Wamiz recently had the pleasure of speaking to a woman who was working in Wuhan just a mere few weeks ago (and prefers to remain anonymous). She was on the frontline when panic took over the population, and she saw first-hand how this affected animals.
A wave no-one saw coming
The woman in question, who we'll refer to as 'Jane' for the purpose of this article, is a virologist from the UK. She was hired a few months ago by a documentary team who was to film in Wuhan. Her role was to be their safety specialist; part of her job included training people on how to properly put on and remove PPE. But she ended up doing much more in Wuhan than what she expected.
Indeed, Jane was in the virus hotspot when the pandemic was just beginning. And she noticed something that many people are not speaking about today: the terrible effect it had on pets.
When it became clear that the deadly disease was quickly spreading, fear and anxiety overcame a large part of the population. Horrors ensued: as we reported back in March, many people began to abandon their pets in fear that they may carry and transmit the virus. Others did much, much worse…
While some people had a change of heart, it was impossible for them to retrieve the pets they had discarded once the strict lockdown rules were in place. What this resulted in was hundreds of stray cats and dogs. And with Wuhan residents being confined for three months, this gave the largely un-neutered and un-spayed animal population plenty of time to reproduce. The number of stray cats and dogs skyrocketed within a matter of weeks.
Sadly, animal welfare in China is not what it is here in the UK. There are little to no animal protection laws, and charities supporting them are few and far between. The strays roaming Wuhan’s streets today can only rely on the actions of altruistic individuals for survival. Thankfully, there are some out there, as Jane reported.
In fact, she informed us that some people care so much for animals that they broke rigid lockdown rules to get out and feed them while the city was in confinement. Sneaking out to feed strays in need while running the risk of encountering problems with the authorities is an extremely courageous thing to do.
“I admired those people because they don’t have much in the first place, and no-one is telling them to do that. It just comes from them.”
A special stray among thousands
Jane did what she could to help while she was there. For example, she donated to a local woman who buys pet food in bulk and distributes it to strays around the city. Though this helps them survive, Jane realises it's also a double-edged sword – the more strays thrive, the more there will be, and on and on we go.
But it’s impossible to stand there and do nothing when you’re an animal lover. And this was never more apparent to Jane than when she met little Blacky. Blacky - a humourous name for a small white cat! - was found in the streets by a nurse who decided to rescue him. He had what looked like the trace of a collar around his neck, which suggested he had been abandoned by his owner when the pandemic hit. When the nurse's services were no longer needed in Wuhan, she had to return to her hometown - so she left Blacky in Jane's capable hands.
It was of course, strictly forbidden to bring an animal into the hotel that Jane was staying in, but the little cat needed help, so she did what she had to do. Concealing him in a bag and masking his loud meows with even louder music, she was able to sneak the little guy inside to safety. All she had to clean the dust and grime off of him was a damp cloth and a toothbrush, but Jane's team was more than happy to chip in for the cat's on-going care. They promptly ordered food and litter for him online. Jane and her colleagues took turns caring for him, and all enjoyed playing and spending quality time with him. In just a few days, little Blacky went from frightened and weak to playful and happy!
Though it sounds like the team saved the cat, it would be more fair to say that the cat saved the team. It was an incredibly stressful time for everyone: being surrounded by illness and a sense of doom. But at the end of the day, they came back to the hotel to a cat who was always glad to see them – Blacky became their piece of normality in a scary time for all.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Jane’s time to return to the UK finally arrived. She knew how expensive and complicated it would be to bring Blacky back with her. So she left him in the competent hands of one of her colleagues, who is a Chinese national.
Today, Blacky is a happy office cat in Shanghai. His fate might've been very different were it not for the compassion and empathy of a few very special people. Jane's main hope now is to bring attention to the crisis happening in China. Animals need government legislation to change and funding to happen, without which their numbers will continue to rise, and their well-being will continue to suffer.