A family strolls into a pet shop in Shanghai, falls for a cuddly puppy or kitten, thought to themselves “how difficult can it be to look after a little pet?”. After a couple of months, the kids are bored with the pet, mum is complaining about hair on the furniture, dad thinks the vet bills are too high, etc etc. The family says “no time to look after it”. A few days later, the animal is abandoned somewhere in the streets to fend for its own.
Or, that same pet shop, usually unlicensed in Shanghai as are pet markets and breeders, sell a tiny kitten or puppy, bred in a horrific cat/dog farm, pumped up with antibiotics to make it seem healthy to an unwitting family, and the little one dies within a week or two. Uncommon? No, very common in Shanghai.
Tragic, isn’t it?
It saddens me whenever I see an emaciated dog or cat in Shanghai. It angers me more every time I read about cases of ill-treatment of pets from irresponsible pet ownership. Here in Shanghai, there is just so much we can do to help these helpless animals.
Mad About Shanghai caught up with Carol Wolfson (left), Founder and Director of Second Chance Animal Aid Shanghai, China (SCAA), on the good work they are doing and how we all can all play a part in promoting animal welfare here.
MAS: Hi Carol, you have a long history of campaigning for animal rights and welfare. For ten years, you were on the WWF editorial team based in Hong Kong, served on the Worldwide Board of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), currently helping to raise funds for IFAW’s projects in China and now you founded and run Second Chance Animal Aid Shanghai, China. What brought you to this part of the world?
Carol Wolfson : I originally came
MAS: What is your motivation for your charity work and what other charitable organizations are you currently involved in ?
Carol Wolfson : In terms of charity work, my mother raised me to be involved with my local community since I was a child and it taught me to believe that no matter how well you do in life, if you do not give back to your community and give of yourself to others, then both life and money are meaningless. When you give your time, efforts and love to other humans, to the environment, to animals, you can get much more back in return. I’ve been involved with many environmental and children’s charities over the last 26 years in Asia, and while living in Beijing 1999-2001, I raised funds to build two project hope schools in ShanXi and Inner Mongolia Provinces for children.
Now I am fundraising director for an NGO called the Shambhala Foundation (www.shambhala-ngo.org) and we are about to open our first Tibetan language kindergarten and a mobile medical clinic in Lhasa. I am also on the board of the Catalyst Foundation (www.catalystfoundation.org.uk) which creates micro-initiatives for abandoned and abused women in rural China. I have a framing and interior design business here in Shanghai that also dedicates a section of the store to selling handmade products that benefit many charities in China and worldwide. And you mention my work with animals above, and this is my real passion: to save both endangered animal species and companion animals. If we do not save and value all forms of life, then our grandchildren and future generations will suffer; it’s like a domino effect; every action, every act of cruelty or kindness affects all other life.
It’s up to every one of us to make a difference. Animals do not have a voice of their own. They feel pain, hunger, fear, terror, loyalty and love. We have to protect them because they cannot protect themselves. It’s an extremely important lesson for children of all cultures to learn at an early age.
MAS: How did SCAA come about ?
Carol Wolfson : Second Chance Animal Aid was established in March 2005 as a reaction to the fact that there were absolutely no international or reputable local animal rescue/welfare organizations in Shanghai. After being involved with animal protection and welfare organizations for over 14 years in Asia, I became to be known as someone to approach when needing information about diverse animal issues. We moved from Hong Kong to Shanghai in 2004 and people from around the region and within Shanghai who knew about me, started to ask questions about the abandoned animal situation here, where to adopt healthy animals, etc. etc. I didn’t have any answers.
Initially, I didn’t want to start any organization myself. Too exhausted! I approached a couple of the local animal “welfare” organizations, one even registered with the local authorities, but they turned out be nothing more than scam artists…sick animals taken off the street and sold right back out without proper medical care, isolation, behavioral assessment, vaccinations or spay/neuter.
