Shitty People Being Shitty to Other Shitty People, But Not Always

It can seem like there are days here where I see nothing but shitty people being shitty to other shitty people. Today I saw some girls shove a blind man out of their way. There’s no shortage of cars cutting off pedestrians, cyclists, or other cars because everyone is in a hurry and thinks their own time and safety is more important than others’. I hate when people park right in the middle of the road or on a sidewalk, completely blocking the flow of traffic for everyone else because someone was too lazy to go find a parking spot while they ran into 7-11. Or how about the famous incident of the little girl getting hit by a car and no one stopping to help her while she died in the street a few years back? Seeing shitty, selfish, greedy behavior like this all the time can really bring a person down.

However, I have managed to find a group of wonderful, wonderful people who are the exact opposite of all this. Volunteering is a pretty new concept in China, a lot of Chinese people don’t even really understand what it means. I’ve been working with a couple of animal rescue organizations and a Trap Neuter Release organization in Shanghai and have had the opportunity to get to know some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met in my life. It’s refreshing to work with them and to be reminded that not every single person in Shanghai is a shit bird who couldn’t care less about the people around them.

These people dedicate so much of themselves to trying to ease the pain and suffering of animals, especially stray animals. They spend countless hours and their own hard earned cash bringing stray animals to the vet and then placing them in homes. I work mostly with the TNR organization and one of the members, a guy named Steven has become a bit of a hero to me. He spends most of his mornings before work at the vet checking on his strays, goes to work and then spends most of his evenings catching stray cats in neighborhoods (mine included) where TNR programs are on-going and then goes home to a home full of dogs and cats that he fosters until they can be placed in permanent homes. You’d never think he was anything special if you just saw him on the street. He’s just a regular guy. Him and a few others have spent months pursuing official NPO status for the TNR organization and just recently got it approved. They’ve designed this amazing plan for not only carrying out TNR, but also dedicating time and resources on educating people on proper pet care and how to prevent the growth of Shanghai’s stray animal population. I’ve learned that many Chinese people have some really interesting and sad misunderstandings about pets and pet care that end poorly for our furry friends. They are trying to educate people against this kind of unscientific, superstitious thinking.

Another unsung hero is Chris Lau, founder of ThinkAdoption who at any one time has about 20 pets in his home. Some of them are his own, most of them are waiting for adoption. I myself have two cats and I feel that they take up a lot of my time (they’re so messy!), I have no idea how people like Chris can hold down full time jobs and then manage to care for so many animals! Especially in a large city like Shanghai where you can’t just put the dogs outside in your yard while you go to work. It takes remarkable dedication and selflessness.

Some people have asked me why I spend so much time and money on trying to help stray animals instead of trying to help people. I have two reasons. 1. The situation of all stray animals was caused by humans – people not being responsible pet owners, releasing them when they become a burden and not de-sexing them. I feel like we owe it to them. 2. People indirectly benefit from taking care of the stray animal problem. How? Well, stray animals can sometimes carry rabies. I saw a news report yesterday that said that 10 people in Beijing died from rabies last year because of stray dogs. Stray cats make a lot of noise at night when they’re in heat, so de-sexing them solves that problem and also helps them to lead longer, healthier lives. I am frequently woken up by the cats in my neighborhood fighting or getting it on. I’ve managed to spay/neuter 5 of them already, but I probably have 10 more to go before we have the problem mostly under control.

If anyone is interested in learning more about these organizations, I recommend you check them out on Weibo or WeChat. Search for ThinkAdoption, PPAR (Paw Pals Animal Rescue) or TNR Action at TNRaction.com.

A Furry Friend in Need!

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My new neighborhood is full of stray cats, which breaks my heart. I love animals, but especially cats. I hate to see any living thing suffering, particularly animals who have so little say in what happens to them. I recently discovered that Shanghai has a TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) program and I have volunteered to help organize events and capture stray cats to be brought in for spaying/neutering, before returning them where we found them. Some people may think that returning them defies logic. Why not adopt them or put them to sleep? Because cats are territorial and if you remove them from an area, then more will just move in and with extra resources and territory, instincts will kick in and tell them to reproduce. Keeping spayed and neutered strays in their original territory prevents the growth of the stray population in more than one way.

