Rescuer, Investigator, Educator, Filmmaker, and CEO of PACK Sanctuary
I’ve recently been asked why I allow Taiwan dogs to be adopted overseas. Am I not contributing to the problems in other countries? A very valid question that at one time held a very black and white answer for me. Then it began to conflict me as the gray areas clouded my judgment. After living and working all over SE Asia for 15 years, where street dogs can be a real problem and shelter standards and resources are far below anything most would consider acceptable, I began to question my own authority. Fifteen years ago, when I started working with animals in Thailand and Cambodia, my answer would have been a resounding, “NO! We are not sending Asia’s problems to the USA. For every dog we send there, we condemn an American dog to death.” But a lot has changed in those 15 years, especially in countries like the USA, Canada, France, and Holland. Thus, so did my perspective.
I’m an American. I have volunteered for many shelters in the USA. And I’ve worked several disasters which have flooded certain shelters beyond repair so let’s focus on the USA here. A lot has changed since Hurricane Katrina turned the world’s eyes on USA shelters and the way we keep our animals. In the 1980s, when I adopted my first rescue dog, The USA euthanized more than 20 million unwanted dogs and cats a year. That number has since dropped to just about 1.6 million nationwide, of those, 670,000 are dogs, and those dogs are usually the ones with severe behavioral problems, considered unadoptable. This means there is a shortage of very adoptable dogs in many of the shelters.
Adoptions in the USA have increased by more than 56% in the past 5 years. It’s trendy to adopt in America, And the “dog pounds” of the past are now much more like educational community centers with dogs; dogs that need rehabilitation, which is where Zach Stow’s Marley’s Mutts prison programs come in. They educate the youth and they work hard to match shelter dogs with behavioral issues with tough prisoners and train the prisoners to become professional dog trainers. The program is wildly successful. Muttville specializes in hard to adopt elderly dogs with their Seniors for Seniors programs, adopting out over 1000 senior dogs a year. And the Taiwanese organizations Mary’s Doggies and Ahan specialize in placing Taiwan’s unwanted street dogs into good homes in California, a state that has virtually outlawed puppy mills and pet shop dog sales. In fact, California is the dog adoption Capital of the west. We have three PACK dogs living in lovely homes in the bay area now.
But before I committed to really start focussing on overseas adoptions I wanted to make sure I knew what I was talking about. So I attended the Humane Society’s Animal Sheltering conference in New Orleans in May 2019 and met with and spoke with at least 30 global shelter representatives. I then went on an east coast and west coast shelter tour. I was shocked to learn that there are shelters all over the USA that are in fact starving for animals. 90% of the shelters I visited were drastically under-dogged, some with just 30-70 dogs and rows of empty runs and kennels - a good thing, right?
“Not if you want to stay in business,” says Gloria of Buddy Dog Humane Society, Mass. To my surprise, the more populated shelters of the southern states are now transporting hard to place pit bulls to northern shelters that are struggling to stay open. And even more shockingly, I learned that some shelters in the USA and the UK are actually actively breeding dogs to stay in business. Okay, what?
“Hello,” I said into the microphone from the back of the room at the Animal Sheltering conference, “I have 300 Asian dogs in desperate need of good homes. They’ve been pining away in a makeshift shelter in a cobra infested jungle for 5-8 years. No one wants them here.” Sherri Franklin, CEO of Muttville, replied from the podium, “let’s talk.” Several organizations offered to work with me that week but only a few I felt were of the quality that met my own high standards of placement. Before our dogs go overseas, not only do they undergo training and foster home care, but I must know there is a pre-qualified adopter waiting. We have too much invested in these dogs.
And the sad fact is, many of our dogs don’t belong in Taiwan, to begin with. Irresponsible breeding is out of control here. There are over 220,000 dogs bred in Taiwan a year, literally making it almost impossible to adopt dogs here. We have Mastiffs, Danes, Border Collies, Huskies, German Shepherds, and other cool and dry climate dogs. They don’t fair well in Taiwan. They develop serious allergies and skin infections from the tropical weather. These and the many 3-legged dogs (the misfits) are the dogs I wanted to focus on first because, well, if anyone knows what it’s like to be a misfit or a mutt, it’s us Americans.
As is these reasons were not enough for me to reconsider my viewpoint, we still have some Taiwanese who adopt dogs for the dinner table. Yep, you heard me right. It’s not prevalent but it still happens. On March 15, 2018 ETToday reported 14 dogs were adopted and cooked up for din din. Petsmao News reported a similar story just weeks later with 18 dogs winding up in a butcher shop.
This is why our adoption policy is very very strict in Taiwan. We vet our adopters very carefully and do frequent home-checks. We actively educate the public at pet expos and in classrooms and we do adopt locally when we can but the new government no-kill laws with zero plans for sterilization have created another problem far worse than I could have imagined. The reality is, Taiwan has more than 39,000 dogs and cats crammed into 60 or more shelters and the majority of the human population is still fixated on designer bred dogs for sale in pet shops. Huskies, Shibas, and Corgis are big right now. And we rescue them from bad homes. But we can adopt those out here in a day. The local dogs and mixed breeds pine away in the shelter for years. Over time, they literally lose their minds and either become feral or exhibit psychological stereotypic behavior. In other words, they sway and pace and growl and chew themselves like prisoners in a cell, because that's what they are. Sure we provide as much space and enrichment as we can but with 300 dogs and so little resources, sadly the human animal bond gets lost.
So, why not give Taiwan's local dogs a second chance at life? Shelter life is not living; it’s existing. Why not send a cold climate dog that should never have been bred in Taiwan back to the climate where she belongs and with a good family? After all, this is one earth we live on and these arbitrary boundaries we draw in the sand are part of the problem, not the solution. Taiwan’s dogs are loyal, easy to train, and have very healthy genes. They are planet earth’s dogs and deserve a second chance, regardless of the lines we humans have drawn in the sand. We are all earthlings.
Rescuer, Investigator, Educator, Filmmaker, and CEO of PACK Sanctuary
Animal sheltering in the United States: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow
Pet Adoption Statistics: The Numbers Behind the Need
Taiwan’s Government Statistics 107年全國公立動物收容所收容處理情形統計表
Adopted Dogs Eaten in Taiwan