Dog’s best friend: Buddhist monk saved 8,000 stray dogs
SHANGHAI: His bald head glistening with sweat, Zhi Xiang looks into the eyes of a stray dog whose coat has tangled in the pouring rain and says soothingly, “Let me cut your hair, my cutie. . “
The dragged dog is one of dozens of dogs transported through the streets of Shanghai by police and wrapped in metal cages in a smelly detention area.
More than 20 puppies are also crammed into a yellow plastic crate; a dog is dragged in a tied bag.
Without Zhi’s intervention, they will all be suppressed within days.
But Zhi is no ordinary animal rescuer. He is a Buddhist monk and will give new life to these dogs either in his old monastery or in a refuge he runs in the Chinese city.
He already has nearly 8,000 dogs to feed and care for. A few hundred will eventually be resettled in Europe or the United States.
“I have to save them because if I don’t, they will die for sure,” says the 51-year-old, who temporarily throws off his monk’s robe for an orange worker costume as he has vaccines vaccinated. disheveled dogs fresh off the street. .
Driven by his faith, Zhi has been saving animals – mainly dogs but also cats and other stray people – since 1994.
It all started when he started caring for cats struck by vehicles on the road. At the time, there were few stray animals, but that has changed dramatically over the past four or five years, he says.
Zhi explains that China’s growing wealth has seen a boom in the pet market, but some people simply give up on them when they no longer want to care for them.
“It’s not caused by people who don’t like dogs, or by the government, but by so-called dog lovers who don’t have the necessary animal care knowledge.”
Breeding among stray animals is causing their numbers to skyrocket. State media said in 2019 that there are 50 million stray animals in China and that number is roughly doubling every year.
Dogs and Buddhas
With the help of volunteers and his small workforce, Zhi keeps several hundred dogs in his Bao’en temple, where he is the chief monk and the golden Buddhas watch him serenely against the backdrop of howling mutts.
The temple, which is still a place of worship, also houses a room filled with 200 cats, as well as chickens, geese and peacocks. The air is a mixture of animal smells and burning incense.
Zhi mainly keeps sick dogs there and the others go to a larger facility elsewhere. The lucky ones will find a new home with new owners. The unlucky ones, about 30% of the dogs he rescues, die of illness or are already too sick to be saved.
The ever-increasing number of unwanted animals is a huge financial strain. Zhi, who gets up at 4 a.m. every day, receives no money from the government. He borrowed from his parents and other monks and receives donations from donors.
He estimates that the annual costs are around 12 million yuan (RM 8.3 million) and he needs 60,000 kg of dog food each month.
“The problem is, I can’t borrow any more money now,” he says.
Farewell in tears
Since 2019, Zhi has sent some of the stray to resettle abroad.
English-speaking volunteers help use social media and around 300 dogs have been placed in the United States, Canada and various European countries.
The memory of these lucky dogs brings tears to his eyes. “I think they’re very happy, so I think it’s worth it,” he says. “But of course I miss them.”
Recently, Zhi was at Shanghai International Airport to drop off a dog to a passenger who would take him to the United States.
Dressed in his monk robes, Zhi held the little dog in his arms until the last minute, muttering, “Goodbye, goodbye. He wiped away his tears as the woman and dog disappeared through the departure gate.
“I dream that one day, when I have free time, I want to go abroad and visit them, take pictures with every dog I have rescued,” Zhi says. “So when I get older and can’t walk, I have these photos to look at. “