One organization told me how proud they were because they “rescued” and adopted out over 1,500 cats and dogs in one year. I was terribly impressed but now after two years of running SCAA, I realize it was simply impossible…this could only have been accomplished by taking in masses of sick animals and turning them over to strangers in volumes of numbers without any kind of treatment for the animals and without any kind of requirements for “adoptions” (When I hear that five or ten animals are adopted at one time anywhere in China, I immediately assume the animals have been taken for the food and fur trade as no responsible adoptive parent could ever handle more than two animals properly, especially with one-dog restrictions in so many cities in China and also the fact that cats are territorial and certainly are not happy living in households full of other cats…). Plus, the cost to take care of even one animal properly…from the time we find it on the street to first check-up, vaccinations, spay/neuter, follow-ups is easily RMB 1,000+; to properly treat 1,500 animals in one year would be a minimum of RMB 1,500,000 and that is without any complications! As I said, a complete scam!
Thus, when I realized there was no where to turn to for people responsibly, professionally and transparently rescuing, healing and adopting out healthy animals into permanent, loving homes, I realized the only thing I could do was to start my own private, non-profit, all-volunteer organization, Second Chance Animal Aid. It is overwhelming work (sick and abandoned animals don’t rest at night, nor do the people who find them at 3am in a park and call us panicking!), but we have amazing, and very dedicated directors, foster parents and volunteers; we are truly a family.
How is SCAA different from other animal welfare organizations in
Carol Wolfson : Unfortunately, we are the only organization of our kind in Shanghai, and in China. In Shanghai, as I’ve mentioned, there are the scam artists pretending to rescue animals, illegal and immoral pet stores and markets that sell sick animals bred in horrific kitten and puppy farms, smaller unorganized groups of people who save a few animals at a time but have little education about how to properly take care of pets and who also have no outlets to adopt out their animals, and many of these kind-hearted people end up being hoarders with 100-500 dogs and cats kept in unhealthy and improper conditions at best and more often ending up living amid unbelievable squalor and disease.
SCAA is unique because under the guidance of many friends who are experts with IFAW and the UK RSPCA, I consciously decided to NOT start a shelter in Shanghai! As soon as you have a physical address, it will immediately lead to animal dumping, overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, and ultimately animals will have to be euthanized to control the population.
People think they are “saving” an animal by passing it to a shelter or calling us to come “pick up the three kittens in my yard”, but what they are actually doing is passing an overwhelming burden on to others who have to do all the work while they feel like they can look in the mirror saying they did a good thing….throwing an animal over a shelter wall means it’s the veterinarian who must decide which animals live and die (or in terms of hoarders, the animal population is not controlled and you end up with hundreds of animals in a tiny space), and to ask SCAA to assume the burden of an animal that the person finding the animal should take, is irresponsible and overwhelming to all of us who put in 20+ hour days with the animals we already have in our care!.
By not having a physical address or a shelter, we do not allow animal dumping, nor do we have overhead costs. At SCAA we run a foster care network which we call the equivalent of a mobile shelter! We have about 50-60 dedicated foster parents who take in our animal rescues (many rescue animals as well and then keep to foster), heal them observe their behavior for assessment purposes and then bring them to adoption days over time to meet prospective adoptive parents. In this way, every single animal we rescue goes into an individual home for isolated medical care and we can watch how each animal heals and behaves over time. It’s impossible to do this in a shelter setting where animals can rarely be isolated (and it’s easy for animals to pass diseases back and forth) and where they are crammed together with other animals and species; it’s completely unnatural and many animals who might have been strays on the street but otherwise healthy individuals, end up getting sick and literally go insane from being forced to share space with hundreds of other animals. These hoarders think they are doing a good thing and “saving” the animals, but it’s actually a form of obsessive control disorder and it’s a sickness.
MAS: Tell us about your animal fostering process.
