With a quick motion of the hand, a spoken command and a stern look, Chris Leroux had the undivided attention of his pack. With all eyes fixed firmly on their leader, not one of the ex-strays moved a muscle as they waited for the next instruction.
Then Leroux turned his back and started to walk away. The dogs remained motionless, waiting patiently and confidently for him to come back. One word — “come” — and the dogs scurried towards Leroux, hopeful that they would be rewarded for their behavior.
Leroux is an English teacher from Canada whose passion for animal welfare has motivated him and his partner, Natasha Hodel, to put most of their earnings and savings into establishing the animal rescue organization BARK in Kaohsiung City.
“It is heartbreaking, what you see on the streets sometimes — especially knowing some of these animals were abandoned by their owners. But getting mad isn’t the solution,” he said as he stroked the back of one dog’s ears.
Homer, a healthy black dog, was emaciated and afflicted with a skin disease when Hodel and Leroux found him.
Homer and Chief are two of the dogs that have been lucky enough to find a new home, adopted by a friend of Leroux and Hodel. But many of the organization’s other ex-strays remain up for adoption.
Established in April, BARK began operations in Leroux and Hodel’s backyard. Just a few months later, the couple say things are running smoothly and they are making progress helping some of Kaohsiung’s strays escape life on the streets.
BARK not only tries to find shelters for animals in need, it works to educate the community and raise public awareness about the stray population.
One method that could help reduce the stray population is the Catch-Neuter-Release (CNR) method, Leroux said.
CNR is an option because there aren’t homes for every stray on the street, so animals are instead spayed or neutered and released where they were found.
The method is widely supported by animal welfare societies around the globe and some local governments in Taiwan as the most humane and sustainable way to deal with the stray population.
So far, with the help of volunteers, BARK has rescued and helped more than 200 injured and abused cats and dogs. BARK tries to offer hurt animals the best medical care possible.
“We make it very clear that we are not a dumping ground for unwanted animals and we will not accept animals whose owners simply don’t want them anymore,” said Leroux, who said he has been invited to various locations to promote CNR and responsible pet ownership.
Sometimes, when he receives calls about animals on the streets, Leroux said that rather than rushing out the door with a net and a cage, he tries to coach the caller on helping the animal. This way, Leroux says he can pass on his knowledge of animals, while helping with animal rescues.
Hodel and Leroux care for a handful of animals at home, while many of their other rescues are placed temporarily with families until a permanent home is found.
On the day of the interview, in addition to a group of dogs in the backyard, three palm-sized tabby kittens huddled with their mother in an oversize cage in the house. Another two rescues, a pair of grown cats, wandered around in the basement.
Leroux reached into the cage to comfort the nervous mother cat as she hissed.
“For some strays, once they get acclimated to humans, they can become wonderful house pets. You just need to be very patient with them,” he said.
As Hodel told stories about the cats they had rescued, it was clear she thought of them as part of the family.
Hodel remembers where and when each cat was found, what cuts and wounds they had and how each interacted with humans.
BARK may have plenty of heart, but it needs more volunteers and resources. To offset mounting medical bills and food expenses and to attract anyone interested in adopting a rescued stray, BARK holds an adoption day and flea market fundraiser at a pet store in Kaohsiung City each Sunday afternoon between 3pm and 7pm.
Helping BARK help animals is easy, Hodel said. Anyone is welcome to rummage through their home and donate what they no longer need or want to the flea market. Proceeds go toward caring for the animals, she said.
For more information, visit www.atkaohsiung.org. The Web site features pictures of animals in need of adoption.
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