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A Post-90s Chongqing Girl and Her 1,400 Stray Dogs丨Story

By DENG, YANICHONGQING|Jul 28,2022

Chongqing – At 16, when Li Yang took her first puppy ‘Seven’ home on a summer day, she swore that she would give this sweet little buddy a happy family. Her friends call her ‘Seven’s mommy.’ Little did she know that one day she would adopt more than 1,400 dogs and cats simultaneously, providing them with a modest but firm shelter and sustenance.

Stray dogs also completely changed the life of the “post-90s” Chongqing girl.

“Once you keep it, you cannot abandon it.”

“Stray animals are so poor, and it is hard for them to stay safe. I thought there is no difference between one more dog and one less dog in the house.” Not until the house became crowded as more and more cats and dogs joined in did she realize that she already had 36 dogs!

So Li Yang rented a country house in Nanshan Mountain and became a “stay-at-home-mom” for her dogs. Three years ago, she moved to Gele Mountain and leased 1.62 hectares of wasteland from a villager at 45,000 yuan a year. She also bought used materials to weld and put up a shed with her husband and spent hundreds of thousands of yuan to build cages.

Unknowingly, the number of dogs adopted by her gradually reached dozens, hundreds, and a thousand.

Li Yang and her daogs. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Sleeping with a dozen dogs

Last year, several undergraduate volunteers often helped Li clean the house and feed these animals. Through the door, there was an iron gate. The visit of strangers made these dogs bark madly.

Due to limited space and energy, most dogs usually live in cages. Li Yang and the volunteers would take them out for a walk irregularly. The group of dogs who were playing outside was remarkably tame. When they saw the volunteers coming, they gathered around graciously, wagging their tails to greet them.

Li Yang and her husband live and eat here. Her bedroom is on the second floor with a bunk bed. A dozen dogs sleep on the bottom bunk, and she sleeps on the top. The sheet and quilt cover was over-washed and heavily faded. As soon as she entered the bedroom, a dog named “Coconut” jumped up and threw itself on her. “The dogs living here are mainly small dogs that can easily get sick, so I keep them here to take good care of them.” There is a strong smell of dogs in the room, but apparently, Li Yang has got used to it.

The dog cage. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Planting vegetables to save money

Taking care of more than 1,400 dogs and cats is not an easy task.

Every morning, the first thing to do when she gets up is to clean the cages to keep them as clean as possible. She cleans the cages thoroughly every three days, but they still give off a strong smell.

Li Yang usually stays at the base when not going out to rescue dogs. 

As a post-90s girl, Li Yang seems like a square peg in a round hole compared to other girls her age. When most of the girls are posting photos of delicious food, traveling, talking about celebrity gossip, sharing experience in parenting, shopping, watching movies, and doing skin care, her life is occupied by stray dogs.

Li Yang said that she had not bought new clothes for many years and always wears old clothes brought by the volunteers. She has her meals at the base daily and eats the rice she cooks for the dogs. There is a small plot of land at the base where she plants vegetables to save money.

Li and the dog she rescued. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Most dogs were abandoned

Almost every dog at the base has a sad story.

In December 2019, a truck carrying dogs illegally was seized in Jiangjin District. The volunteers turned to Li Yang for help. Hearing this, she rushed to Jiangjin overnight, finding 300 dogs crammed into a small space. A dozen of them were squeezed in a coop and were unable to move a step. All had diseases such as canine distemper and parvovirus.

It was too expensive to send the dogs to the hospital for treatment, so she bought syringes and medication and gave them the shots, based on her years of experience raising dogs. “I couldn’t help them all! I was so overwhelmed and stressed out, but I knew that if I ever stopped, these dogs would die…” She slept for only four to five hours a day during that month. Luckily, most of the dogs survived after Li Yang’s loving care. Now, these dogs live at the base.

According to Li Yang, most of the dogs at the base were abandoned by their former owners. “When they fell ill, the owners were reluctant to spend money treating them and just tossed them to the side of the road.” And some of them were bought from dog traders. Sometimes when Li opened the door in the morning, she saw kittens or puppies. “Sometimes the police station saves dogs from dog traders, and the city inspectors would send these stray dogs to me.” Li Yang said that she accepted these without hesitation.

One dog in the cage. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Where is the money from? 

Li Yang’s husband, who used to be a delivery person and a ride-hailing driver, has become a full-time carer for the dogs at the base since he came to Gele Mountain. Now he sells insurance occasionally, earning an average monthly income of more than 2,000 yuan. But when it comes to the daily expenses of over a thousand dogs and cats, such a small amount of money is just a drop in the bucket.

She and her husband have limited energy, so they hired four workers. Food, medicine, labor, water, and electricity cost is at least 1,000 yuan a day, adding up to more than 30,000 yuan a month, excluding the annual rent — which has risen to 55,000 yuan this year.

To carry stray dogs to the base in a more convenient way, Li Yang bought a pre-owned minibus. Now she has bought another minibus as the vehicle wore a lot when carrying dogs. The old one is now a playground for the dogs.

Some kind-hearted people set up a particular WeChat group for donations to help Li Yang make ends meet. Some people would donate 200 or 300 yuan from their old-age pension every month.

Dog rescues centers set up

Li Yang has recently been considering moving to a larger and more suitable location for stray dogs. With her limited personal resources, her dogs must wait a long time to move to the new home.

Fortunately, with more and more people like Li Yang in Chongqing, legal stray dog rescues centers have been set up in recent years, and the government is expected to introduce relevant policies to improve the situation of stray dog rescues.

On June 14, the Chongqing Municipal Public Security Bureau released the Chongqing Regulations on Dog Keeping (Draft for Comments). It states the penalties for acts such as abuse and abandonment of dogs, as well as for the first time, mentions the responsibilities of government departments to support stray dogs rescue. The relevant government shall set up dog shelters and rescue places and support and encourage qualified animal protection organizations and individuals to set up dog shelters and rescue places.

In addition, the Chongqing animal protection association and some animal protection volunteers are working on the internationally recognized program Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), the most effective way to control feral cat populations. 

In social media, campaign slogan such as “Adopt, don’t shop” is widely spread nowadays, encouraging people to adopt dogs from shelters or rescues rather than purchasing a dog from a breeder. In addition, the dog rescue center has continued selecting dogs suitable for adoption and hosting adoption programs in some communities for people with stable housing, time, and patience.

(Liu Jingjing, as an intern, has contributed to the report)

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