Volunteers and members of Lost Angel visit a shelter for stray dogs and cats in Taicang, Jiangsu Province.
In a small yard beside a muddy countryside road, next to vegetable fields and factories, on the boarder of Shanghai and Jiangsu Province, live 60 stray dogs. They are set free on a cement ground, separated by some simple metal fencing according to their disposition and age. Whenever people approach they bark joyously and gather to show their affection. But at night they are taken into a damp house and caged. Next to the dog room is a smaller space for cats.
This is the site of an animal shelter hosted by Lost Angel, a Shanghai-based stray rescue organization. There are currently only two people working at the shelter: Xuan Zhenfei, managing director of Lost Angel and a helper surnamed Yao who feeds and takes care of the animals round the clock. From Monday to Saturday Xuan works as a mechanic technician in Jiading district. On his days off he drives to the shelter to lend Yao a hand.
"If pet shops are star hotels, then we are just hostels," Xuan said, referring to their shabby condition. Despite the rural location, it still costs Xuan 12,000 yuan (,726) per month to run the shelter, which relies primarily on donations. Supplies such as cages and food are generously provided by animals lovers and members of Lost Angel.
According to Yao, who feeds the animals on daily basis, canines consume four buckets of food every day, totaling 30 kilograms. To save money, Xuan hand-makes their own medicine to treat minor diseases such as skin irritations and coughs.
Xuan saved his first dog three years ago. "There was a stinky dog who lost almost all his fur because of a skin disease. He used to sit in people's doorways but residents often kicked him away because of his deranged look. I observed him for three days and decided to bring him some food. He immediately showed affection," Xuan said.
A vet told him that, to cure the disease fully, he needed to pay at least 1,500 yuan. Shocked by the price he searched online for alternative cures.
"It took four rounds of treatment and each treatment cost me only 1.5 yuan," Xuan said. This incident set him on the path to save more stray dogs and cats. Over 90 percent of the animals at Lost Angel are personally saved by him.
Bitten quite a bit
"Each dog has its own temperament. You need to lower yourself to make them feel safe otherwise they think you are being aggressive. You just kneel down and talk to them. Even though they can't understand your words, they can tell whether you are kind or aggressive by your tone," Xuan said.
Xuan nonetheless wears special protection when he goes out hunting for strays, but this still doesn't prevent him from being bitten quite a bit. "It's a regular occurrence to get bitten around five times a year. I get vaccinated each year, just like all the dogs and cats I rescued," said Xuan, who still has four scars on his arm from a particularly vicious Alaskan husky.
After stray dogs and cats are rescued, they are driven to a vet for distemper tests and routine blood checks. If they are declared healthy they are transferred to a base in Jiading for general observation and, if no problems occur, they are transferred to the shelter. Xuan said that his rescue philosophy is based on rationality.
Rescuers, says Xuan, should be reasonable about their love and passion for animals. "You need to think clearly about what you can offer an animal before you take it in. If it is out of your (financial or emotional) ability, you should return it," Xuan said.