The saga of "209," a stray dog that lived for nearly two years on a 30cm-wide divider between the north and southbound lanes on the Sun Yat-sen Freeway near Changhua, was brought to an end on Sunday when several volunteers from an animal welfare group took it upon themselves to mount a rescue operation and capture the dog.
It took the nine volunteers five hours of chasing the poor animal and three attempts to sedate it before they could finally remove the dog. But while the intentions of the animal welfare group were entirely honorable, their highly irresponsible modus operandi left a lot to be desired and raises a number of important issues.
First, the group failed to contact the highway authorities to ask for permission prior to attempting their daring rescue, which involved crossing the busy freeway on foot. The freeways are hazardous enough without a group of unauthorized people putting both their own lives and those of motorists at risk by running around after a stray dog. One can only imagine the traffic chaos that ensued during the rescue operation.
Thankfully the volunteers' rescue effort did not lead to any accidents. But how could nine people spend such a long time running around on a freeway without the police intervening?
These people should at least have been detained, and even though police said they would be slapped with fines of between NT$3,000 and NT$6,000, that is hardly severe enough to deter this kind of reckless behavior. They could have ended up causing the deaths of several people, including their own.
The second issue that arises is the apathy of the nation's freeway police. Having been there for nearly two years and having gained minor celebrity status in the region, the dog was known to present a serious traffic hazard. It had reportedly often brought traffic to a screeching halt when it jumped down onto the freeway.
The authorities made 52 attempts to capture the stranded dog, including the laying of baited traps. But they couldn't have been trying very hard, and this says something about even the authorities' lackadaisical attitude to an issue as important as road safety.
Third is the pitiful existence of many of the nation's stray dogs, which has long been a contentious issue. The plight of strays and the inhumane treatment they receive from authorities in the past prompted the World Society for the Protection of Animals to declare Taiwan the worst place in the world for dogs.
And although there are many kind-hearted people and organizations that go out of their way to care for an estimated 2 million strays, the fate of these animals still presents a serious problem that needs to be tackled. The government needs to take the problem far more seriously and come up with an intelligent alternative to its preferred solution of extermination.
The authorities need to work with charitable foundations and come up with innovative ways to tackle the religious and social issues responsible for the high number of strays around the nation. Only by doing this can we ensure that the tale of "209" will not be repeated.
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