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The House of Love: An Inside Look at The Struggles of a Private Animal Shelter in China

Dog at animal shelter

This article was written by a Chinese friend in Chengdu who is passionate about the protection of animals.

The first time I heard about the House of Love (爱之家, aizhijia) was on Christmas Day, 2008. I was giving a lecture on animal rights in western countries during my last period of the semester. One of the students came to me after class, saying she had been a volunteer for the House of Love for a long time. “Visit our blog, or come to visit us when you are free,” she said.

So I did. I searched their blog on line and was totally surprised that there was a private animal shelter right here in Chengdu. I called Chen Yunlian, owner of the shelter to verify her story. 10 minutes later I decided to donate 1000 yuan. Ever since then, I have been a part of the animal shelter.

Chen’s story is sort of legendary. During the 1990s, she had made herself one of the few prominent successful businesswomen in Chengdu. However, her life was totally altered in 1997, when she found a seriously wounded dog in a garbage can. A natural born humanitarian, the millionaire rescued the dying dog. Ever since then, she started to rescue more and more homeless dogs and cats with her friend Wang Xiaohong. The House of Love was founded.

Gradually, the animals became an overwhelming burden on her shoulders. She had to quit her business to take care of the animals. What was worse, the expenditure of running the shelter had drained almost all her resources within a few years. Chen has always been a tough and independent woman. She struggled desperately for the next meal to feed her family, as well as hundreds of dogs and cats. The only thing she had then was an empty apartment that she called home.

Chen was cornered into despair. Years later, she told me that when some people heard her story and visited her, for the first time in her life, she asked for help. “Please help me,” she whispered. Then she turned her head, trembling and weeping in silence.

Volunteers put her story online, so more and more people learnt about it. Everyday volunteers came to help with the chores: animal rescuing, nursing, grooming, house keeping, etc. People donated money, clothes, medical supplies, food and even washing machines. With the money, Chen leased a separate house in the suburbs and hired 8 employees for the animal shelter. Meanwhile, more dogs and cats had been sent to the House of Love. The pressure of keeping the house running has never been relieved.

Chen never said no to homeless animals. She believes that every life matters. In the House of Love, handicapped animals were everywhere. Most of them were seriously deformed by human beings. Another great number of handicapped animals were rescued during the earthquake in 2008, for which Chen was severely criticized for rescuing animals “at the critical moment of life and death”. She also lost a great amount of support from overseas. Some western organizations believe euthanasia is the solution for unwanted animals. Chen refused to do it, determined to make her own way of animal rescuing.

In recent years, other troubles followed her as the House of Love drew more public attention. In 2009, some “netizens” dropped in on the House of Love, accusing Chen of stealing public donations. According to their accusation, they were “tipped off” by someone in Chen’s bank, and they found margins between public donations and expenditures. Local media were all over it, and a demand to publish Chen’s personal account was made. When she called me about it, she sounded wronged and indignant, “I have spent my life savings on the animals. Now they accused me of stealing from them!”

To make things worse, the incident exposed the illegal existence of the animal shelter. By law a charity in China must keep the accounts open, which means inflows and outflows must be published. Chen couldn’t make the House of Love a legally registered organization because of a stupid local regulation that there could be only one animal shelter in Sichuan (Tom’s note: Sichuan is slightly larger that California, and is more than twice as populous), which was registered by another charity Qiming. Being illegal, Chen couldn’t keep a public account, so donations went into her personal account.

When everything was reported and even distorted in the media, the integrity of the animal shelter was seriously jeopardized. Donations dropped off greatly despite Chen’s explanation. Publishing her personal account didn’t help either. Local villagers complained about the noise and hygienic problems and threatened to attack the house. The local government was pissed off too. For them the very existence of the shelter meant trouble.

Nevertheless, months of PR work and debate in the media resolved the crisis with a happy ending. The local government reluctantly “made an exception” for the House of Love and it’s now housing more than a thousand dogs and cats. The animal shelter was recognized, and the government helped Chen to rent a lot of approximately 10 acres, which would serve as a permanent home for the animals.

Chen needed more money for the construction. She went to the media and attended various activities. More and more people learned of the House of Love and offered various help. On December 3rd, 2011, the House of Love was moved into the new home with the help of 15 employees and countless volunteers. For this day, Chen had fought for more than 15 years.

People sometimes criticize Chen for her aggressive protection of the animals. Many times I have seen her fight against people who killed or maltreated animals. She was always ready to kick their asses and grab the creature in her arms, with or without help, sometimes even in front of a video camera. She was so fearless and tough that anyone in her presence would feel intimidated. Who would have thought that this woman is already in her sixties?

In October 2011, volunteers were tipped off that in Zigong more than 1000 dogs were to be shipped and killed as food. The House of Love and Qiming organized volunteers to rescue the animals. Negotiating with the owners was tough, but winning back the lives was worth the effort and money (full story from Shanghaiist w/photos). Again the public learned of the incident, and debates on animal rights were held on a larger scale. For Chen, it was just another successful rescue, but for the House of Love, it meant hundreds of new mouths to feed.

Every time I exchanged text messages with Chen, I always asked her to take care of herself before she takes care of the animals. “When there is no more hurting, trading and killing, that’s when I may rest in peace,” she answers.

If you are interested in helping in anyway, visit their blog at:

http://www.aizhijia.org

http://my.poco.cn/id-46311599.shtml (English)

Weibo:

http://weibo.com/cdazj

http://t.qq.com/aizhijia

http://cdazj.t.sohu.com

to Donate through Taobao:

http://cdazj.taobao.com/

Volunteers Save 500 Dogs From Being Slaughtered – News Story of the Week

Eating dogs is something we joke about when we think of Chinese food, and then we are often scolded by those who are more “politically correct” than us. However, throughout much of China dog meat is a fairly common delicacy.

Lately there has been some discussion as to whether or not eating dogs and cats should be banned, but that discussion became a nationwide argument this week after volunteers rescued/stole 500 dogs (ministry of tofu covered this store in more depth). I am heartened by the news that an increase in pet ownership in China has spurred on more animal rights activists, since human rights are more or less taboo.

I’m somewhere in between on the issue. After all meat is meat, and it all comes from somewhere (read my post about Chinese markets). If the dogs were being butchered in a humane way I might find it acceptable, since they are raised for consumption.

However, the way these animals are treated is beyond the pale (if you are susceptible to human emotions, now would be a good time to stop reading).

I had a Chinese friend in Guangxi who attended a staff barbecue. She noticed two small dogs tied to a tree when she first arrived but thought nothing of them. A short while later she was horrified as one of the dogs was placed into a sack and beaten to death with sticks. The men pulled the bloody dog out of the bag and put the other one in repeating the process. She felt ill and had to leave.

This is the part that many Chinese leave out of the discussion about eating dog meat. It is generally believed that the dog must be beaten before it is killed to cause maximum adrenaline flow and therefore more flavor, and that is the aspect that I cannot condone as a cultural tradition that should be continued.