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Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 10:41
Taming the problem of strays
By Liu Yinglun
Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 10:41 By Liu Yinglun

A Beijing woman has been working to balance animal rights, human safety, local customs and ecological protection while dealing with the issue of rampant stray dogs in Qinghai. Liu Yinglun reports.

A Buddhist monk salutes a local herder who just adopted a dog. (PROVIDED BY YIN HANG)

Six dogs chased the Himalayan blue sheep up a rocky mountainside. The herbivore dashed until it saw the precipice's edge. It tried to stop from plunging over the cliff - too late.

The canines, which were larger than the sheep, hovered atop the cliff for a moment, seeming to study their motionless prey. Then, they scurried down the slope to feast.

Yin Hang has frequently witnessed stray dogs in Qinghai province hunt wild animals since 2009.

Residents say the dogs also attack them.

The canines also host tapeworms that cause life-threatening echinococcosis.

Almost nobody can do more than the temples to encourage locals to adopt dogs

Yin Hang, 34-year-old animal protector

The National Health Commission reports the disease had reached epidemic levels in 39 of Qinghai province's 43 counties as of 2012.

In 2014, Yin founded a nonprofit environmental group based in the provincial capital, Xining, that claims to be the only organization dealing with the province's stray-dog problem.

"The problems will persist if we don't take action," she says.

"I want to be a trailblazer."

The 34-year-old first came to the area to protect the endangered snow leopard in 2009.

Yin recalls falling in love with animals when she watched a documentary about pandas when she was about 7.

"The second I saw a researcher emerge from a cave with a baby panda in her arms, I knew (working with animals) is what I was going to do," she says.

So, she left the metropolitan capital of Beijing for pastoral Qinghai.

Her mission was to develop models enabling herders and snow leopards to coexist. She often had to live in the wilderness for two straight months without contact with the outside world.

"I just really like animals," Yin says.

The Beijing-based Ginkgo Foundation named her as a partner last year for her work with the dogs. The organization supports young social entrepreneurs.

"Yin's effort to encourage stray dogs' adoption and sterilization is a tenable approach," the Ginkgo Foundation's secretary-general Lin Hong says.

Lin visited Qinghai to assess Yin's work.

"It balances animal welfare, environmental protection, and the local communities' social, economic and cultural conditions."

Yin Hang, 34-year-old animal protector. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Finding solutions

Yin started with a yearlong field study to determine why Qinghai has so many strays.

Her organization focuses on the area around Sanjiangyuan, the source of China's three main rivers. It's China's largest nature reserve, accounting for about half the massive province and four of Qinghai's five Tibetan autonomous prefectures.

The Tibetan group's name, Gangri Neichoghas, translates as Snow Place. "Snow" refers to snow-clad peaks of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and "place" describes how locals view the area's nature.

"Their long-standing way of maintaining a harmonious relationship with nature has been changing over the years. Why? I want to delve deeply into that question," she explains.

She believes the stray-dog issue offers answers.

Yin and her organization conducted surveys and interviews in the Yushu Tibetan autonomous prefecture's Yushu city and Nangqian county.

They found herders had previously kept dogs to guard their herds. Selling or abandoning the canines was frowned upon, Yin says.

But locals started breeding the endemic Tibetan mastiffs for profit when speculative investments pushed prices for the breed sky high in the early 2000s.

Demand for mastiffs fell sharply in the following decade. The surplus then became strays.

And people have been leaving their dogs behind when they leave the grasslands. About 55,000 people have moved from the prairies to urban areas since the government initiated a project to preserve grasslands in 2005, and former herders enjoy access to public services in towns and cities.

This means nobody is controlling the dogs' mating.

Yin estimates there will be nearly 20 times as many strays in Qinghai in three years.

That's why her group advocates sterilization.

Mass sterilizations have proved successful in India and Bhutan.

Bhutan's nationwide Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release campaign has spayed or neutered and given rabies vaccine to 71,000 dogs over the past seven years.

Last December, Singapore also announced a five-year effort to sterilize about 7,000 street dogs from the second half of 2018.

Yin and her team added adoption to their approach.

"Having a home can help the dogs recover from the surgery," she says.

Once adopted, the dogs will be included into the government's monthly deworming program to prevent echinococcosis, she adds.

Creating consensus

The team's campaign needed to align support from the local government, Buddhist temples, herders and medical professionals.

Gangri Neichog has employed three full-time and five part-time workers in a two-bedroom apartment in Xining.

"As a local nonprofit with a very limited budget and no medical resources, we have to stand on the shoulders of the giants," Yin says.

Yin became close with the community after nine years in Sanjiangyuan, enabling her organization to provide a soft landing for volunteers from outside.

Gangri Neichog organized a pilot sterilization camp in Baiyu village in the Guoluo Tibetan autonomous prefecture last June.

Thirteen volunteer veterinarians and medical personnel came from across China to sterilize 26 stray dogs adopted by local herders. Yin and her team provided accommodation for the volunteers in Xining for two days to help them adjust to altitudes around 3,700 meters.

Qian Zhaxi, an official with Guoluo's agriculture and husbandry bureau, says Yins' group helped broker the local government's procurement of surgical instruments for sterilization.

Gangri Neichog hosted training for 13 veterinarians from various areas in Guoluo. Seven trainers from Beijing, Tianjin, Wuxi and Guangzhou guided local vets to sterilize 20 dogs.

Participant Xue Shenghua says the trainings taught him about anesthesia, which he doesn't use in his typical work sterilizing cows and horses.

Yin and her team also made a five-episode online lecture series on sterilizing dogs.

The lectures, incorporating Power-Point presentations and demonstration videos, are delivered in both Mandarin and Tibetan. About 475 people have signed up for the first class.

"(Yin's group) helped the government solve the stray problem," Qian says.

"The Buddhist temples trust her."

Yin says, "Almost nobody can do more than the temples to encourage locals to adopt dogs."

Guoluo hosts 66 temples. Baiyu Temple, which helped Gangri Neichog organize the pilot sterilization camp in Baiyu village, has around 1,000 regular worshippers, according to monk Thupa of the temple.

Baiyu Temple found homes for 500 strays last March. Most went to herders.

Gangri Neichog plans to train 60 more vets from Guoluo this summer.

Yin and Guoluo's government are working on an agreement that'd require trained local vets to sterilize at least 10 dogs a year.

She also hopes the trained vets can teach the prefecture's 627 village vets to perform the surgeries.

Yin says the ideal way to slow the dogs' population growth is to sterilize 95 percent of Guoluo's estimated 20,000 strays in a year. The pilot camps have only spayed or neutered dozens over the past year.

"Honestly, I haven't figured out how to scale up the sterilization and adoption campaigns," Yin says.

"But I'm sending proposals to provincial officials to establish a task force dedicated to the problem."

Contact the writer at liuyinglun@chinadaily.com.cn

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