe, living
with her parents in Taipei, formed the Taiwan Abandoned Animal Rescue
Foundation to find U.S. homes for rescued street dogs. As one of the
first activists to demonstrate use of the Internet to promote
adoptions and rally global support, Sharpe inspired a legion of
In March 2000, shortly before returning to the U.S. with her
family, Sharpe contributed to ANIMAL PEOPLE a cutting critique of
the international interventions in Taiwan. She blamed the
international delegations for fueling intolerance of street dogs and
for introducing the use of gas chambers without ensuring that they
were properly used.
Sharpe scolded Wu Hung as well, for acquiescing to the
recommendations of international consultants, even when the
half-followed recommendations appeared to make the treatment of
shelter animals worse.
Sharpe in 2006 was twice convicted of hoarding animals at
addresses in southern California. She is, nonetheless, remembered
in Taipei by Taiwanese and expatriates alike as the firebrand
who–with the quiet, studious Wu Hung–provided the yin-and-yang
forces that kindled the Taiwan humane movement. Ten years after
Sharpe left Taiwan, I heard spontaneous praise of her influence at
shelters, veterinary clinics, and gatherings of activists
Wu Hung’s most recent investigations followed reports in
August 2009 that Typhoon Morakot had killed as many as 7,000 dogs at
overcrowded shelters in Kaohsiung and Pingtung counties, along the
In actuality, ten animal shelters, housing about 1,000 dogs
among them, were badly damaged. About 100 dogs were killed or lost,
the Central News Agency found.
But there are reportedly several severely overcrowded
shelters in the area, most of them haphazardly privately funded to
house dogs who have been removed from cities lest they might be
The Taiwan Council of Agriculture in January 2009 disclosed
that around 1,000 dogs at shelters in four counties were poisoned by
aflatoxin fungi that accidentally contaminated locally manufactured
food. The maker, Ji-Tai Forage, recalled and composted 29 metric
tons of “Peter’s Kind-Hearted Dog Food,” produced only for shelter
Gruesome as the incident was, it illustrated the changes in
Taiwanese sheltering since Wu Hung began his campaigns: producing
food for shelter dogs, even from potentially contaminated materials,
was not even imagined then as a potential business niche, because
then shelter dogs were usually not fed, unless visited by “kind
mothers” as Taiwanese animal rescuers are commonly called.
“Kind mothers” have been supplanted in some communities by
privately funded “no-kill shelters” and “charity animal hospitals,”
whose goal is often just preserving animal life, with little
apparent concern for the quality of life the animals endure.
I visited one of the oldest and largest, the Life Caring &
Animal Rescue Organization “hospital” in Yingge. About two dozen
dogs, several with debilitating injuries, sprawled on dirty rags in
the reception area. Two of the healthiest, including a young golden
Labrador retriever, were chained to the wall in a manner that
prevented them from lying down. Other animals were in cages or
carriers. Most of the multi-floor building consisted of rooms of
animals in wire-bottomed cages, without resting boards, usually
without bedding, in filth and darkness. Many were so closely caged
that they could barely move.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has long used a 100-point scoring system for
shelters based on the “Five Freedoms” promoted by Compassion In World
Farming. Up to seven points per criterion are awarded for a shelter
ensuring that animals are free from thirst, hunger, and
malnutrition; free from discomfort; free from pain, injury, and
disease; free to express normal behavior; and free from fear and
Up to seven points per criterion are also awarded for a
shelter being open to visitation and easily located; clean and
attractive to visitors; having an active sterilization program;
having an effective adoption program; having an effective humane
education program; having effective odor control; having effective
noise control; having adequate community-based fundraising to
maintain and improve operations; and actively striving to realize
Two points may be given for attempted innovation.
An average U.S. shelter score is 75.
The largest complex of “kind mothers” shacks scored 19
points. The Life Caring & Animal Rescue Organization “hospital”
scored 14. Only four shelters that ANIMAL PEOPLE representatives
have ever visited have scored worse.
The three government shelters that I visited around Taipei
scored 23, 42, and 70 points, respectively.
The lowest score went to a shelter on a tea plantation
outside Hsindian, located so far up a steep, winding road as to be
almost inaccessible to all but the most determined visitors. The
shelter design was conceptually flawed because all male dogs were to
be kept in one large open area, with all female dogs in another. In
practice this meant that the larger and more aggressive dogs were
able to monopolize the apparently inadequate food rations. One
German shepherd had been removed from the run for male dogs for food
aggression, and was instead kept in a wire-floored cage barely
larger than himself.
The 42-point score was awarded to the Zhonge shelter, almost
as remote, atop an overgrown former landfill. The Zhonge shelter
features an agility course, but the unworn grass where dogs should
be wearing grooves demonstrates that it is seldom used. Built and
managed to a close approximation of U.S. animal control norms, the
Zhonge shelter appeared to be understaffed, and appeared to have
been designed with the notion that volunteers would help it to do
much more than it is now accomplishing. The location,
unfortunately, keeps volunteers away.
The Taipei Animal Shelter in ShiJr combines similar animal
facilities with a large office and reception area that includes a pet
care library and a mini-classroom. A lack of signage in the
neighborhood makes it, too, somewhat difficult to find, but it is
The major fault at the Taipei Animal Shelter is a
well-intentioned design flaw. Correctly understanding that
maintaining air exchange is essential to keeping a healthy shelter
environment, the designers installed huge fans at one end of the
kennels that create a constant draft, especially for the dogs housed
closest to the fans. Besides chilling dogs in cold weather, the
fans suck any airborne diseases through the entire kennel area.
Air exchange in a shelter is best accomplished, as the North
Shore Animal League has shown and taught since 1991, by a system of
heating from above the human head level, contrary to how heating is
done in most buildings, and then drawing the warm air downward
through each cage or run, to draw odors and aerosolized
disease-bearing particles down, away from the noses of the animals
and visitors. Each cage or run should have a separate air intake and
draw-down vent, so that any disease-bearing particles released in
one animal’s living space do not infect any other.
Conceptually counter-intuitive, this type of air exchange
system is now used by progressive shelters throughout the world.
Promise for the future of sheltering in Taiwan is presently
best exemplified by Love for Animals, Care for Life, locally
called LCA. A high-volume dog and cat sterilization clinic in ShiJr
that offers discounted or free care, LCA serves a clientele
including “kind mothers” from everywhere within a reasonable taxi
Funded for two years by a bequest administrated through a
local university, LCA has now operated for just over one year,
performing 8,000 surgeries. It will need to develop new funding to
continue past 2010.
Though a perhaps doomed prototype, sharing a building with a
garage, LCA shows that animal care in the Taipei region can be
provided in a manner meeting world standards, and that humane
awareness already goes beyond sheltering, to preventing the need for