Failing animal rescue centers need rescuing themselves

By Ngoc Ngan, Quynh Nguyen   April 29, 2024 | 08:06 pm PT
When Tran Tam saw the sign "Remove All Dogs and Cats" that his neighbor had hung in front of his house gate, he sighed knowing that he had to move.

Tam started rescuing dogs and cats in 2013.

At first, he only fed strays. But then he began taking injured animals into his home. At first, it was a few dogs, but now Tam now houses between 40-70 adopted animals at any given time.

With so many animals in and on his HCMC property, Tam is constantly bombarded by complaints from his neighbors about the noise and smells. He has apologized and invested in hygienic products such pet litter, air purifiers, and room spray, but the situation has not improved much.

Most of the rescued animals are stray dogs and cats that are easily frightened and often make loud noises in the middle of the night. Thus, the neighbors regularly threaten to file lawsuits.

From rented rooms in central districts like Binh Thanh, Tam later had to move to district 3, district 10, district 7, Phu Nhuan, Tan Phu, and Go Vap districts for more space.

But as his collection of rescued animals grew, he eventually had to look for unused land lots near cemeteries, fields, and landfills in Binh Hung, Vinh Loc A, and Da Phuoc communes of Binh Chanh district, and Hoc Mon district in Thu Duc city – so as not to disturb residential areas.

There have been years when Tam has had to move as many as 5 times.

For his most recent move, he rented a 120-square meter house in Da Phuoc commune, located at the end of a dead-end alley. However, the family living next door still angrily hung a sign on Tam's gate that read "The house smells so bad, please get rid of all the pets."

Volunteers care for animals at a dog and cat rescue center in Thanh Oai district, Hanoi, 2023. Photo by San Nha Nhieu Cho

Volunteers care for animals at a dog and cat rescue center in Thanh Oai district, Hanoi, 2023. Photo by San Nha Nhieu Cho

In Hanoi, a rescue center in Nhat Tan ward, Tay Ho district has faced the same challenges.

Last May, Thanh Hoa (whose name has been changed) in Nhat Tan ward was asked to move when 22 surrounding households filed a complaint because her pets were causing noise and strong stenches.

The 30-year-old woman said that the house she just rented in Nhat Tan ward is where she now cares for 100 paralyzed dogs and cats. To avoid affecting local residents, she bought odor-proof nets, air purifiers, and essential oil diffusers.

The animals there aren’t mobile, so Hoa’s neighbor’s initially weren’t disturbed, and it looked like her rescue center had finally stopped receiving complaints.

However, when she was suddenly asked to move recently, Hoa was unable to find a new place for her and her animals to live. Every time she had to move in the past, she had lost a lot of money renovation and building infrastructure for the rescued animals. Her budget had gone from tight to dire.

The leader of Nhat Tan Ward People's Committee commended Hoa for rescuing abandoned pets, but they also said the animals were caged close to a residential area, causing noise that affected families in the area – forcing the rescue center to relocate.

Despite his sympathy for the organization, Tran Chi, 70 years old, in Hanoi, who used to live next to an animal rescue center, said: "I tried to endure, but the foul smell and loud barking from morning until night made it unbearable. If you sympathize with them, who will sympathize with me?"

Nguyen Xuan Son, Chairman of the Vietnam Cat Association, said that when dogs and cats are raised in large numbers, it becomes difficult to control infectious diseases. Rescue centers with large densities of animals are also often located in residential areas where neighbors complain of noise and smells.

"Therefore, moving rescue centers outside residential areas to avoid causing air and noise pollution is the thing to do," Son said.

He also said rescue centers should have separate treatment and isolation measures for dogs and cats to avoid cross-infection, and build more suitable living spaces for different categories and numbers of animals.

According to preliminary statistics accumulated by VnExpress, there are currently about 30 rescue centers nationwide, most of which are concentrated in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

The biggest difficulty at these centers is the lack of space for the rescued animals. And the lack of funding and resources fails to save more animals from slaughterhouses.

Minh Quangs rescue center in Thanh Oai district, Hanoi, cares for 5-7 dogs rescued from slaughterhouses as of July 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Minh Quang's rescue center in Thanh Oai district, Hanoi, cares for 5-7 dogs rescued from slaughterhouses as of July 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

A Hanoi rescue center run by Nguyen Minh Quang, 39, was forced to move locations twice in as many years due to neighborhood complaints about noise and foul odors. Over 350 dogs and more than 100 cats had to be transported each time.

After 14 years of rescuing animals from slaughterhouses, Quang said finding new owners for rescued animals is now ten times more difficult than securing funding for food, medicine, and care.

Unlike most rescue centers that often rescue lapdogs, most of the animals at Quang's centers are domestic breeds native to Vietnam. These dogs have changed owners multiple times and have been beaten and even witnessed the butcheries at slaughterhouses. These traumas have made them aggressive, out of control, and shunned by would-be new owners for them.

That is the main reason that only 10-15 out of hundreds of dogs are adopted from Quang’s center each year. And even then, most of them end up being returned. "It’s hard to give up on them, but I don’t have enough [resources] to keep rescuing them," Quang said.

Associate Professor, Dr. Bui Thi An, Director of the Institute of Natural Resources, Environment and Community Development, said that the establishment and development of animal rescue centers is a humane action. However, rescue teams also need to calculate the costs of care and treatment, ensure hygiene and curb noise levels, as well as prevent the possibility of animals escaping and attacking humans.

According to An, authorities must monitor all rescue centers and establish support policies.

Instead of letting rescue centers adopt and raise the animals themselves, which increases the number of animas in small, poorly-funded spaces, An said, appropriate breeding sites need to be built and civil society should be called upon to raise funds.

However, while waiting for any new regulations to be applied, Tam, Hoa, or Quang are still lacking in funding. And they will still have to move if they displease local authorities.

An believes that if this situation continues, the animals will continue to be unprotected and improperly cared for.

"The founders of the rescue centers themselves are also in a difficult position due to lack of money, lack of space and locations available, and the lack of sympathy from the community," warned An.

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