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Long read: Six months into the no-kill policy, we look inside Taiwan's shelters

Saturday, July 15, 2017
The China Post


TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A week ago, a black dog died four days after entering an animal shelter in Southern Taiwan. It had not been put to sleep because euthanasia is illegal in Taiwan.

Rather, the pooch appeared to have been overstressed by a combination of bad weather and a hot, loud and extremely overcrowded shelter.

The death of this particular dog triggered outrage from members of the public and the people who had known it outside the shelter.

Known for patrolling a convenience store, it was so affable to customers that most who knew it believed it had a family of its own.

If the dog had never entered the shelter, some observers argued, it would still be alive and well.

A Double-edged Policy

It's now been nearly six months since Taiwan's government enacted a complete no-kill policy nationwide.

Although the policy ended the euthanizing of healthy animals in all public shelters, it also exacerbated problems like overcrowding and underfunding.

Animal rights activists have warned that unless the policy gets the proper support, animals that are spared euthanasia will live out their lives in misery.

There are 33 public shelters across Taiwan's 22 administrative areas, and each can accommodate anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred animals.

But even as early as last year, a number of shelters had already reached and even exceeded capacity, according to data from the Council of Agriculture.

Packed to Overcapacity

No more killing could be a good thing, but what kind of treatment are animals getting in overcrowded shelters lacking in resources?

“After the zero euthanasia policy, the number of animals here has increased,” said Yen Yi-feng (嚴一峰), director of the animal protection office in Taipei City.

In Chiayi, the kennels are also at overcapacity.

“The numbers of animals in our shelter has obviously increased,” said an administrator of a shelter in Chiayi City.

The administrator, surnamed Huang, said that since the no-kill policy was put into effect, the shelter has found itself housing over 40 dogs — twice as many as it was ever able to accommodate.

In fact, they are now using a temporary space that doesn't have enough medical resources, Huang said.

As a result, they have begun catching only “dangerous” animals, rather than friendly dogs or puppies, but they are still unable to keep the number down.

Yilan has had a zero-euthanasia policy since 2015. At the Yilan public shelter, the number of animals has steadily increased over the past two years.

It has exceeded its capacity by 50 percent, making it the most crowded shelter in Taiwan.

No More 'Good Deaths,' But Does That Mean A Good Life?

Chiu Yu-Hsuan (邱于軒), a project manager at Taiwan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said that overcrowding was a safety concern for dogs.

“If too many dogs feed in one cage, they might bite each other and infection or diseases bright spread easily -- that's the most concerning part,” Chiu said.

In February of this year, the Yilan shelter saw an outbreak of canine parvovirus and 72 dogs had to put down to control the disease.

In Tainan, shelters are trying a mix of approaches to controlling the number of animals in their charge. Like Yilan, Tainan launched a zero-euthanasia policy in 2015.

Hung Chen-kai (洪振凱), head of a shelter under Tainan Animal Health Inspection and Protection Office, said Tainan has been able to keep its shelter population down with methods like TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return), accurate capture and a program that trains working dogs.

“But these methods do not work well every time,” Hung said.

Not every dog can become a working dog, and accurate capture and TNR requires the cooperation of locals.

“If all that people want is for all the stray animals 'disappear,' then the work of animal protection will never succeed,” he said.

The Real Culprit

Many animal activists told The China Post that the key to solving the stray animal problem was captured in the catchphrase “Don't abandon -- neuter.”

But it is difficult to promote neutering and microchip implantation in Taiwan because of most of those problems stem from the owner, who has free will, said Kao Chen-Chun (高晨鈞), a project manager at Help-Save-A-Pet Fund.

In Taiwan, there's still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the education of pet and stray animal treatment, Kao said, saying that Taiwan was still “an undeveloped country” in that regard.

Owners often have doubts about neutering and microchip implantation, ranging from concerns about hurting the dog to questions about its necessity.

“Many owners refuse to microchip their pets because they don't want to take responsibility for it,” Hung Chen-kai said.

'Can't force them to come to class'

Animal activists say that neutering is an important protective measure that not only reduces the risk of illness in pets, but also lowers the animal's aggression and their risk of being abandoned or sent to shelters.

In addition, unneutered pets also sometimes copulate with stray animals, exacerbating the overpopulation problem.

“And then locals feel annoyed and then call the shelter to catch those stray dogs and cats,” Chiu Yu-hsuan said.

The more people pursue a high-quality life, the more people hate stray animals and call up shelters to take them away, Chiu said.

As for microchipping, it's like giving pets an ID card so that they can be identified if they get lost. If the owner ditches their pets on purpose, both the owner and the pets can be found.

“We actually hold lectures frequently, hoping to inculcate the right concepts. However, we can't force careless people to come to the lecture,” Hung Chen-kai said, sighing. He said he thinks problem is unsolvable.

Short on Funds and Concern

In the Netherlands, which has a successful zero-euthanasia policy, there's a rule that every pet must have a microchip with their basic information and the owner's personal information implanted within seven weeks of birth.

In Taiwan, there are similar rules governing matters like microchip implantation and animal neutering. The problem is that they are not enforced.

“When it comes to the animals' neutering, it is my opinion that the government spends too little funds and shows too little concern,” Chiu Yu-hsuan of the SPCA said.

Kao Chen-Chun said he had proposed to the Council of Agriculture to put animal hospitals on the front line of animal protection because most owners take their pets to animal hospitals at some point.

Kao proposed having vets take the initiative to implant a microchip if the animal does not seem to have one.

But for the proposal to become reality, the government has to take some action, Kao said.

Non-government organizations are all making a huge effort to push forward on animal population control, holding educational programs and organizing lectures.

At the end of the day, however, it still isn't enough.

“To be honest, I feel powerless,” Kao said.

With reporting by The China Post interns Zoe Chen and Teresa Wu. Mareth Chavez, Yvonne Huang and Logan Sander also contributed to this report.

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