Covid-19: volunteers save pets confined to Shanghai

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China applies a strict zero Covid strategy, which includes placing all those who test positive in quarantine centers. Result: animals find themselves left to fend for themselves.

Sent to a quarantine center after a positive Covid test, residents of Shanghai had to abandon their cat or dog in their apartment. But volunteers organize themselves to save the animal from hunger and thirst. The Chinese economic capital is facing its strongest epidemic outbreak since the start of the pandemic at the end of 2019. Its 25 million inhabitants have been confined to their homes since the beginning of April.

China applies a strict zero Covid strategy, which includes placing all people who test positive, even asymptomatic ones, in quarantine centers where they are isolated from the rest of the population. But they cannot take their pets with them. Result: the latter run the risk of being left alone for several days or even weeks, without a master to feed them and watch over them. Another fear: that his dog or cat will be euthanized by the health services, which has already happened a few times in China since the start of the epidemic.

A dog beaten to death

The video of a small corgi being beaten to death in Shanghai in early April by a member of the health services caused an outcry on the internet. These images created a real “panic” among the masters, explains Erin Leigh, a 33-year-old American who launched a rescue operation for dogs and cats left to themselves in apartments. Specializing until then in animal care, in a few days she and her group of friends built up a network of hundreds of volunteers.

“Deplorable conditions”

In particular, they found a person willing to temporarily take in Sarah Wang’s cat. “She would not have survived a disinfection of my apartment,” says the 28-year-old young woman. “I can’t imagine what deplorable conditions she would have found herself in, with no one to feed her.” In a China where the authorities are obsessed with preventing the appearance of any new cases of Covid-19, the well-being of companion animals is not necessarily a priority. Last year, at least three cats and a dog were even beaten to death by the health services, using sticks or iron bars.

Social media help

After the broadcast of the video of the corgi being beaten to death, Erin Leigh explains that she was inundated with messages from masters “who wanted at all costs to save their animals”. His small team tracks requests for help day and night on the internet. Then they classify the information by level of urgency. They then share notices with photos and description messages on social networks, in Chinese and English, until a good soul volunteers to collect the animal. Delivery men or couriers, who have the authorization to work despite the confinement, are then asked to collect the animals at the foot of the buildings and transport them to the new address.

Birds and snakes

The team of volunteers has already helped hundreds of cats and dogs – plus a few birds, fish and snakes. They also sent food to a closed pet store that housed about 50 starving huskies, Ms Leigh said. But getting animals out of the apartment where they are is often a headache. Because the authorities sometimes apply with extreme zeal the strict restrictions on movement, which they do not wish to take the risk of circumventing. Another concern: the security guards, present in practically all apartment buildings in large cities in China, are often reluctant to transport the animals to the outside of the building.

Finally, the deliverers, who usually transport goods or food, ask for a higher price to take care of an animal. Consequence of these difficulties: the rescuers, for example, spent an hour and a half recently to transfer a dog from his master’s apartment to a building located … 600 meters away, according to Erin Leigh. You often have to make it clear to the authorities that there will be “negative reactions” in terms of image “if the animal suffers any harm”, says Ocean Zhang, who helped negotiate the canine’s release. “If we all keep working together, then emergencies (…) can be resolved within hours.”

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