What you need to know
'I got into this line of work because I didn’t want to see the animals suffer, but what has motivated us to keep working is the fact that we have seen the influence and progress of our work.'
When discussing the problem of stray dogs in Taiwan, nine out of 10 people will say the main cause is owners abandoning their pets. However, taking Taipei as an example, only 10% of stray dogs have been abandoned – most are street dogs from birth.
The key to decreasing the number of stray dogs, therefore, is not stopping people from abandoning their pets, but neutering or spaying them and returning them to where they were found. This is what most people know as TNR (Trap Neuter Return).
Whenever the issue of TNR in Taiwan is brought up, the name Kuo Shuan (郭璇) is bound to come up.
Kuo, 32, is a vet and the CEO of The Eviction, an animal association dedicated to promoting TNR. She started working in animal protection during college and has helped neuter or spay thousands of stray dogs over the past 10 years.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m already working to death, but there are still dogs that need to be caught,” says Kuo.
Kuo volunteered at an animal shelter for two weeks when she was a senior in college and what she saw there was unforgettable.
“In my two weeks volunteering there, I learned that the dogs were put down every day after the volunteers left,” says Kuo. “The environment of the shelter was awful and each dog was infected with all kinds of diseases. It was hard for them to make it out alive even if they weren’t put down.”
This is when Kuo set her mind to work in animal protection. She retook the college entrance exam after graduating from college and entered the school of veterinary medicine at National Taiwan University.
She discovered the government had been randomly trapping and killing stray dogs for the past 60 years; after animal control services receive a report of strays, they go to the stated location and start capturing dogs arbitrarily. For example, it may have been a black dog that was reported, but the dogcatcher would trap a white dog instead.
Aside from impounding the “wrong dogs,” dogcatchers in Taiwan also tend to capture mostly puppies, which does little to impact the stray population.
Kuo believes there are three methods that need to be implemented: TNR, Rural Area Neuter Action (RANA), and precise capture.
If the government changes the way it traps dogs and applies TNR, there will be less newborn puppies. And by releasing neutered dogs to their original location, she believes, they will guard the area so that no additional dogs will appear.
But TNR is easier said than done.
“It may take more than a hour to capture just one dog,” says Kuo.
While association members have been trained in trapping dogs, it is still very time-consuming. If a full-time employee is out capturing dogs five days a week, the person may trap 60 dogs at most.
“But this is still too slow,” says Kuo.
Kuo spent the year abroad last year and saw that many animal protection groups would hire a lot of people to capture street dogs.
“They were able to reduce the number of stray dogs from around 10,000 to nearly 3,000,” says Kuo. “This had a very significant effect.”
This is why the vet started The Eviction this year to spread the use of TNR in Taiwan.
Kuo says Taiwan's care of stray animals has been improving. For example, Taipei and Greater Tainan now use TNR and precise capture, and other cities also realize their goal should be to neuter and spay as many strays in the shortest amount of time possible.
“I got into this line of work because I didn’t want to see the animals suffer,” says Kuo. “But what has motivated us to keep working is the fact that we have seen the influence and progress of our work.”
The vet says increasingly more people are supporting neutering instead of killing, and the government has also said it would implement a “zero euthanasia” policy in two years. Kuo says Taiwan is in a transition period regarding this issue and she wants to establish a new animal protection organization to help local governments implement related policies accurately and effectively.
“The lives of these animals can be completely different if each person lends a small hand,” says Kuo.
The original interview was published in Chinese in The News Lens.
First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole