The nation’s only round-the-clock animal rescue service may come to a halt next month owing to a shortage of funds, dealing another blow to the country’s underfinanced efforts to care for stray animals.
“The growing number of rescue cases referred by the central government and the Taipei City Government and a fall-off in public donations in recent months have made it difficult to continue the service,” said Tiger Tung (董冠富), chief executive of the Taipei-based Life Caring and Animal Rescue Organization Taiwan (LCO).
Since its founding four years ago, LCO — the nation’s biggest animal rescue organization — has not only rescued 6,000 cats and dogs, but also helped save a Formosan Sambar Deer, a Formosan Blue Magpie, a scaly anteater, an eagle, a dove and three rabbits, Tung said in a recent interview.
Taiwan has several nongovernmental animal protection groups and some of them provide regional rescue services, but the LCO is the only one that offers 24-hour rescues around the country.
LCO members answer calls from many parts of the country, including Pingtung County, to save injured, abused, or stray animals, Tung said.
After rescuing the animals — mostly stray cats and dogs — the association gives them away to people who want to adopt them or raises them in large kennels until they pass away, Tung said.
LCO currently cares for nearly 400 animals.
Since the association received widespread local media coverage of its rescue service in the middle of last year, it has been referred many cases of strays by central and local governments, with the number of cases increasing noticeably in July and last month, Tung said.
“However, the governments do not provide any funds and we have to shoulder all the costs,” he said. “If there weren’t so many cases referred from the government, I believe that our rescue service would be able to survive.”
The Taipei city and county governments do provide some animal rescue services, but the services are not available late at night, on weekends, or on holidays, and thus reported cases get transferred to the group.
The association applied to the Council of Agriculture for subsidies in late July, but the application was rejected earlier this month, Tung said.
The council told the association that it only provides funds for education and neutering, not animal rescue, he said.
The service’s looming demise highlights the lack of resources devoted to caring for stray animals and the sheer size of the problem. Neither the central nor most local governments have a unit specifically assigned to deal with the widespread problem of stray animals. Fire departments are usually called when an animal needs to be cared for, but they are not in charge of strays.
Some stray animals look so malnourished that they are down to skin and bones as they roam the hills and streets searching for food, while others limp around with injuries.
In one case highlighted by the media last year, a dog lived for two years on a freeway median surviving on food thrown to her by sympathetic motorists.
When it comes to respecting and protecting animals, Taiwan lags far behind another Asian Tiger, Hong Kong, Tung said.
He said that Hong Kong activists set up the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in 1903 and that the society later began receiving funds from Hong Kong authorities, the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Li Ka Shing Foundation, a charity named after the Hong Kong tycoon.
Compared with the SPCA, Tung said his association has support only from a few private companies.
“The SPCA has more than 100 staffers, while the LCO has only 14,” he said.
The LCO carries out rescue activities with seven rescue vehicles bearing the name “Cat Dog 119” in Chinese. The number 119 is the local emergency telephone number.
Besides the lack of government funding, the organization has also suffered because of a sharp drop in public donations caused by soaring inflation and other diversions, Tung said.
Taiwanese donated about NT$1.2 billion (US$37.6 million) after the May 12 earthquake that devastated the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, cutting into the funds they might have donated to other charities, including the LCO, Tung said.
Tax payments in May to July and school tuition payments in early September also caused private donations to dry up, Tung said.
While the association will continue to seek funding from other government agencies, it is turning to local enterprises and institutions for help in the meantime.
It has also asked the public to donate recyclables or unused goods to help raise funds.
Tung said the association could raise NT$100,000 to NT$200,000 by selling the donated goods. But even that may not be enough to keep the service open.
The association’s monthly expenses amount to NT$700,000 to NT$1 million, most of which is used to save animals or treat those that have been rescued, Tung said.
If the rescue service comes to an end next month, under existing law, cats or dogs saved by government workers such as firefighters will be killed if no one adopts them within seven days.
“People are trying very hard to save these animals, but in the end, these animals are just put to sleep,” he said.
To get to the root of this problem, experts said it was important to educate the public to be more responsible about owning pets and urge people not buy pets on a whim if they are not prepared to care for them when they grow older.
In an indication that at least some local governments are waking up to the problem of strays and animal neglect — a problem that hurts Taiwan’s image as an advanced and developed country, especially as it hopes to attract more tourists — the Taipei City Government in July began working with two local animal hospitals to provide rescue services.