Carol Wolfson : Our fostering process is that if someone finds an animal, let’s say two kittens, on the street, and calls us, we first ask them to read our website, under the paw print (we have a paw that covers our five-most asked questions/topics: I found an animal, I can’t keep my pet, I want to volunteer, I want to donate and I want to adopt an animal!), “I found an animal”. Our rule is, if you pick it up, it’s yours. People call us all the time to come pick up animals but it’s not what we do. We are not a shelter and we are not a humane society. We are a group of very dedicated volunteers, with family and careers of our own, that help people help animals. If you pick up an animal, YOU have to take it to our partner vet, Pets are Wonderful (PAW) which will give a significant discount upon our approval. Our vet assesses the animal and gives it a first round of medical care (usually deflea/worm/mites, vaccination if the animal is healthy, treatment for ringworm and any other skin diseases, etc.) which the person who found the animal must pay for; we completely rely on donations and assistance with medical care costs, so people need to know we are NOT a dumping ground for animals they find.
If our vet and our directors believe the animal is rehomeable (not with a fatal illness or too feral to be tamed), we tell the person that they must keep the animal until we find a foster home (which can often happen within a day or two, but we do need time to make the transition….many people call us and want us to pick up animals they find “RIGHT NOW” and we have to explain again, this is not what we do. And, some people get angry at us because we will not immediately take this burden away from them, but if they are not willing to help us help the animals, there is nothing we can do…it’s frustrating and angering to us that callers sometimes say the animal is “your responsibility” as if it’s a job we are paid for…my reply is “No, it’s not, it’s YOUR responsibility to do the right thing and pick up that starving baby kitten off the street or out of the dumpster, get it warm, feed it, get it to the vet and then we’ll help find a foster home!!” Some people hang up and we know they are not going to help the animal because we are not coming to get it…we just hope they can live with their conscience.).
As I’ve mentioned, we have over 50 very dedicated foster homes. These are people who will take in our animals and give them lots of love and attention. SCAA will cover ALL medical bills of animals in foster care and our foster parents pay only for food and litter. Once they are healed and our vet gives them a clean bill of health, our foster parents bring the animals to our twice monthly adoption days at O’Malley’s (42 Taojiang Road.) The dates are on our website calendar. This provides potential adoptive parents the opportunity to meet our precious animals and for us to meet and talk to the adoptive parents. We have adoption and sterilization agreements that must be signed which outlines our adoption rules and regulations.
Our adoption days have turned into extremely festive events, usually attracting 50-80 people each time…not only foster parents and adoptive parents, but people bringing back their adopted dogs for reunions, our supporters and their own pet dogs, plus families with kids who can’t adopt but want their children to get a tactile dose of a pet here in Shanghai (we are much like a kitty and puppy petting zoo!). Our monthly meetings are also great events and we have several major parties/events coming up this year including a talent quest, children’s art competition, bachelor auction, dog days, monthly happy hours and our annual Xmas gala party! As you can see, we are unique!
MAS: What would you say is SCAA’s most pressing need?
Carol Wolfson : We have three pressing needs:
- Foster Parents: We always need more foster parents. It’s a great way to have a “temporary” pet here in Shanghai if you can’t adopt and miss your pet from home or having a furry companion in general. You get a companion and you help save an animal at the same time! You can be a foster parent for emergency cases (1-2 days) or long-term, depending on your situation, and choose from dogs or cats, kittens, puppies or adult animals. We also have a special category we called “bottle feeders”; very dedicated foster parents who are willing to bottle feed babies every two hours for weeks. We are so grateful to these special people because it takes so much dedication and love, but when you see a five-day old kitten or puppy survive because of our foster parents, it’s just a little miracle! We also need special care foster parents who are willing to take in our sick animals. And, during the holidays we need many more temporary foster care parents as our own foster parents go on much-needed holidays too (this includes summer holidays, the October and May holidays, Christmas and Chinese New Year).
