Sun, Feb 14, 2010 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Strays find no shelter in Taiwan: activists

FINGER POINTING Animal rights activists said local governments have neglected the problem for years, while officials blamed irresponsible pet owners and illegal breeders

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  STAFF REPORTER

The dingy wooden walls were covered in excrement. Maggots squirmed in plates of food that have been left out — uneaten — for days. The air is punctuated by tired howls and interrupted by short yelps for attention. For the dozens of stray dogs confined in this small shelter in Lugang (鹿港), Changhua County, this marks the beginning of each day in a building rarely visited by caretakers and seldom seem by the public.

There is no count of how many dogs come and go in this temporary shelter, but the non-profit Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST), which conducted an undercover probe of the building last year, said that for the many strays that are brought in, few leave.

However, neither the situation nor the shelter is unique.

Investigators at EAST said that local governments have neglected the problem for years. More than 90 percent of the 326 locations they investigated were found to be in remote and deserted garbage dumps, cemeteries or slaughterhouses.

Local governments blame the problem on rampant over-breeding leading to a jump in the number of pets abandoned over the last decade. Authorities said that overstretched local budgets meant that an increasingly smaller amount is set aside to deal with the problem.

The latest data showed that about 133,000 stray dogs were picked up across the country in 2008 — a 69 percent increase from 2003. In 17 counties, stray dogs are caught by garbage cleaning teams and placed in temporary shelters as more permanent housing is usually overcrowded.

As a result, private shelters are on a rise. Chris Ward, an English teacher, said he became the operator of a shelter in Taichung County after he realized that “authorities don’t give adoption a chance; they put the dogs down in a week, or two weeks tops.”

In 2008, 73 percent of stray dogs picked up by government shelters ended up being destroyed there. Officials said stray dogs are humanely killed if they are not claimed or adopted in seven days. In 2008 the adoption rate was estimated to be 14 percent.

“Some of the shelters are located in places people can't even find,” Ward told the Taipei Times in a telephone interview.

In the three years that he has run the shelter, he has sent 32 dogs for adoption overseas and has invested hundreds of thousands of New Taiwan dollars in maintaining the facilities.

“We had hoped to work the number down to zero, but more just keeps on coming in,” Ward said.

That's the problem that officials at the Executive Yuan agreed to deal with last November after dozens of activists, accompanied by lawmakers, protested outside its main gate. Earlier this month, a conference attended by local officials and county commissioners agreed to address this issue within a year.

But some officials told animal activists in private that progress has been slow because of issues over jurisdiction, while many local governments have simply refused to admit that it is a problem.

“Animals have no votes, they can't participate in elections,” EAST director Chen Yu-min (陳玉敏) said. “As a result, local politicians haven’t taken the issue seriously.”

She said animals and pets lacked regulation and government oversight.

“The government isn't addressing the core issue — which is that too many people want dogs but are unwilling to adopt,” she said.

The latest statistics compiled by the Council of Agriculture show that nearly one in four households in the country includes a pet dog. EAST said that more breeders are breeding ever larger numbers of puppies to meet the demand.

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