Animal rights advocates are bracing for outbreaks of highly contagious diseases at animals shelters across Taiwan with a nationwide no-kill policy set to start next year.

Animals Taiwan board member Liza Milne sees the introduction of the policy, which will stop shelters euthanizing animals, is looming as a “major problem.” Overcrowding is already rife at poorly-funded private and government shelters.

“I would give it a year before there are major outbreaks of distemper and parvo to begin with,” Milne told The News Lens.

Distemper and parvovirus are “very serious” diseases, leading to dogs dying “slowly and painfully,” she says. The viruses, known for being highly contagious, are also “extremely difficult” to get out of a shelter.

Milne, a long-term expat in Taiwan, says it would be “a dream” for Taiwan to follow some European nations in not euthanizing healthy animals. However, she believes Taiwan is not ready.

“The gradual steps that lead up to being a non-kill country have not been taken,” she says. “All I can see right now is more pain and suffering for the dogs and cats.”

Shortsighted policy

Estimates of the stray animal population in Taiwan vary – Milne says while the official figure for dogs is about 600,000, she believes it is probably higher. The government has allocated NT$1.9 billion (US$58 million) through to 2018 to boost the standard of animal shelters. The decision was announced on Sunday. It followed news late last week that a vet in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan, had committed suicide on May 5. Her death was reported as linked to her distress at frequently euthanizing dogs.

Milne says the government spend is unlikely to be enough to fix the existing problems in the animal welfare system, and handle the additional burden created under the no-kill policy. She says the policy was introduced on the back of lobbying by certain animal rights groups and long-term planning around its implications was not carried out.

“Every government shelter is overcrowded. Every private shelter is overcrowded,” she says. “What happens when they reach their maximum capacity? What do they do with the rest of the animals then?”

Milne, who is closely involved in animal rescue, shelter operations and advocacy work, says the government’s spend “sounds like a big number” but is unlikely to cover the high-costs of keeping an animal healthy throughout its lifetime. In addition to operational costs – land, buildings, power, food, staff and training – there is a range of animal-specific bills that have to be considered like monthly vaccinations, spaying and neutering operations.

Milne says, at the low end, the cost of care for animal each month is about NT$2,000 (approximately US$60). That figure is the “bare minimum,” she stresses, noting that an animal not at full health will also need to be covered extra expenses like regular blood tests.

“They could live a year, they could live 15 years. Have you thought 15 years down the line? This is what I mean by forward thinking.”

Systemic problems

Milne points to a horrific recent case of negligence in Chiayi County, southern Taiwan, as an example of several issues with the current system. According to reports, at least 39 dogs died after 70 dogs and a cat were locked in overcrowded cages in a truck overnight before being transported between shelters.

Milne says the fact it was a government shelter sending dogs to a private shelter to be euthanized is evidence of how strained the system is already.

“If they can’t handle them right now, when the kill policy is in effect still, how are they going to handle when [demand for shelter space] increases?”

The case also shows the serious lack of training and support for staff, she says – noting that responsibility for this falls with the relevant government agencies.

Staff at many shelters are not formally trained and often have “no idea” on the basics of things like animal quarantining, she says.

“They are not given the training, they are not given the financial support, they are not given any support,” Milne says. “When a dog goes in to the government shelter, that dog is not quarantined to see whether it has diseases.”

Milne says in order to get the stray population under control the government needs to properly fund public shelters, subsidize private shelters and be “much stricter” with dog breeders – including making sure all animals are chipped, vaccinated, registered and the companies are paying tax on each animal. Heavier fines should be enforced for breaches.

Across society, Milne says spaying and neutering of dogs must become must become the widely accepted norm.

When this is not done, “the stray population gets out of control very, very quickly.”

She says “even now” a high percentage of dogs that are adopted out from shelters are not spayed or neutered.

“Thinking that neutering is cruel, just shows that there are still generations not ready to accept that this is the best way to help the animals,” she says.

In the meantime, “you can’t compare Taiwan with other countries that are non-kill,” she says. “They already have their stray population under control.”


Taipei Times

ICRT Taiwan This Week Podcast (April 29)

China Post