That was an early chill November morning. I was still living in that apartment in Shanghai having my regular morning routine (whatever that was.) Yet, what was unusual that day was the dreadful sound coming from outside. It was the kind of sound a sad puppy would make. I tried to ignore it, but the despair continued. The noise possibly went on for an hour, maybe even longer. I eventually went over to the window to see where the noise was coming from and why it persisted. It was from a cage on my next door neighbour’s patio.

I recognized the cage. A softshell turtle lived in the same cage before, and apparently, the object inside had changed from a turtle to a small black puppy. As much as I hate to admit, I didn’t have the same sympathy for the turtle. It’s terrible, I know, and I don’t intend to justify.

The following days, the owner would let the puppy out to get some air while he cleans the cage. Then, he’d put her back as soon as he finishes the cleaning. The moaning would resume. The puppy’s crying eventually turned into barking, and the owner had no intention of taking the dog inside even when it was pouring. The barking continued until the puppy tired herself out.

“What can I do?” I asked myself.

China isn’t well known for its animal protection policy. In fact, their reputation is quite the opposite.

I bet you some people in China would think I overreacted, but I sent out a public message to my friends in China to see if I could reach out to any organizations for a rescue mission. A few friends showed concerns, but no solution came forth. The only thing I could do was to sit in the living room and tried to divert my attention.

The situation remained for a few more weeks until I moved out of the apartment. I remembered the puppy cried less and less as the days went by as if she had finally accepted her fate.

A depressed orangutan at Shanghai Wild Animal Zoo. There were no other orangutans besides him in the same space.

Are people even talking about animal rights in China?

At first, I was furious and felt useless as I wasn’t able to do anything about the situation. Yet, I soon realized that in a society where human rights aren’t even valued, animal rights are probably their least concern. The owner most likely thinks the way he treats the dog is just ordinary because the people around him probably do the same thing. 

He didn’t know any better.

I supposed this thought made me felt lighter for a moment. Yet, no matter what comforting thoughts I try to cultivate for myself, animal cruelty in China is a subject that desperately needs attention from the world. The fact is my experience with the puppy was not my first encounter with animal cruelty in China.

There were so many more.

Animal Cruelty in China

When I visited Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Museum, a turtle was kept in a box that was almost exactly its size. The Shanghai Wild Animal Zoo is relatively thoughtful when it comes to giving animals the space they need, but the zoo had to ruin the nice thing they do by hosting regular circus shows. I also saw a teenage tiger walking around in circles anxiously inside a box with glass windows that was no bigger than 10 square meters.

Despite there are signs instructing visitors not to disturb the animals, adults were shouting or banging on the glass windows trying to attract the animals’ attention, and their children immediately imitated their behaviours. I had to ask the father to stop doing what he was doing, and the mother immediately scolded the father for his behaviour.

Someone needed to say something.

Did you know that every once in a while, I would hear another story about another person in China throwing a pet out of the window because they were upset? (You should never throw anything out of the window!) And selling a softshell turtle like the image below in Shanghai is also common. (This was right in the centre of the city!)

Of course, not all Chinese are like this, and I apologise if any Chinese readers feel offended. I am merely writing what I saw. When we treat animals badly in public, what does that teach our children? Children learn by examples, and this is what we are showing them. We cannot just keep telling ourselves that “They don’t know any better” because that will only become ignorance.

Organizations like Animal Asia and SPCA Hong Kong have also been making changes for many years. However, people still breed puppies and kittens for trade. They paint all over the shells of Brazilian turtles and give them to children as the prize at carnivals in plastic bags. (I am not making this up -One of my students brought it into his lesson.) Animal rights just isn’t a pressing topic in China.

Raising awareness of animal rights in China

There are organizations promoting animal adoption in China, but I believe that there are more actions we can take. I don’t have a real solution, but I am asking you to give this issue a moment of your thoughts. What kind of seeds do we want to plant in our children? Even if we aren’t living or travelling in China, what can we do to raise the awareness of animal rights? Are we supporting animal cruelty in China unconsciously with our money?

While human rights in China is a much more sensitive and complicated topic, raising awareness about animal rights is a great starting point to teach the next generation that all lives matter.

You can read more of the facts about animal cruelty in China and Asia here.

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