Small group rescues animals during Shanghai lockdown

Shanghai’s lockdown raises two tough questions for animal lovers: who will feed stray cats and dogs on the streets, and who will care for pets at home if their owner is sent to a hotel or quarantine camp? Lee-Anne Armstrong is one of many people working to address both of these issues.

Armstrong is the executive director of Second Chance Animal Aid, a Shanghai-based nonprofit organization. Second Chance runs a “virtual shelter” that places animals in foster homes while searching for adoptive owners.

In an interview with Sixth Tone’s Wu Peiyue, Armstrong shares how his team continues to help strays and pet owners. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Born of SARS

I come from Canada and a desire for change and new opportunities drew me to Shanghai in the summer of 2004. My intention was to stay there for two or three years. So much for the best laid plans!

I joined Second Chance Animal Aid (SCAA) in 2005. It was founded the same year by a friend of mine who has decades of nonprofit experience. The reason was simple. At that time, I discovered that I was a magnet for homeless animals in need almost everywhere I went in Shanghai!

One of the best contributions an organization like SCAA can make is to share our experience, to help residents concerned about at-risk animals make a difference. It is frustrating that with such rapid development, Shanghai still has no animal welfare infrastructure. SCAA is part of a collective of animal welfare advocates trying to bring about change.

SCAA dogs and client pets are safely boarded at SCAA’s veterinary partner, PAW, Shanghai, April 2022. Courtesy of Lee-Anne Armstrong

The lockdown has really highlighted the challenges of being physically and financially responsible for so many foster animals in so many volunteer homes, spread across most neighborhoods in Shanghai.

Ironically, it was the first SARS outbreak that gave some impetus to the SCAA’s network of “virtual shelter” foster homes. But no one could have predicted the harsh reality of our current situation.

Pets and individual home rescues have been at greater risk of starvation and harm than we imagined. The threat of an animal’s sole caregiver being kidnapped or our homes being sprayed with toxic chemicals, while potentially helpful neighbors remain cooped up, is a widespread and ever-evolving risk.

SCAA needs to review the best way forward after seventeen years of the same formula. The lockdown has also thankfully highlighted the growth of community resources, ranging from more individual rescuers, veterinary clinics, boarding services and animal-focused support groups across multiple social media platforms.

Adapt to containment

The original way to help cats and dogs no longer works during the recent lockdown. When pet owners or adoptive parents have had issues that they sometimes needed urgent help with, you can feel helpless with all of us stuck inside.

But we adapted to the new challenges as quickly as we could.

The severity of lockdown restrictions means accessing and sharing information has become the most important ways to help pets and rescues. Only if people know what resources and strategies have worked for others in similar situations can we reduce the risk for all pets and their owners.

A screenshot of Armstrong's arrangement for dog walks with someone in his enclosure allowed to be outside during lockdown.  Courtesy of Lee-Anne Armstrong

A screenshot of Armstrong’s arrangement for dog walks with someone in his enclosure allowed to be outside during lockdown. Courtesy of Lee-Anne Armstrong

The much-needed collective that helps pets stay fed, get medication and, if necessary, be moved safely when caregivers have been quarantined, includes a network of veterinary clinics, which operate through online consultations, pet food suppliers, kennels, volunteers, contact staff, WeChat groups, cleaners and drivers with an “epidemic pass” to be on the road legally.

For homeless animals like colonies of garden cats, we have asked security guards and cleaning staff to help us feed them. Our frequent outings for nucleic acid testing provide an opportunity to walk dogs and feed strays.

City work

Heartwarming videos and photos of hazmat-friendly volunteers walking dogs and feeding cats gave many of us hope that Shanghai would weather this lockdown crisis better than other cities.

However, many of the success stories, where stranded pets finally receive food and water after owners are quarantined, are the result of social media embarrassment for property managers and committees. of area. Despite being able to access pet owners’ residences to help with private demand, many compounds and community leaders initially refused, until public pressure from pleas on Weibo or WeChat releasing home addresses animal owners, and sometimes the contact number of the committee, changed their minds. . For some pets, it was too late.

Although official notices make it clear that people under the strictest lockdown are prohibited from going outside to walk their pets, that means different things to different authorities. Certain tolerances are given.

We see many variations even within the same sub-district. Some compounds stubbornly insist that pets can’t get out. Some resorts run dog walks by dedicated volunteers in hazmat suits, while others simply turn a blind eye to a brisk dog walk away from anyone else outside.

After reaching the city’s 12345 helpline, they kindly tried to arrange help for our residents’ dogs. When the volunteer promised by the city (twice!) was never posted by our local unit, I was lucky to find discreet assistance from personnel authorized to be outside in our compound.

Clear, consistent, and reasonable policies for dealing with pets would save everyone a lot of stress, time, hassle, and unwanted social media exposure. If things can be done after so much lawsuit and public pressure, there is obviously a faster and less painful way to get it done.

Publisher: David Cohen.

(Header image: Kittens Holden and Phoebe. They were rescued from a locked car when the March grid lock tests began, Shanghai, April. Courtesy of Lee-Anne Armstrong)

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