I must admit, before yesterday I hadn’t given much thought to the stray dog population of Taiwan.
Then I read an article about Tou Chih-kang. Tou is a photographer who, for the past two years, has spent his days taking pictures of the stray dogs at Taoyuna Animal Shelter. The pictures…portraits is a better way to describe them…are absolutely stunning. (Please take the time to view them here.) They are incredibly moving – even more so when you learn that each image was captured minutes before the subject was euthanized.
Ironically, Tou Chih-kang says he “doesn’t believe in having pets” (seriously, what does that even mean?!?), but he does realize that there is a huge problem with stray dogs in Taiwan. The Taiwanese media is simply not paying enough attention to this problem, and Tou hopes to bring awareness…and hopefully eductation…to the general public.
I was captivated with this story – both Tou’s mission and the artistic, soulful way each dog was captured. But how bad could the stray dog population in Taiwan really be? Let me tell you, people, it is APPALLING.
So how did it get to be so bad? In the 1980s, Taiwanese economy was booming. Everyone had disposable income, and tons of people went out and bought themselves cute, purebred puppies. Unfortunately, these people didn’t realize that tiny little pups grown into big hungry dogs. With a government unprepared (or unwilling) to assist with unwanted pets…and a society that didn’t really believe in animal rights…dogs were driven to rural areas and dumped. Thousands of dogs abandoned at relatively the same time – and as their population increased, they began to take of rural and urban areas alike.
Generally speaking, the Taiwanese weren’t too keen on dogs (I am not trying to be steriotypical…just trying to simplify. I am sure there are many dog loving people in Taiwan!) and most believed that these stray dogs were mean, aggressive creatures that would attack for no reason. The government assigned the task of rounding up these unwanted pooches to the Rubbish Collection Squad. (Yes, garbage man…with no training or love for animals…were told to collect them however they could.) The dogs were then taken to pounds – which were often just fenced in areas of garbage dumps.
Then…it gets really horrible. I don’t want to go into detail, but lets just say they didn’t try to adopt them out or even humanly euthanize them. If the dogs weren’t killed in torturous ways, they were left to die “natural” deaths. (Meaning – they were left alone with no food or water.) The stories I have read are horrifying.
With the help of the Animal Protection Law of 1998 and activists like Tou, things are a bit better for Taiwanese dogs. Still, 900,000 dogs were sent to government pounds between 1998-2008. (Doesn’t sound too bad…until you realize the human population of Taiwan is only 23 million.) 70 % of these pups will be euthanized after a mere 12 day waiting period.
Through the power of art, Tou Chih-kang is trying to spread an important message. Whether in the United States, Taiwan, or Timbuktu – a pet is a commitment for life, and we should all thing twice about how we treat all nonhuman animals with whom we share this planet.