Do you know where cats and dogs go after they are collected from the streets? And how they are treated?
Today, the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) announced the results of its investigation, “Taiwan’s Miracle? – From Life to Garbage”, accusing the Taiwanese government and local authorities of long-term abuse of stray dogs and cats. It has been 12 years since the Animal Protection Law took effect, but the population of stray dogs and cats keeps increasing. It is obvious that the government needs to take a long hard look at itself.
Before the Animal Protection Law took effect (1998), many cities and towns in Taiwan had inhumanely ‘dealt with’ stray animals by electrocution, drowning, starvation, burying them alive, etc. This caused protests both internationally and locally, resulting in the improvement of Animal Protection Law. Twelve years later, with millions of government dollars poured into improvement of animal pounds, catching equipment and training, has the situation of stray animals in Taiwan really improved?.
In order to see how much things had changed for the animals , EAST undertook a comprehensive investigation over 3 years, targeting 326 cities and towns in Taiwan, examining the situation of dogs and cats in pounds. Chen Yu-min, the Chief Executive of EAST, pointed out: “During the 3-year investigation, we saw the distressing side of 326 places. Day after day, countless animals go through the sad and painful experiences of a life that was made of only suffering, in most cases leading to a prolonged and painful death. In more than 90% of the places surveyed animals are kept in remote and deserted garbage dumps, cemeteries, or to slaughter houses. They are left to drink dirty water and mildewed food, food covered in maggots or crawling with ants, and in some cases, no food or water at all. They are left there to die ‘naturally’ of starvation or disease. Innumerable disabled or sick dogs and cats can’t get medical care, or be humanely euthanised in an emergency. They are abandoned to be eaten by maggots and suffer in silence until they ‘naturally stop breathing’. In some places they are shut in extremely crowded cages or in such tiny cages that they cannot even turn around. In some places the cages were left outdoors, exposing them to heat, rain and wind. Sometimes no assessment was made of animals before shutting them up together, leading to bullying in the cages, with weaker animals unable to even find a place to lie down and rest, or get to the food and water.”
|Several shabby dog cages made of waste board used for stray dogs and cats. The pictures show a pound for stray dogs and cats in Lugang, Zhanghua County. These animals are exposed to the sun, rain and wind.|
The OIE (World Organization of Animal Health, 2005) believes that the internationally recognised five freedoms provide valuable guidance in animal welfare:
freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition;
freedom from fear and distress;
freedom from physical and thermal discomfort;
freedom from pain, injury and disease ; and
freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour)
Our investigation shows that during the whole process of dealing with stray animals, from catching them to sheltering them, the majority of the places surveyed did not even provide any basic welfare to the animals! The Taiwanese government needs to do something to end the leading role it currently plays in abusing animals.
|Dongshan village dog pound in southern Taiwan: several very dirty dog cages, with excrement even in the water bowls. Nobody appears to be around to clean the bowls and change the water. There is no space for dogs to lie down, or even sit down. The top of the cage is only covered with two pieces of plastic, completely useless for warding off the heat and cold.|
|Pingdong Heng Chun dog pound only appears to have wounded dogs. One severely wounded dog is paralyzed, and another two have no space to lie down, and must sit all the time.|
EAST’s large-scale investigation started with telephone interviews with all the 326 towns and cities in Taiwan that have associated dog pounds, to get information about their policies for stray dogs and cats and the current situation. This was followed by fieldwork.
On studying the animal collection service, we found that out of the 326 places surveyed, 318 offer a dog catching service (Wu Qiu village refused to be interviewed and is not included). Out of these, 269 (83%) use a Waste Disposal Squad to do the catching. This used to be the situation before the Animal Protection Law was passed – stray animals were covered under the Waste Disposal Law. Over the past 10 years, EAST and many other animal protection groups have pushed for the collection service to be moved to the Agriculture Department’s animal protection agency. At the same time they have asked for the adoption of European and American measures, such as full-time animal management staff to help in the protection of stray dogs and cats, so that the animal protection groups can reduce their workload and play a greater role in public education.
Unfortunately, the administration just refuses to accept responsibility and keeps passing the buck, which makes the problem even more serious. There are 16 towns and villages (5% of the 326) that sub-contract their dog catching responsibilities to private companies. These private catchers only look at the number of animals that they can catch, as this is associated with their fees, and they do not care about quality of life. We found that very often these private catchers have no understanding of animal protection, animal behaviour and animal welfare, and there are often complaints about brutal dog catching. The Agriculture Department is the competent authority of the Animal Protection Law, but it is only in charge of dog catching in 33 places (10%), and there are 7 places with no dog catching service.
With regard to the question of where the captured animals go, the investigation found that Taiwan has a total of 140 sites that hold stray animals, including 104 temporary holding facilities and 36 government pounds servicing 326 cities, towns and villages. EAST visited 122 sites, which is 87% of the 140 sites, and some places were visited several times.
Chen Yu-min points out that the 104 temporary holding facilities in Taiwan are not legal according to national laws – they have been set up by local authorities instead of building proper shelters, and are places where stray animals are kept after being captured by the Waste Disposal Squad instead of being taken to a shelter. These places include corners of garbage dumps or yards, and in some cases the animals are kept there until they are killed or die.
