Article by Linda Chen, Source: sino-us.com
Qiliqu (七里渠), located in Beijing’s Changping District, to the north of the city, has become a synonym for the place where the Beijing Police temporarily keep and allegedly “euthanize” the seized dogs. It gives the proverbial “seven days” another layer of meaning because allegedly once there, the dogs get to live only seven days.
Beijing Police Canine Quarantine and Inspection Division, which is referred to simply as Qiliqu by the Chinese. Ironically, the place where many dogs lost their lives also houses the Beijing Kennel Association. Photo: sino-us.com
Rumors abound about this notorious and mysterious dog slaughterhouse, run by the government. At Beijing Adoption Day’s 16th adoption fair, a volunteer, whose parents work at the Police Station, told sino-us.com that all the seized dogs will first be categorized by size. Big dogs get euthanized, or if they are the right breed, they might be recruited as police dogs. Small dogs will be put up for adoption. “Sometimes the police themselves adopt some of dogs too.” The young girl, who just graduated high school this summer, also explained how the rumor that the dogs could live for only seven days started, “it is because people realized that in seven days, all the dogs will be gone and new dogs will take their places for adoption.”
As to how the dogs are euthanized, the girl did not provide more detailed answers. In a separate interview, a dog rescuer, who preferred not to reveal his name, told sino-us.com that the police actually use an incinerator. “The big dogs get the needle. The small ones get burned alive.” He stressed on the word “alive”, “I was told this by someone who worked there. They built a wall separating the office building and the ‘slaughterhouse’ so that only a handful of people know what is really going on.”
This shocking revelation is by far the worst among all the rumors that are circulating about this place. To see for ourselves what it is really like, we went there on June 21 when it opened for adoption. The place only opens every Friday from 9 am to 4 pm to the public. To adopt, one has to provide an ID card and a certificate with stamp from the neighborhood committee stating one’s identity, address and that there is currently no dog in one’s household.
We arrived around 11am that morning and found about half a dozen people waiting outside the locked gate. “They let people in one group at a time. We can only go in when everybody from the last group came out.” The man with a dog carrier told us.
The black dog carrier in the man’s hand is a standard issue by the Beijing Kennel Association which has these words written on it: “With love and responsibility, keeping a dog becomes meaningful. Get your dog a certificate, get them vaccinated and sterilized, and never abandon them.” Photo: sino-us.com
He said he was here for his friend whose dog had just been taken by the police. “He couldn’t take a leave from work so I am here to find the dog for him.” We waited until nearly noon when the last four people came out with their dogs. One of them is a young woman who came to look for her dog but didn’t find it. “But I have to save one dog, whoever it is.” She said. The dog she picked, a big Pekingese, walked with a limp. “It is because she was cooped up in the cage for so long. She’ll be all right.”
Dogs and their new owners rushing out of the gate with joy. Photo: sino-us.com
The police was going to take their two-hour lunch break and we were told to come back at two in the afternoon. While we waited, we witnessed a police pick-up truck carrying a cage stacked full of just captured dogs pulling into the gate and disappeared.
Some of the dogs still got their collar on. The small ones at the bottom are almost crushed by the big dogs on top. Though stressed, the dogs remain friendly and still wag their tails when the policemen came near them. Photo: sino-us.com
When we were finally allowed in, we were lead through a locked gate to the building where the dogs were held. The layout of the place made sure that you can see only what you are allowed to see. Hearing the footsteps, the dogs made quite a racket, as if they knew their possible saviors were on the way.
Top left: A police in plain clothes unlocked the door to the dog adoption area (top right) to let in the adopters. Bottom left: Adopters rushing in to look for the dogs they want to save. Bottom right: the cages all have cartoon name plates but none of them were filled in. Photo: sino-us.com
The big room, the size of a small auditorium, is occupied by four lines of steel-bar cages, 88 in total, but only about half of them were occupied. Unlike the rumors which claimed that the dogs were kept in cages soaked with its previous prisoner’s blood, the cages, lodged half-way on the concrete walls, were hanging in mid-air. The bottom of the cages was lined up with wire netting, allowing the dogs’ urine to leak out but not their feces. Many dogs just sat beside their excrement, barking and yelping to get people’s attention. Some, however, were subdued. There was no way to tell whether they were sick or simply terrified.
Almost all the dogs are mutts like them. Photo: sino-us.com
One certificate for one dog. That was it. The dozen people who went in only managed to get half a dozen dogs out. We got on a private car for hire with two teens and the orange Pomeranian they saved. The driver, a local and a dog owner himself, didn’t mind to have the stinky dog in his car. After some casual chat, he told us that it is difficult to adopt a pure breed from Qiliqu because “they keep the famous and precious breeds and every weekend they sell them in a back-yard market just at the back of the place.” The driver also told us that the police would sell the mutts to dog meat vendors but he didn’t know anything about the incinerator.
