In a nation that is currently embroiled in a struggle to reshape perceptions of dogs as beloved pets, and not say, dinner; one dog lover has made headlines for going broke trying to save strays from the slaughterhouse. Accounts of this former millionaire’s heroic actions went viral last November, a recent Sina photoseries caught up with him to find out more details. Here is his story:
My name is Wang Yan, this year I am 29 years old, and in 2012 I established this rescue center in Changchun. Everyone calls this place the “stray dog sanctuary,” and its main purpose is to adopt and care for dogs that have been abandoned or were destined for the slaughterhouse. On March 8th, I had the difficult task of comforting a dog as it lay on its deathbed, caring for it as it took its last breath.
I left home at the age of 14 to find part-time work, and I eventually ended up in Changchun doing construction and engineering work. I’ve always loved dogs, mainly because of the bond that is formed between them and their owners. About three year ago there was in excess of 5,000 strays running around; we had all kinds of dogs, Samoyed, Golden Retrievers, almost every kind of breed could be found here.
Also around that time, my own pet dog disappeared. My friend suggested I go check out the slaughterhouse, just in case he was grabbed and scheduled for slaughter. I stopped by the slaughterhouse for nearly a week, and I never found my dog, but while I was there I saw so many beautiful dogs. They were all packed in cages, and I could tell that they were filled with dread, as I walked by they would all stare at me, hoping that I would release them from their misery. I couldn’t take it, and so I decided to buy one.
As I left with my new companion, I dared not look at the other dogs, but I could tell that their eyes were all on me. It was unbearable. After that, whenever I had nothing better to do, I would go to the slaughterhouse just to watch them.
When I had just started the sanctuary, I initially would save the dogs one-by-one, making frequent trips to the slaughterhouse. Eventually I was able to gather together a group of individuals who also shared my ideals, and we were able to take the dogs away by the truckload. On February 25th, some volunteers and I drove our car to the slaughterhouse and after bartering spent 2,000 RMB to buy six dogs and bring them home.
Most of the dogs I rescue come from places south of Changchun, such as Hebei province or the city of Tianjin. Because of the difference in climate, the dogs have trouble adjusting to the frigid temperatures this far north, which can get as cold as -30 C.
From time to time, the dogs I care for fall ill, so I have to go buy medicine from the pharmacy. Since I’m not a doctor, I began to study Chinese medicine and consulted with traditional doctors. In order to avoid bringing further harm to my dogs, I often test the medicine on myself first. One time I had a severe allergic reaction to one of the medicines, so I was sent to the hospital.
“Huangmao” (“Yellow Hair”) is a dog I rescued from near death. When I first found him in his cage, it was clear that he was dying, and his condition was so bad that his skin was festering. Now, whenever I look at him I can tell from his eyes that he is full of gratitude, and he always unwaveringly comes whenever I call for him.
When Huangmao first arrived at the sanctuary, his health was so bad that I decided to live with him in order to better manage his recovery. At first his body was in terrible shape, and he would often cough, vomit and suffer from diarrhea. At night, whenever I heard him cough, I would immediately get up to check on his condition. Two months later, Huangmao had finally recovered his strength and vitality; everyone says it’s a miracle that he’s alive.
Although I exhausted all my energy and resources to successfully bring Huangmao back from the brink of death, there are unfortunately many other dogs that I was unable to save despite my best efforts. One of my responsibilities is to see to the disposal of their corpses, which I tearfully cremate and hope fervently that they find a better life in Heaven.
Everyday at five in the morning the dogs come pawing at my window to remind me to feed them. Their feed primarily consists of corn meal. Every bowl contains about 100 grams of the stuff, and each day I cook eight pots, which means that it costs me 1,000 RMB per day to feed them, for a total of about 3 million RMB over the past three years. Before, I had the time to find work outside of the sanctuary, but these days I am forced to find part-time work near the sanctuary.
I live a very modest and frugal life, but in spite of that I find my work rewarding enough to continue. Whereas other people think I am simply wasting my time, I choose to see it as opportunity to get together and have fun with the people and animals I care about.
The only real regret I have is for dragging my wife into this. Everyday she works hard to feed the dogs and to clean up after them. I remember one time I had saved 2,000 RMB for a wedding photo shoot, but at the same time I unexpectedly discovered we had run out of dog food, so I used the money to purchase feed for them instead. She was unhappy, of course, but thankfully she is supportive of both me and my work.
It’s not just me and my family caring for these dogs. Every Saturday, volunteers come to help out with the work, feeding, cleaning and caring for the dogs.
One of my volunteers has burst into tears when faced with the hardship these dogs must endure. It only steels my resolve that what I do is worthwhile. Although the sanctuary has been firmly established, I still refuse to accept monetary donations, though I make an exception for people wishing to donate building materials or dog food to help me continue my mission to provide these dogs with a nurturing home.
By Stanley Yu
[Images via Sina]