Throughout Taiwan, apart from Miaoli and Yunling counties, which have no public shelters, there are totally 36 shelters in 25 counties and municipalities. Among them 14 are in Taipei County alone, which is the suburb city surrounding the capital of Taiwan, Taipei. Other counties/municipalities have one pound each. Apart from a few places which pay attention to improving their pounds, the others are just like dirty prisons. According to Chen, the pain and suffering of these animals cannot be expressed through mere words, and she hopes that the public will visit the EAST website (http://animal-action.east.org.tw/ ) to learn more about the real situation through the videos and field records there.
|Xinying Waste Disposal Squad in southern Taiwan, putting dogs in cages on the vehicle with inadequate ventilation. Each cage is crowded with dogs, and there is no water or food, even though the animals may be kept there for days.||Miaoli Zhu Nan stray dog pound: dogs have been shut up together randomly, leading to fighting..|
|Most of the so-called “shelters” in Taipei County just have very basic facilities, animal welfare is extremely poor, and in some places authorities simply cover the cages up as a way of pretending that making the problem does not exist, as the picture of Tu Cheng dog pound shows – the cages are completely covered with tarpaulin so that there are no openings for ventilation, and no keepers can be seen. There is no way for owners to find lost dogs, or for anyone to volunteer, or adopt an animal.||Wugu village in Taipei County - at the entrance of this “shelter” there is even a sign that says “There are dangerous dogs inside”, intended to keep away people who want to adopt dogs. Wires have been set across the top of the walls. The measures used, apparently to stop break-ins, make the pound seem like an important closely guarded military post.|
Most pounds take measures against visitors the way they would against thieves – the only reason appears to be that they are scared of the public learning about their dirty secrets! The measures include: no photos, no filming, and a staff member accompanying visitors at all times. The most shocking thing we saw was at Jinshan pound in Taipei County - all visitors must leave their bags in the office before being allowed into the pound. In Xindian pound, if visitors want to take photos, an application must be submitted in advance and they have to wait until the dog cages are cleaned up. In Tucheng and Yingge pounds, they simply cover the dog cages with tarpaulin or plastic boards – covering them up is their solution for all their problems.
The situation for animals in these pounds is no different from concentration camps or jails!
According to EAST’s investigation, the following counties have the worst animal pounds:
Taipei county, Taoyaun county, Miaoli County, Taichung County, Changhua County, Yunlin County, Chiayi County and City, Kaohsiung County, Pingtung County ,Taitung County and Hualien County. The County Chiefs of these counties should be made to face the censure of the public for completely ignoring animal welfare, even though animal protection is a symbol of a civilized society
Currently only 11 places have specialised animal protection units to implement the Animal Protection Law. Of these, Taipei city is the most progressive: on 7th October 2009 the city council passed a resolution to change the Taipei Municipal Institute for Animal Health (TMIAH) into a full-fledged Animal Protection Department. At central government level, the Council of Agriculture (COA) has put animal protection issues under the Livestock Administration Division of the Animal Industry Department. The problem is that livestock administration is quite different from animal protection: the first is concerned with economic returns, and is focused on industry profits, while the latter is concerned with making activities and industries humane, taking into account both animal and human welfare. The two are independent, and should belong to different departments.
The government should establish an Office for Animal Protection under the supervision of the COA as soon as possible to take responsibility for the major changes that are needed to improve animal welfare in Taiwan.
According to statistics from the COA, from 1999 to 2008 the number of stray dogs taken in at the government pounds is a stunning 900,000. The number taken in and killed keeps increasing every year. Of the animals taken in, nearly 73 % were killed (around 650,000 animals), 16% were adopted (140,000, with most of these actually taken in by private shelters). Nobody appears to know the whereabouts of the other 100,000 animals! The long-standing stray animal problems need a new approach, from the roots to the resulting animal welfare problems such as dog catching and sheltering.
The pounds, which take in around 70,000 animals a year and have serious animal abuse issues, should immediately take steps to improve the situation. EAST calls for the government to take immediate measures to stop the cruelty at the pounds:
Immediately shut down the 104 illegal animal pounds with serious animal abuse problems.
Based on the Animal Protection Law, those pounds with serious animal abuse issues should be inspected and prosecuted for civil and criminal offences.
The pound’s regulations and policies should be transparent. Euthanasia processes should be open or external monitoring should be accepted to improve animal welfare.
The pounds should learn advanced management techniques from other countries, and the government should draft and implement strict regulations for management of pet breeding and trade.
The current dog catching policy should be reviewed, and more animal-welfare friendly management should be adopted, including full-time animal warden schemes to help in the protection of stray dogs and cats, so that the animal wardens can reduce their workload and play a greater role in public education
Set standards for animal welfare, and embody these standards in companion animal management and protection.
An office designated for Animal Protection should be established by the government as soon as possible. Overall improvement needs to be done in animal related businesses.
Chen Yu-min invites everyone to visit EAST’s website and view the investigation footage: ‘Taiwan’s Miracle? - from life to garbage: a systematic investigation of the welfare of stray dogs and cats’, and calls for the public’s assistance to supervise their local government’s policies and actions regarding stray animals. She also asks the public to write to the local government candidates before the elections at the end of the year, asking them to improve conditions for stray animals, as an important symbol of civilisation.