By some account, the following scene has to constitute animal cruelty:— first comes the stroller, catching the attention of passers-by seeking to catch a glimpse of little toes, or a toddler’s innocent smile. However, instead of a baby, they see a furry, yapping little thing, and if that were not disconcerting enough, the dog is incongruously wearing four tiny red shoes.
No country has more house pets per capita that are not walking on all fours — as they were meant to be — than Taiwan. The phenomenon deserves attention, as the preternatural pampering masks a darker side of society.
Violence against animals is rampant in this country, with abandoned dogs roaming university campuses or, when they are “lucky” enough, awaiting a brighter future in an overcrowded animal shelter operated by selfless individuals. On any visit to one of these rowdy shelters, one will come upon a spectacle of horrors, from three-legged dogs and mangy strays, to the crazed and most unfortunate animals that have had their faces bashed in by a baseball bat, either from anger or for the sheer “fun” of it.
These two scenes represent two extremes of Taiwanese society: Cold cruelty toward innocent creatures and gushing affection of the kind rarely visited upon one’s flesh and blood. Good intentions notwithstanding, the kingly treatment of pets, which in its folly also includes pedicures, multi-thousand-dollar baths, and even psychological treatment, is shameful. It is one thing to display love and affection toward one’s animal companion, but to go to such lengths to do so when society remains filled with destitute human beings is problematic, to say the least.
Beyond the sheer folly of it are more mundane, albeit no less important, reasons why animals should be allowed to be animals. Unlike in, say, North America or Europe, rare are the houses in Taiwanese cities that have a backyard. Most people are stacked into smallish apartment buildings with no outside access, which means that animals whose instinct would take them outdoors for the occasional stroll, rabbit chasing or to fulfill the call of nature, are confined to a compact environment in which it is impossible for them to play as necessary for their full physical (and psychological) well-being.
The least one could do when going outside for a walk with the dog, then, is to allow the poor creature to stretch its legs and chase after birds or the neighbor’s equally overprotected puppy. Keeping a dog in a stroller, or in a handbag or backpack, is cruel. Forcing them to wear clothes, in a country where there is no cold winter to freeze their paws, also goes against nature and is wrong.
Rather than treat pets like heavenly emissaries, one ought to respect the animal’s instincts. If one feels compelled to do more for the animal kingdom, Taiwan has plenty of species, from pets to endangered dolphins, in dire need of succor. There are many things one can do to help, from donating time by walking an abandoned mutt on weekends to making donations to the handful of shelters nationwide that care about animals without treating them like something they are not.
Let the dogs out. Set them free.