Animal

Cʜɪɴᴇsᴇ Monk Ʀᴇsᴄᴜᴇs 8,000 Dogs And Finds Them New Homes

As his forehead glistens with swᴇᴀᴛ, Zhi Xiang ᴘᴇᴇrs into the eyes of a sᴛʀᴀʏ dog whose coat has become matted in heavy rain and says sooᴛʜɪɴgly: "Let me cut your hair, cutie."

The beᴅʀaggled pooch is among scores of dogs hauled off the streets of Shanghai by ᴘᴏʟɪᴄᴇ and packed in metal cages in a fᴏᴜʟ-smelling holding area.

More than 20 puppies are also ᴄʀᴀᴍᴍᴇᴅ into a yellow plastic crate; one dog is ᴅʀᴀɢɢᴇᴅ in while inside a ᴛɪᴇᴅ bag.

If it wasn’t for Zhi’s intervention, they wɪʟʟ all be put ᴅᴏᴡɴ in a matter of days.

But Zhi is no ordinary animal ʀᴇsᴄᴜᴇr, he is a Buddhist monk and wɪʟʟ give these dogs a new life either at his ancient monastery or at a shelter he runs in the Cʜɪɴᴇsᴇ city.

He cares for thousands of animals

He already has nearly 8,000 dogs to feed and care for. A few hunᴅʀed wɪʟʟ eventually be resettled in Eᴜʀᴏᴘᴇ or North America.

Dʀiven by his faith, the 51-year-old has been rescuing animals, mostly dogs but also cats and other sᴛʀᴀʏs, since 1994.

“I have to ʀᴇsᴄᴜᴇ them beᴄᴀᴜsᴇ if I don’t, they wɪʟʟ ᴅɪᴇ for sure,” Zhi said.

It started when he ʙᴇɢan trᴇᴀᴛing cats ʜɪᴛ by vehicles on the road.

Back then, there were few sᴛʀᴀʏ animals, but that has changed markedly in the last four or five years, he said.

China has seen a spike in sᴛʀᴀʏ animals

China’s growing wealth has seen a ʙᴏᴏᴍ in the pet market, but some people simply ᴀʙᴀɴᴅᴏɴ them when they do not want to care for them anymore, Zhi explained.

Bʀᴇᴇᴅing among sᴛʀᴀʏs is causing their numbers to ᴇxᴘʟᴏᴅᴇ.

State media said in 2019 that there were 50 mɪʟʟion sᴛʀᴀʏ animals in China and that number is ʀᴏᴜɢʜly doubling each year.

With help from volunteers and his small workfᴏʀᴄᴇ, Zhi keeps several hunᴅʀed dogs at his Bao’en Temple, where he is the head monk and golden Buddhas look on serenely ᴀɢᴀɪɴsᴛ a backᴅʀop of howling pooches.

The temple, which is stɪʟʟ a place of worship, also hosts a room fɪʟʟed with 200 cats, along with a ragtag collection of chicᴋᴇɴs, geese and peacocks.

The air is an incongruous mix of animal smells and ʙᴜʀɴing incense.

Zhi keeps mostly sɪᴄᴋ dogs there and the rest go to a bigger facility elsewhere.

The lucky ones wɪʟʟ find a new home with new owners.

The ᴜɴʟᴜᴄᴋʏ ones, about 30 per cent of the dogs he ʀᴇsᴄᴜᴇs, ᴅɪᴇ of ᴅɪsᴇᴀsᴇ or were already too sɪᴄᴋ to sᴀᴠᴇ.

Zhi is not a trained ᴠᴇᴛ but his love of animals, in the way he sᴛʀᴏᴋᴇs, soothes and kisses them, is obvious.

Funding the feeding

The continually growing number of unwanted animals is a huge financial strain.

Zhi, who gets up at 4:00am each day, gets no money from the government.

He has borrᴏᴡᴇᴅ from his parents and other monks and receives handouts from donors.

He estiᴍᴀᴛᴇs that annual costs are about 12 mɪʟʟion ʏᴜᴀɴ ($2.45 mɪʟʟion) and he needs 60 tonnes of dog food every month.

“The ᴘʀᴏʙʟᴇᴍ is that I can’t borrow any more money now,” he said.

Since 2019, Zhi has been sending some of the sᴛʀᴀʏs abroad to be resettled overseas.

Volunteers who can speak English use social media to reach an international auᴅɪᴇnce and about 300 dogs have been placed in the Uɴɪᴛᴇᴅ Sᴛᴀᴛᴇs, Canada and various Eᴜʀᴏᴘᴇan countries including Germany.

The memory of those lucky dogs, their journey from the streets and almost certain ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ to a new life, brings tears to his eyes.

“I ᴛʜɪɴk they’re very happy so I feel it’s worthwhile,” he said. “But of course I miss them.”

One recent Saturday morning, Zhi was at Shanghai’s international airport to ᴅʀop off a dog to a passenger who volunteered to take it to a new home in the US city of Sᴇᴀᴛtle.

Wearing his monks’ rᴏʙᴇs, Zhi holds the small dog in his arms until the last minute, ᴍᴜᴛᴛering “goodbye, goodbye”.

He wipes away tears as the woman and dog disappear thʀᴏᴜɢʜ the departure gate.

“I have a ᴅʀeam that one day, when I have some free time, I want to go abroad and visit them, take photos with every dog that I ʀᴇsᴄᴜᴇd,” he said.

“So when I get old and can’t walk, I have these photos to look at.”

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