A couple searching for dogs. Photo: sino-us.com
Last ray of hope: unrelenting efforts of the dog rescuers
It is not to say that the stray dogs in Beijing are all doomed. Thanks to the many dog rescuers, many dogs had a new lease on life.
On Sina Weibo, China’s answer to twitter, there are hundreds of accounts from across China dedicated to the rescue and adoption of dogs and cats. Some belong to volunteer groups and many are individuals who devoted their life to saving and safeguarding the welfare of dogs and cats who they consider not just their friends, but children.
Laifu Shelter Stray Animal Rescue @来福小院流浪动物救助, is one of the many accounts. Laifu (来福), literally “come fortune”, is a typical Chinese name. Li Jun (李军) , owner of the animal shelter located in the western suburb of Beijing, has been rescuing stray animals since 1997. Over 60 years old and with angiitis, Li Jun, referred to as Auntie by all the volunteers who help her, is constantly struggling with her 300 dogs and over 100 cats. But she is determined to carry on with the animal rescue work. “I do treat them like my own children. I just do not have the heart not to help them knowing that if I don’t, they most likely will die.”
Li Jun (third from left) with the volunteers. Photo: courtesy of Guo Yun (郭昀)
Thanks to the volunteers, Li Jun and her shelter is getting by, only barely. The volunteers helped her set up the Weibo and Tencent account as well as a blog page, mostly for adoption and volunteer recruiting purposes. They also established on her behalf a Taobao account on Taobao.com, the Ebay-like online shopping website where they organize charity sales and receive donations. “I thank these volunteers very much!” Li Jun told us, “When I first moved my dogs to this shelter three years ago, I did not know there were volunteers. They just came out of nowhere. I think it is Heaven’s way of helping me and my animals.”
Every weekend, the volunteers come and help with the cleaning and dog caring. They clear out a week’s worth of dog waste, sterilize the place, feed and groom the dogs, give the sick ones injections or apply salves and lastly, walk them. The volunteers not only braved the hard and stinky work, most of them eventually became regular unpaid workers for the shelter. One of the volunteers told sino-us.com that they are all dog lovers, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to stand it. “We love dogs. That is it.” She said.
Volunteers at work at Laifu Shelter. Photo: courtesy of Guo Yun (郭昀)
It was not just the Chinese who are helping the dogs here in Beijing. Chris Barden, an American, Yale graduate, has been rescuing dogs for the best part of his 15-year stay in China. He started out by adopting the stray dogs and doing volunteer work for other dog rescuers. Two years ago, he lost his job and turned his dog-rescuing work his “career”. He opened his Little Adoption Shop at Beijing’s northeastern Shunyi District where he also has a shelter in which he keeps his 120 or so dogs, mostly large ones, all rescued by him. His Weibo @领养小铺, a major online platform for adoption, has attracted over 65 thousand followers.
Because of these dogs, Chris, who once lived a well-off life in China as a screenplay translator, now lives what could only be described as a humble life with a debt of over 30,000 yuan. He wanted to provide the best for his dogs even though they may soon find a new owner and leave him. Many of his dogs were adopted by foreigners and started their new lives in another country. Chris himself, however, swarmed by his dog rescue work, and for the lack of money, hasn’t gone back to the US to visit his family for five years. When asked why he chose such a life, he answered in perfect Chinese, “because I want to help them (the dogs).”
Chris and his dogs at the Little Adoption Shop. Photo: sino-us.com
Besides people like Li Jun and Chris, who dedicated their lives to animal rescue, there are many more people who rescue stray animals on a smaller scale, mostly in their neighborhoods. Beijing Adoption Dayis a charity organization that provides an adoption platform for these individual rescuers. At their 16thAdoption Fair, we met Yu Yin (俞茵), who has been rescuing stray cats and dogs for over a decade.
She told us that many rescuers are like her, who has a job and does rescue work in her spare time. “Animal rescue is a long-term dedication. It would be silly to borrow money to do charity work like this. I only help within my own limit.” She said. Yu is happily married. But she chose not to have children. In her home, her cats and dogs are her babies. “Even though I am not a mother, I feel like a mother to them.” Yu said happily.
Yu Yin and the dog Tian Tian at the 16th Beijing Adoption Day fair. Photo: sino-us.com
“I have a friend who is a fellow rescuer.” Yu went on to tell us a story. “She went to the animal hospital (Note: in China, the vet is generally referred to as the pet or animal hospital) all the time because of the cats and dogs and ended up marrying the vet! It was a lovely story. And we have tons of stories like this!”
Talking about the Beijing dog purge, Yu said, “I think these people are ridiculous! They should focus on the pet owners. They can charge them for not taking their dogs out on a leash or not picking up their dogs’ poop. Why do they have to take the dogs away?”
Right now, animal right activists are clamoring online for the Chinese legislators to make a law on protecting companion animals and supporting the animal rescuers who, despite the many obstacles and difficulties, are still pushing on with their work, each believing that one day, things will take a turn for the better, just as Yu Yin said to us at the end of our interview, “There are, after all, more people with a loving heart than those who don’t.”