(AFP) – Jun 8, 2008
DUJIANGYAN, China (AFP) — Although just three years old, Xingxing is being taken away from her family in China's earthquake zone, heading to a safer place with plenty of dog biscuits.
"It's sad. We will miss her, of course. She is part of our family," says Xu Xiaoping, wiping away tears as the Old English sheepdog bounded obliviously into a transport cage in the city of Dujiangyan.
Xingxing is among more than 100 dogs rescued recently from the earthquake-damaged city by Animals Asia, one of a handful of animal-welfare groups that have come to the aid of an overlooked segment of the disaster's victims.
Rescue and evacuation of human victims is virtually complete nearly a month after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake devastated a large swathe of Sichuan province, but the plight of pets is just beginning to be addressed.
Many of the quake's millions of homeless live in temporary tent camps, where pets have been banned for health reasons, with authorities summarily culling animals found there.
"As a result, some displaced people have been keeping the pets in their damaged homes, which is a safety risk to both the owner and pet," said Jill Robinson, founder of Animals Asia, a non-profit organisation based in nearby Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.
Robinson calls the culls misguided, saying dogs and cats help keep rats and other vermin under control.
"But one of the most important things is the unconditional love and companionship they give people who may have lost loved ones in the quake. So to just kill them is inhumane both for the pets and the owners," said Robinson, a Briton.
Animals Asia's primary focus at its Chengdu facility is rehabilitating moon bears, animals that are kept in cages and cruelly milked of the bile in their gall bladders for use in traditional Chinese medicines.
But the group is offering free shelter, food and veterinary care for quake pets taken to the facility. It regularly visits Dujiangyan, about an hour's drive away, to pick up pets from owners who can no longer care for them.
One of these was Piglet, a squat mutt who did not take it well and was soon muzzled.
"We can't live in our home anymore and can't afford to feed her because of the earthquake," said owner Guang Huihua, 50, who now lives in a tent camp.
"So I feel relieved that I can give her up for now," said Guang, who plans to take Piglet back once her family is settled.
Doing the right thing for his dog was an easy choice for Liao Shuliang, 70.
Liao said the dog, called Potato for his resemblance to the tuber, roused him by tugging at his trouser leg for about a minute before the quake.
"Then the earthquake came. I took two or three steps out the door and the house fell down. Potato saved me," said Liao, who gave the pet to Animals Asia.
Several pet-sellers in the city have abandoned their shops due to quake damage, occasionally returning to feed the animals who languish there in their own filth.
Robinson's persistent staff have persuaded and cajoled the merchants to surrender animals, with one handing over 41 pets.
She is currently seeking funds to build more space in Chengdu for the refugee pets.
"We must stop at some point because taking in too many animals is a welfare issue itself," she said, urging potential donors to visit the group's site at animalsasia.org.
"But right now we are just trying to help out as much as we can."
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