- Donations: The more animals we rescue, the larger the medical bills. The more donations we receive, the more rescues we can carry out. (We are all volunteers and all donated funds go directly to medical care).
- Event Attendance: All of our events raise funds for medical care, so the more people who pay to attend SCAA events, the more animals we can rescue!
MAS: Tell us about the most heart warming incident you came across in SCAA.
Carol Wolfson : There was an article printed in the Shanghai Star in October 2006 about the very first animal I saved from a “shelter” I was trying to assist, which then prompted me to start SCAA in March 2005. That baby kitten was so precious and so helpless.
MAS: And the most heart wrenching?
Carol Wolfson : We directors at SCAA are actually
somewhat used to the tiniest babies not surviving because their immune systems
are too weak. It’s heart-breaking but expected (some 70% of the tiniest ones do
not make it but we can take comfort knowing that their final days and moments
were in loving arms….not dying from cold, sickness and starvation on the
streets or in a garbage dumpster tied in plastic bags—believe it or not, we get
a lot of rescues with kittens and puppies left to die this way…). What is not
expected is cruelty from any of our supporters, ever.
The most heart wrenching incident we have encountered is when the boyfriend of one of our foster care parents, an Italian man, beat one of our beloved fostered dogs to death, a tiny poodle called Jack, because he defecated in the house by accident. The couple has since fled Shanghai we believe (which is wise because if our supporters ever found him, I’d expect they’d beat him as he beat this defenseless dog…) and also left us with an unpaid veterinary bill. And it goes to show that cruelty knows no country borders. We have actually created a section on the website called the “Hall of Shame” which describes frustrating situations we have dealt with and people we believe should be ashamed of themselves and their conduct. It is interesting reading to say the least!
MAS: What is the profile of your volunteer base? And what kind of volunteers does SCAA need the most ?
Carol Wolfson : At this time, about 95% of our volunteer base is expatriate, but we now have two local directors and our local volunteer base is growing which we are very happy about! I truly believe our long-term sustainability as an organization depends on SCAA becoming a local organization with both foreign and local members working together to save animals in need, healing them and finding them permanent homes. Pets are still relatively new to China, and although there are many dedicated and loving pet owners in Shanghai, education is still very much necessary to be able to provide the right atmosphere, training, welfare, medical, nutrition, licensing and general animal pet care information to potential new pet owners.
As I’ve mentioned our greatest volunteer need is more foster care parents. And we need more local and bi-lingual volunteers to attend and organize local education events where pet care and animal welfare information can be distributed. We work closely with Roots & Shoots in Shanghai, as they provide educational programs in over 130 schools, including many local ones. Our goal is to teach this and future generations about animal welfare and responsible pet care.
MAS: Do you feel that SCAA is accomplishing its mission to date? Or is it long road ahead ? What would make your job easier?
Carol Wolfson :Yes. We are all very proud of how far SCAA has come in such a short time. We have accomplished so much, very fast, but in reality, we are still a baby organization, less than two years old!! We have rescued, healed and adopted out about 350 animals with another 60+ in foster care at any given time. This is a successful foster care mobile shelter model!
rescue organization in the world has a long road ahead. It’s not just about
China. What would help SCAA is people realizing that all pets should be spayed
and neutered. There are too many stray animals in this world. It doesn’t hurt
their nature or character to be neutered and it actually expands their lifespan
because they are less likely to get cancer. One unspayed female and one
unneutered male cat can expand to 2.5 million offspring in just six years. What
would also help SCAA is people not buying from the horrible pet markets and
stores that get their animals from puppy and kitten farms; to buy from them is
condoning this barbaric practice: when the buying stops, the selling stops.
Anyone wanting a pet, should adopt from SCAA! And everyone should spread the word that all animals, human and our beloved four-legged friends (as well as birds, snakes, and all species), deserve love and respect on this earth.
What can existing pet owners in
Carol Wolfson : First, be a responsible pet owner yourself and then share your knowledge with others!
