Strays start out as pets, of course, and pets are popular here. Dogs more so than cats. The accessory dog is very fashionable at the moment. Sights like this are common:
Little doggy faces peep out at you from bicycle baskets, handbags, slings. And if they aren't getting a free ride in their owners' bags, they're trotting alongside, as fast as their little legs can go. It's very sweet and cute.
Unfortunately, though, sometimes dogs and cats end up lost or abandoned, and that's when the problems start.
I've been told that many Taiwanese people think it's cruel to neuter your pets. So when stray animals on the street meet others, they breed. Also, the mild climate and people's kindness in feeding the animals means that they can survive for several years in a semi-wild state. The consequence is that it isn't at all unusual to see stray animals and, in more open spaces such as parks and alongside rivers, packs of dogs.
I have to confess to prejudice. In our first few weeks here my son was bitten by a feral dog in a park near our home. He'd been warned not to approach any animals, and he didn't, but collecting a basketball from close by didn't count as approaching in his opinion. The pack of dogs begged to differ. They chased him around then one nipped the back of his leg as a warning.
It was all very dramatic. A bystander called an ambulance completely unnecessarily and we all sped off to hospital, where my son complained more about the tetanus injection than he had for the bite. He took a few days to heal and that was that.
However, consequently, I wouldn't say stray animals are my favourite part of life in Taiwan.
But I think that with the right to complain comes the responsibility to act, so I started looking into what's being done about this problem.
There are several animal charities in Taiwan. Here are just a few of them
Bark Taiwan (covers southern Taiwan)
Stray Dog Rescue
The volunteers at these places do brilliant work. The favoured method of dealing with stray and feral animals is called TNR, or Trap, Neuter, Return. This is the best long term strategy for managing the problem. Neutering the animals prevents them from breeding and also makes them less aggressive. If the stray animals are put down, other, non-neutered ones move in to the area to take their place.
Sometimes animals are retained by the charities, though, and put up for adoption, either because they're less likely to survive, because they're very young or disabled, or because they're obviously only recently abandoned and haven't yet become semi-wild.
As a family, we're cat lovers. We sacrifice the dog's slavish devotion in return for not having to walk it every day, and put up with the cat's cool reserve instead.
We're in good company. Mark Twain said: "When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction."
We thought we could contribute our own small effort to help with the stray animal problem by fostering cats while they wait to find a permanent home. At the The UK in Taiwan day we attended earlier in the year I'd picked up an Animals Taiwan leaflet, so we approached them.
To cut a long story short, meet Qian Qian:
His name means 'money' (so when you call him, you're calling money to come to you, haha!).
People usually adopt kittens because they're cute, so adult cats can spend a long time in shelters before finding a home. Qian Qian will be living with us until someone adopts him, if that ever happens. He's got a bald tummy and throat, which make him less attractive than a sweet little kitten, but he's beautiful on the inside!
And here's Xian Xian, or Fairy:
|Under a bed is a pretty safe place|
She was quite hissy when found, but she's so pretty that Animals Taiwan couldn't believe she was feral. Since we've had her, she's shown she can be very friendly and affectionate, so their judgement was correct. Once she's got more used to living with people, we have high hopes she'll find permanent owners and we'll be able to foster another cat from the shelter.
It's nice to know we're helping out just a little, but I'm not kidding myself as to who's benefiting the most here. It's lovely to have animals in the home again.