Shanghai confined animal rescue volunteers

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.

Euthanasia in the street

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.

The video of a small corgi being beaten to death in Shanghai, at the beginning of April, by a member of the health services caused an outcry on the internet.

These images created a real “panic” among the owners, explains Erin Leigh, a 33-year-old American who launched a rescue operation for dogs and cats left to their own devices 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. 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. »

Online help requests

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.

After the broadcast of the video of the corgi being beaten to death, Erin Leigh explains that she was overwhelmed with messages from masters “who wanted to save their animals at all costs”. 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.


The pets are left alone in the apartments of the Chinese who have left to isolate themselves in a quarantine center.

LIU JIN / AFP

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, which housed about 50 hungry huskies, explains Erin Leigh.

Many obstacles

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 have a dog transferred from his master’s apartment to a building located… 600 meters away, says Erin Leigh.

It is often necessary 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 release of the canine. “If we all continue to work together, then emergencies […] can be resolved within hours. »

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