- If a dog owner, make sure your dog is licensed. It’s the law and it’s responsible pet ownership.
- Make sure your animal get its yearly check-up and vaccinations.
- Don’t leave your pet in a cage when you are not home. It’s their home too. If they have behavioral problems, deal with the problem…not punish the animal by caging it.
- Don’t leave your animal outside in the winter (unless it’s a dog with a sufficiently thick coat and loves cold weather).
- Make sure your dog and cat eat dog and cat food, not human food. They also should not be fed human milk; most cats are lactose intolerant and it’s bad for them.
- Do not buy purebreds or buy from breeders. Mixed dogs are just as wonderful and so many strays need loving homes….why breed animals when there are so many out on the streets that deserve love too.
- Use a properly licensed veterinarian who can prove their educational background and degree. There are many unlicensed people who call themselves vets and they use fake or expired medicines and do not provide real, professional medical care. Ask questions.
- Boycott and protest against unlicensed and inhumane pet stores and breeders. So many of these animals are sick and pumped with antibiotics to look healthy when they are sold but die soon after. Check out any store/market/breeder/”shelter” you buy from, but better yet, adopt a rescued animal from SCAA or rescue an animal you find and give them a loving home.
- Do NOT buy or wear fur. There are TWO MILLION dogs and cats killed each year in China for the fur trade. That coat, gloves, dress, sweater trimmed with a little bit of fur and made in China is just as likely to be made of cat or dog fur as rabbit or synthetic (We love fake fur…good fun. We don’t like real fur of any kind!). And that cute little ponytail holder, scarf or shawl that is soft and furry or is made of little fur balls, it’s about 99% sure to be cat fur. Next time you reach out to buy fur, think how cruelly a cat was drowned or a dog strangled to death and skinned alive, or some endangered species killed for your vanity.
- Do not let people be cruel to animals. I think it’s safe to say that none of our SCAA supporters would pass someone on the street mistreating an animal. We would stop, try to explain animal kindness and most likely try to take the animal ourselves if someone continued to hit or abuse an animal.
Mahatma Gandhi said: You must be the change you wish to see in the world. It is our responsibility to spread kindness and love to all animals on this planet!
We have many educational leaflets about responsible pet care and animal welfare in Chinese and would be happy to give these to anyone who wants to learn more or distribute them to their friends, colleagues, etc.
Any plans to branch out beyond
Carol Wolfson : Not immediately, as we are all over-whelmed as it is, but our model is set up such that we can expand to other cities easily. Our partner vet, PAW has a branch in Beijing and we have many other similar sponsors there as well. We would need a dedicated group first of expatriates who want to take this on and the model easily copied in Beijing and other cities. Right now, “man man lai”!
MAS: What are some of SCAA’s upcoming programs and what can we expect to see from SCAA in the short term future?
Carol Wolfson : We would welcome your readers to attend our adoption days, monthly meetings, our new monthly happy hours and our upcoming events which are all listed on our website (www.scaashanghai.org ) and now on your fine website as well!
Finally, I personally have a book being launched at the Glamour Bar on 20 May,
4pm. It’s a funny book about being a western businesswoman for over 25 years in
Asia. There will be an entrance fee of RMB 50 which includes one glass of wine
and all proceeds will go to SCAA, of course! We will also have a fantastic
two-prize raffle so stay tuned for more information as the event approaches!
MAS: Thank you, Carol.
If you feel you’re ready for a pet, please adopt instead of buying. This is one of the ways to lighten the SCCA already overwhelming load. Also, do sterilize your pets as it can reduce cases of unwanted newborn animals.
A pet is a long-term commitment. Please ensure that you, your family or friends don’t get an pet unless you’re willing to take care of it for life (which can be a 15+ year commitment). Never, ever abandon your pet. If you really can’t keep it, please find it a new, loving home. Only with concerted action by more people will we see the numbers of unwanted animals decrease.