A Story of Animal Neglect Without a Happy Ending

This is a story of callousness and neglect that I am sure happens all over the world, even back home in the good old US of A, but it also feels like such a China-specific story, reflecting the Chinese attitude toward animals that I’m sure stems from the fact that not too long ago Chinese people had enough to worry about in regards to their own survival without having to worry about animals, and many people here still do face those same struggles, but it is still very hard to watch.

My good friend Karyn had been watching this golden retriever that she passed on her way to and from her daughter’s school, a golden retriever that a few months before had been brimming with health and vitality, then disappeared for a while, then reappeared tied up in the yard of the building (we don’t know what the building is) with a grotesquely swollen leg. She tried to express to the owners of the dog that his condition was not good, and a friend of mine translated a message about the dog’s condition, urging them to take him to the vet  and including our vet’s phone number and the number of an animal-friendly taxi driver, which she taped to their fence several times. But more than a week passed and the dog went from limping painfully while dragging the swollen limb to not standing up at all. We talked and she said she was sure he would die soon, so I went to have a look and see if I could talk to the people. I saw the dog, and his leg, and I shouted out asking if there was anyone there. No one came to the window so I went and shook the gate until an old man finally poked his head out. I asked him if it was his dog and he said no, it wasn’t his responsibility. There were other people who took care of it, but they weren’t there then. I asked if he had their phone number, and he said no, that they’d be there the next day and I should just come back. So that night I explained the situation to a very kind taxi driver who was willing to come with me, even on the chance that we wouldn’t be able to take the dog, or that we would, but that the dog would be filthy after lying in his own excrement for days and probably unable to walk. My friend Echo telephoned the vet who said to come any time, and that even if the dog was not wanted, we could find a home for him.

The next morning, Friday, I met Chang, the taxi driver, near the dog’s location (he’d been waiting for me almost an hour), and we went there together. There were no people visible, so together we yelled through the fence til an older woman came out. I said, “Come here, I want to talk to you. Is this your dog?” And she said, “Yes.” I asked, “Have you taken him to the vet? His leg is bad.” And she said, “Ah, but the wound is too bad, we can’t take him.” Then I said, “Well we want to take him.” And she said, “But it’s too expensive,” then Chang explained that the foreigners wanted to pay the bill to have the dog seen at the vet (Karyn was footing the bill). She agreed to open the gate and let us look at him. I asked, “Do you want the dog?” She hesitated so I quickly added, “The vet said that if you don’t want him we can find him a home,” and she immediately said, “Take him away. We don’t want him.”

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Up close his leg was even more difficult to look at. He was clearly unable to stand, but an old man came out and said, “Oh he can stand,” and yelled at him and kicked him with his foot to make him stand. The dog got up on his two front feet but quickly fell down again. I felt like doing the same thing to the man. Chang and I laid out a bed sheet and rolled the dog onto it, then carried him in it to Chang’s car (he was amazingly laid back about the possibility of getting his car seats dirty – taxis here are covered with white cloths). As we were leaving Chang asked them if they knew what happened to his leg, and they said some nonsense about his being kept in an air-conditioned room in the summer, and then moved outside. Seriously. AC is blamed for all kinds of things here.

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The dog was silent during the car ride. Clearly in pain (and also very filthy because he hadn’t been able to get up to go to the bathroom for days), but he suffered in silence. When we arrived at the vet, they pulled him out and laid him on the ground to have a look at him. The vet estimated that he was 4-5 years old and that he had been hurt for quite some time. He tried to see if the dog could stand, but obviously, he couldn’t. He and an assistant carried the dog in to be x-rayed, and the results showed that the bone had been badly broken just above his foot, and that the two ends had already started to grow new bone separately, so that it was too late to mend the leg. But he (ever the optimist – I don’t know he maintains his cheerfulness and optimism in spite of the things he sees during his 12 hour days, 7 days a week, more on that in the next post) thought that if the dog would just eat and drink, and we could get the swelling down and the infection treated, the maybe he could have a quality life. So it was decided that the dog would stay for 5 days initially, including a bath, first thing, and we would go from there.

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I returned two days later, on Sunday afternoon, with a dog and a cat to be spayed and neutered, a subject for another blog post, and found out that the dog had not eaten or had anything to drink (other than IV fluids), and that he had died of kidney failure that morning. It’s heart-breaking to think of how long he suffered like that, from something that could have been fixed so comparatively easily. Those people had to know that he’d had a traumatic accident, but they just stood by and watched him suffer. What did they think the end result would be? Even if they didn’t want to keep and care for an animal themselves, they could have somehow figured out how to take him to the vet and said, We don’t want this dog, and walked away. Even if he had just been euthanized, he would have at least been spared weeks of suffering.

China is a country of paradoxes, not the least of which is the attitude toward animals. On the one hand, we are surrounded by people with dogs, many of whom wear clothes and shoes, or are carried around in purses and have ridiculous hair cuts, but even among the people who own dogs, many of them have not lost their fear of other dogs who do not belong to them, and most people do not seem to care what happens to strays. There is no concept yet that animals have feelings or can suffer long-term effects of maltreatment (they don’t even know what constitutes maltreatment). It’s not uncommon to see people kicking their dogs–my neighbor with the golden retriever manages her dog by holding up her hand likes she’s going to slap her, and saying, “I’ll hit you!” And they tease and torment them, laughing and thinking it’s hilarious to see how much you can threaten to hit a dog before it responds. One of my favorite little puppies, kind of generally owned by the property management workers in my neighborhood, who used to sit on my lap at the playground, was treated this way, and now when he comes up to me, he wags his tail and begs with his paws to be petted, but if I reach down to touch him he growls at me, and I was warned not to touch him because he bites. When you think about it, as much as China is a culture that loves children, they also treat children this way, as though the idea hasn’t quite caught on that children have legitimate feelings and shouldn’t be teased in certain ways by adults or punished by slaps. I guess that bridge has to be crossed before animals can even be considered.

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