Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Chinese monk who saved 8,000 stray dogs is a dog’s best friend

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SHANGHAI: With a bald head glistening with sweat, Zhi Xiang looks into the eyes of a stray dog ​​whose fur has been matted by heavy rain and says sweetly, “Let me cut your hair, cutie.”
The scruffy dog ​​is among dozens of dogs taken from the streets of Carry off by police and packaged in metal cages in a smelly holding area.
More than 20 puppies are also packed in a yellow plastic box; a dog is dragged while inside a tied bag.
But for Zhi’s intervention, everyone will be slaughtered in a matter of days.
But Zhi is not just any animal rescuer: he is a Buddhist monk and he will give these dogs a new life, either in his old monastery or in a shelter he runs in the Chinese city.
He already has about 8,000 dogs to feed and care for. Over time, a few hundred will be resettled in Europe or North America.
“I have to rescue them because if I don’t, they will surely die,” said the 51-year-old, who temporarily discards his monk’s robe for an orange workman’s outfit while vaccinating scruffy dogs fresh off the streets. .
Driven by his faith, Zhi has been rescuing animals, mostly dogs, but also cats and other homeless people, since 1994.
It started when he started treating cats hit by vehicles on the road. Back then, there were few stray animals, but that has changed markedly in the last four to five years, he said.
China’s growing wealth has seen a boom in the pet market, but some people just abandon pets when they no longer want to care for them, Zhi said.
“This is not caused by people who do not like dogs, or by the government, but by so-called dog lovers who do not have adequate knowledge about caring for animals,” Zhi said.
Breeding among stray dogs is causing their numbers to increase enormously.
State media said in 2019 that there were 50 million stray animals in China and that number roughly doubles every year.
With the help of volunteers and his small workforce, Zhi keeps several hundred dogs at his Bao’en Temple, where he is the head monk and the golden Buddhas gaze serenely against a backdrop of howling dogs.
The temple, which remains a place of worship, also houses a hall filled with 200 cats, along with a smorgasbord of chickens, geese, and peacocks.
The air is an incongruous mix of animal smells and burning incense.
Zhi has mostly sick dogs there and the rest go to a larger facility elsewhere. The lucky ones will find a new home with new owners.
The unfortunate ones, about 30 percent of the dogs he rescues, die of disease or were already too sick to save them.
Zhi is not a trained vet, but his love for animals, in the way he strokes, soothes and kisses them, is obvious.
The increasing number of unwanted animals puts enormous financial pressure.
Zhi, who gets up at 4:00 am every day, does not receive money from the government. He has borrowed from his parents and other monks and receives gifts from donors.
He estimates that annual costs are around 12 million yuan ($ 2 million) and he needs 60 tons of dog food every month.
“The problem is, I can’t borrow more money now,” he said.
Since 2019, Zhi has been sending some of the missing abroad to be resettled abroad.
Volunteers who can speak English use social media to reach an international audience, and around 300 dogs have been placed in the United States, Canada, and several European countries, including Germany.
The memory of those lucky dogs, their journey from the streets, and their almost certain death to a new life brings tears to her eyes.
“I think they are very happy, so I think it’s worth it,” he said. “But of course I miss them.”
On a recent Saturday morning, Zhi was at Shanghai International Airport to leave a dog for a passenger who volunteered to take him to a new home in the American city of Seattle.
In his monk robes, Zhi holds the puppy in his arms until the last minute, muttering “bye, bye.”
He dries his tears when the woman and dog disappear through the gate.
“I have a dream that one day, when I have some free time, I want to go abroad and visit them, take photos with every dog ​​that I rescued,” he said.
“So when I get old and can’t walk, I have these photos to look at.”
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