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Owners facing COVID-19 isolation in Shanghai scramble to save pets from ‘disposal’

Residents of Shanghai are banding together to save each other’s pets from being killed as the COVID-19 lockdown in the city drags on, RFA has learned.

More than 1,000 listings have been made to an online document listing people who have tested positive for coronavirus in the past few weeks, and are looking for people to take care of their pets while they are in compulsory isolation facilities.

“I basically have tested positive … but they haven’t notified me when I will be sent to isolation,” a woman surnamed Wang from Shanghai’s Putuo district wrote on the page on April 12.

“I have a five-month-old kitty at home.”

Wang was told by her neighborhood committee that her cat would need to be “disposed of,” she told RFA.

“I wanted to see if … I could get it sent to a friend’s house, but I don’t know if the neighborhood committee will accept this or not, or whether they will agree to have the cat stay in my home,” she said.

“They told me that, strictly speaking, the cat should be disposed of, and that I shouldn’t tell anyone about this,” Wang said.

“[They told me] if I can move the cat away, or give it to a friend, before I get sent to isolation, it would be safer [for the cat],” she said.

Wang said she was at her wits’ end to know what to do. The mutual assistance page for pet owners suggests she is far from alone.

“I’m worried that [will also test] positive, and my pet’s life will be in danger,” another Shanghai resident wrote. “The neighborhood committee won’t allow the cat to leave, should I want to hand it over to a friend.”

“If I go into isolation, I fear the consequences of leaving my pet at home will be unimaginable. Please help!” they said.

Another wrote: “My family members are all … contacts [of an infected person], and they could all test positive. I’m afraid our dog will be disposed of by the neighborhood committee.”

“Please take my dog to a foster home, with dog food, litter tray and toys.”

Seeking foster homes

The majority of posts were labeled as being from Pudong New District, with hundreds of distraught pet owners requesting help.

A volunteer from Shanghai surnamed Lin said she helped to arrange foster homes for three cats.

“They are very anxious to send their cats and dogs [to a foster home], but some neighborhood committees won’t help them with that, so they have to figure out what to do by themselves,” Lin said.

“Sometimes, volunteers from their community can come to their door [and take the pet] and send it to me,” she said. “It’s very hard for them to send their pets away, because they’re not allowed out themselves.”

She said there had been a surge in requests for pet foster homes after a video surfaced on social media showing a corgi being beaten to death by neighborhood committee members with a shovel, amid loud screams from the animal and shocked comments from the person shooting the video.

Once pets have been successfully removed from the residential community, then logistics personnel must be hired to deliver them to the foster home, Lin said, which is very expensive.

Some pet owners have sent their pets to pet hospitals, but places are hard to secure.

An employee who answered the phone at the Sanlin branch of the Shanghai Hanghou Pet Clinic chain said most of the pet hospitals are now full.

“We are all full, right now; the hospital is overcrowded,” the employee said. “There have been a couple of cases in Shanghai of pets being killed, this is true.”

Shenzhen shelters

Meanwhile, authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen have set up two pet shelters, where pets of people sent into isolation are housed for free.

There are places available for up to 300 pets, and the facility is the first of its kind in China.

Peter Li, head of China affairs at the Humane Society International, said the humane disposal of pets isn’t official policy in Shanghai.

“The few cases we have seen in Shanghai are the result of grassroots government workers not following Shanghai government policy,” Li told RFA. 

“This failure, in addition to incompetence and lack of empathy, may also be due to the fact that they are handling situations they have never experienced before, resulting in huge psychological pressure.”

Li, whose organization is also working to save pets beleaguered by war in Ukraine, called on Chinese officials to formulate policies for pets in the event of an emergency or disaster.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.