World

China animal rescuer shares home with more than 1,300 dogs, 100 cats

CHONGQING: Twenty years ago, Ms Wen Junhong saved an abandoned dog from the streets of Chongqing in south-western China. She now shares her home with more than 1,300 of them, and they keep on coming.

After taking in that first dog, a Pekinese she named Wenjing - meaning "gentle and quiet" - Ms Wen found she could not stop.

She said she was driven by worries about what strays face on the streets in China, from accidents to being snatched up for the dog meat trade.

"It is important to look after these dogs," she said. "Each of us should respect life, and the earth is not only for humans but for all animals."

China still does not have a national animal welfare law and there are tens of millions of stray dogs and cats, according to charity Animals Asia.

It is not just canines that the 68-year-old has a soft spot for. Ms Wen also lives with one hundred cats, four horses and a scattering of rabbits and birds.

"Some people say I am a psychopath," she admitted.

Her day starts at 4 am with the unenviable task of clearing 20 to 30 barrels of overnight dog waste and cooking more than 500kg of rice, meat and vegetables for the animals.

The waste gets burned in the backyard, sending a continuous plume of smoke into the sky.

Every room in the two-storey house is full of cages, piled next to and on top of each other.

Surrounded by fences and locked gates, her hillside location is the latest in a series of homes after complaints from neighbours forced her and her charges to keep moving.

Ms Wen finances the operation with proceeds from selling her apartment, loans of up to 60,000 yuan (S$12,300), and her pension and life savings from an earlier career as an environmental technician.

She also receives donations after gaining attention on social media, where she has been dubbed "Chongqing Auntie Wen".

She hopes the attention will lead to adoptions, but new arrivals far outpace those being rehomed. And she has suffered abuse online, after pictures of the animals' living conditions were posted.

"Living in such a small cage is no better than being a stray dog," wrote one critic.

She has six staff, who sleep in a room piled high with bags of dog food. - AFP

WORLD