Tue, Feb 21, 2012 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Death row animals find life in pictures

TAKING ACTION:More than 200 dogs are estimated to be killed a day at government shelters, and Tou Yun-fei hopes his photographs spark a conversation about the situation

By Christie Chen  /  CNA

A stray dog is seen in a photograph taken on Sunday by activist Tou Yun-fei before it was euthanized. In an effort to call attention to animal rights, Tou has spent more than two years taking pictures of animals scheduled to be euthanized by government shelters.

Photo: CNA

Tou Yun-fei (杜韻飛) usually walks the dogs first or spends time with them before guiding them, sometimes carrying them in his arms, to the studio where he takes pictures of them.

It can take a few minutes or several hours. He then accompanies the dogs to another room and stands by them as they are put to death.

The photographer-turned-animal rights activist has been doing this twice a week for two years.

“I don’t tell people what they should do. My works aren’t propaganda or templates that instruct people, but I hope the images can inspire people to take action,” Tou, a two-time winner of the government’s Golden Tripod Award for photography, said in a recent interview.

Government statistics show that during the past decade, 880,950 stray animals have been captured and sent to the 38 government-funded animal pounds located throughout the nation. Of those, 718,814 have been euthanized and most of them were stray dogs.

Animal rights groups say the animal pounds are treating and killing the dogs inhumanely and that the government is failing to enforce existing regulations to protect the dogs. They estimate that government shelters kill more than 200 dogs a day.

Many people treat stray dogs as statistics, but Tou believes each one of them has a face worth photographing.

The photographer quit a well-paid job with a local magazine two years ago to photograph the stray dogs, an idea that he said began to form at least a decade or two ago.

Since then, he has photographed more than 400 dogs before they were put to death.

“Each is an individual with emotions and each has its own personality,” said the 36-year-old, whose pictures of the dogs have appeared in a local magazine, newspapers, exhibitions and on the Internet.

A humane process for euthanizing animals involves giving the dogs tranquilizers prior to giving them an anesthestic and drugs to kill them; but not all dogs are given tranquilizers, Tou said.

In some facilties, the cost of sedative tranquilizers has to be met by the veterinarians instead of the government, lowering the incentive for the vets to use the proper process to euthanize the animals. The animals suffer greatly, the photographer said.

The government-funded pounds often outsource the killing to private vets and organizations, so this makes it hard for the public to supervise the euthanasia and ensure that it is humane, Tou said.

There are an estimated 140 animal pounds in Taiwan and animals sent to the 38 government-run facilities are put to death if they are not picked up by their owners or adopted within 12 days.

Since he was a child, Tou has identified with stray dogs.

“I know that they, like me, desire love, but most aren’t able to get it,” Tou said.

He has had two dogs of his own.

Growing weary of the work environment after six years in the media, Tou said the thought of doing something for the strays resurfaced.

The photographer began contacting government-funded animal shelters and obtained consent from four facilities to photograph the dogs before they were killed.

Instead of taking pictures of dogs locked in cages or in the environment of the pounds, Tou chose instead to take portraits, which allow their faces and expressions to be clearly seen.

According to Tou, the dogs in his photographs have human-like expressions: Some look sad, some look proud, while others look thoughtful.

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