Angel of mercy
Updated: 2012-01-13 07:51
By Li Aoxue (China Daily)
Chris Barden looks after dogs at his shelter for small animals. He hopes each dog can find a new home. [Joy Hua / For China Daily]
An american in Beijing gives homeless animals new lease on life
On April 15 last year Chris Barden, from the United States, took a taxi to a toll station on the Beijing-Harbin Expressway. After he got out of the cab, Barden found himself face to face with a truck filled with 500 dogs.
"I learned by weibo (Chinese equivalent of Twitter) that these 500 dogs would be sent to Jilin, Jilin province, where they would be killed and served as food," Barden says. "As the founder of a small animal adoption program, I felt it was my duty to go and help."
By the time Barden got to the site, there were already about a dozen people, including volunteers and members from the China Small Animal Protection Association as well as other similar animal rescue groups in Beijing.
Barden himself is a founder of an online dog and cat adoption project, Lingyang.org, part of a Beijing-based adoption network for rescuing small animals.
In 1989, as a second-year undergraduate from Yale University, he obtained a scholarship to learn Chinese in Taiwan to augment his interest in the language.
"I studied Chinese by myself for a year and a half but it was not effective until I went to Taiwan," the 44-year-old says.
After studying in Taiwan for a year, Barden returned to the US to do a doctorate at Harvard University. But he found he was not cut out for the life of academia and decided to work in his hometown in California instead.
In 1998 Barden went to Beijing to pursue his passion for writing. He found a job at an English magazine and worked as a freelancer, writing on arts and entertainment in China.
He also became a vegan in 2006 and formed a vegan social club in Beijing to persuade people to stop eating and wearing animal products. Two years later he began finding homes for stray dogs and cats. In 2010 he set up Lingyang.org.
"It can be easy to help these homeless animals get treated at pet clinics, but the most difficult thing is to find adopters who would like to give them a home after their treatment," Barden says.
At the Beijing-Harbin Expressway on April 15 last year, hundreds of other people showed up later to save the dogs in the truck.
Barden was there for about an hour before he drew the attention of police, who asked him to leave and escorted him away.
After the dogs were released to volunteers around midnight, Barden spoke with his friend Han Shuang, a vet from newly established Dongxing Animal Hospital. The hospital agreed to take in as many of the seriously sick dogs from the truck as possible.
Barden met Han when he was carrying out his adoption project for homeless dogs and cats. During the rescue that day, the two drove to the China Small Animal Protection Association shelter and waited for the dogs to arrive. When they did, in the early hours of the morning, they all began the difficult process of unloading the frightened dogs from the truck.
By the evening of April 16, many of the city's animal hospitals began treating sick and injured dogs from the truck. At Dongxing Animal Hospital, Barden and Han eventually took in 89 dogs.
Barden works on TV and movie script translations to support himself. He also writes movie scripts and hopes to sell one of these to help his adoption center. But he knows the going can be tough.
"It is my responsibility to provide a shelter for these dogs. I cannot just give them up halfway. Not many people can work on animal adoptions and this makes it more important," Barden says.
He says he would like to develop a small business to help support his animal welfare work.
"Animal welfare cannot always depend on donations from people or enterprises, as they cannot help them all the time."
Mary Peng, co-founder of the International Center for Veterinary Services in Beijing, says shelters for homeless dogs and cats in Beijing are still rudimentary. First, the number of shelters in Beijing is far from enough. Second, people who establish these shelters lack training in the field.
"Operating a shelter for homeless dogs and cats is like running a business. He or she needs to know how to bring up these animals, and how to do the process of adoption, but in China very few people are trained in this aspect."
Raising funds is also difficult in animal adoption projects.
"You can get food or cages donated from people, but the cost of medical treatment is inevitable," Peng says. "People cannot easily raise funds for animal welfare, epecially when the economy is not that good."
Barden says he will design English training materials and use whatever he has experienced with animals to make the content more interesting and attractive to readers.
By the end of October Barden was suddenly told that the place used to shelter the dogs was no longer available and he is now building a shelter for 35 dogs he saved from the expressway.
He rents a courtyard in Shunyi district of Beijing. The place boasts newly installed plastic windows and fences, and sacks of dog food stacked in the kitchen.
Barden spends time at the courtyard from Monday to Friday. On weekends, three to seven volunteers help out at the shelter. Apart from cleaning the courtyard and feeding dogs, Barden is also busy finding adopters for the dogs.
"Although the process of finding new homes for these dogs can be very long, it is really worth it as once these dogs find homes, they will not suffer in the future," he says.