Sun, Jul 17, 2005 - Page 18 News List

'I will protest till the day I die'

Ko Szu-hai held his first stray-dog protest 10 years ago and has gained a measure of fame since then as an urban hero-though there are some who dispprove of his style

By Meredith Dodge  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTO: TAIPEI TIMES

You may have seen him on the news holding up one of his signs and grinning behind some slightly peeved reporter or you may have run into him out on the streets of Tianmu taking his pig and cow for a walk. Even if you've just spotted his bizarre "propaganda-mobile" parked by the side of the road, if you live in Taipei, chances are you've encountered the "king of protesting" Ko Szu-hai (柯賜海) in some form or other.

Since his first stray-dog protest 10 years ago, Ko has gained fame as an urban quixotic hero, yet despite Ko's dedication to getting himself noticed, he has always been surrounded by an air of mystery. Some think he's crazy, some think he's a criminal -- others just think he's a joke. But underneath it all, Ko is really just a friendly, eccentric man with the heart of a child.

Born and raised in the countryside near Tainan, Ko was orphaned at the age of 9, and he learned to take comfort in the companionship of animals. To this day he remains very attached to his pets, of which there are many, and it was his quest to protect the poor abandoned stray dogs of Taiwan that first caught the public's eye.

Ko broke onto the protest scene a decade ago with his now-familiar act of bringing along a pack of dogs to the presidential office. He protested the euthanasia of strays and demanded better protection for the animals.

Nowadays, when he takes along the animals to his protests, it is usually for the sake of some attention-grabbing gimmick rather than the sake of defending their rights. On a recent trip to the KMT headquarters, Ko brought a horse, an eagle and a dog in tow. The idea was that the Taiwanese words for horse, eagle and dog together sounded like the name of mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), whom Ko is angry at for confiscating one of his cows.

"My poor cow is locked up in a cell less than 1 ping (3.3m2) in size, while it's used to roaming free in the fields," Ko said. (The bovine was confiscated for roaming free in the city, where cows are not allowed). While no one can question his dedication to his cow, the numerous stray dogs Ko has taken off the street may not be receiving the kind of care they should. In 1999, Miaoli County officials entered Ko's stray-dog center on complaints that the animals were being neglected. The officials rounded up over 30 dogs in what they described as "canine purgatory," where many were dying or already dead. They then pro-ceeded to euthanize the dogs.

Ko's activism strikes many as protesting for the sake of protesting rather than a deep dedication to some cause. The broad range of issues and politicians Ko regularly protests against -- from environmental pollution to arms deals, from Ma Ying-jeou to president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) -- arouses curiosity as to what, or whom exactly he supports.

"I focus on issues not on people," Ko said. It's useless to ask if he's green or blue, and when he runs for office, it's naturally on the independent ticket. He ran (unsuccessfully) last year for a position in the legislature and is currently a candidate in Hualien County's December commissioner election. Ko chose Hualien, he said, because nobody's taking care of the county and it's underdeveloped. But his main goal in both his activism and in running for office is to get "crooked politicians" out of power.

"Their words and their actions are fake. Everything they do is completely unfair," Ko said.

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