I’ve been feeding a litter of kittens I found for the last two weeks and they seemed to be pretty healthy (except for conjunctivitis, which I am treating), with the exception of one, small black kitten. She is the smallest of the group and seemed mostly ok, but I made sure to give her extra food and keep the other kitties from stealing it from her. It wasn’t enough. She began leaving the safety of the bushes where they live and wandering around listlessly in the lane, where she was vulnerable to cars, mopeds and pedestrians staring at their phones instead of where they are going. When a stray begins approaching people like that, it’s typically a cry for help. They know they’re in trouble and asking for help the only way they know how. I ignored it and thought she would get better on her own. I came home from the gym one night and found her laying on the sidewalk, pulling herself around in circles with her front legs, unable to move her hind legs. I put her into a box and brought her into my house. I wrapped her with towels and turned on the heat to stop her shivering and fed her. I began looking online to see if I could find a veterinarian that took emergency calls, and of course, no one answered their phones. I finally remembered my contact at the TNR program who helped me find a vet that would see her so late (it was about 9:30pm when I found her, after 11 before I made it to the clinic, which was a million miles away). When I finally got there, he was really kind and patient. I think he took good care of her, but he really didn’t think she would make it through the night. She did make it through the night, and seemed to be a lot better the next day. She had blood in her urine and still couldn’t walk or go to the bathroom by herself. Today she had no blood in her urine, but still, no walking or relieving herself without someone pushing on her belly to get it out. The vet took some x rays and couldn’t find any spinal damage or other abnormalities, so he thinks she has nerve damage near her hips. The good news is that she has feeling in her toes and he could see her muscles moving when she was trying to poop, even if nothing was coming out. He said that with the right kind of care, it’s possible that she could regain use of her legs and bowels, but that will mean having a person available to help her go to the bathroom a couple times a day and providing physical therapy like treatment to help her nerves regenerate. She has a shot, but not without the right kind of person to help her. I wish like hell I could be that person because I have a hard time believing that someone else would give her the right attention, but also because I blame myself for not taking her to a vet sooner. Starting next week I’m going to be on business trips until December, so I just can’t do it. I really hope that some of you can help me spread the word or even volunteer to help this poor little kitty. She doesn’t have fleas or any contagious diseases (I had her tested) and the conjunctivitis of her eyes is getting better every day and will completely heal without any blindness.

My “China Thing”

Summer is over and I have my work visa in hand. I’ll be heading back to Shanghai next week and I’m actually pretty happy about it, primarily for three reasons.

1. I’m bored out of my mind

I live in a small town, far from everything in the US. It’s incredibly hot here and there are sandstorms almost every day, limiting the time one can spend outside. The last friend I had in this town moved away last week, leaving me with my cat and my husband, both of whom are sick of me. My husband is at work 14+ hrs a day anyway, so entertaining me is a huge burden on my poor kitty. I’ve kept myself busy reading, studying Chinese, working out, and listening to courses on iTunes university. I’m ready to go do something and feel useful again.

2. My back hurts!

I have a back injury and now a hamstring injury (thanks a lot, pole dancing instructor) that I haven’t been able to find any solution to other than traditional Chinese massage. I’ve tried physical therapy, chiropractors, western style oily gross rub-down massage (there aren’t any other options such as deep tissue in this crappy town), medicine and acupuncture. At best, those methods offer temporary relief, but most of them are really expensive. They just can’t compete with 60 RMB blind massage. I haven’t had one since I came home and I’m walking like one of those 400 yr old nai nais that spent her whole life carrying heavy buckets of water on a pole across her shoulders.

3. I feel like a weirdo in America.

You know when people ask you about what you’ve been doing in China and you try to explain and about 30 seconds into it, they get that glazed look in their eyes? Yeah, that’s basically every conversation I’ve had since I’ve come home. I blame my husband. He makes me go to parties and stuff (ugh, people) and he introduces me to people by saying “This is my wife, she just finished a master’s degree in Chinese!” I know he’s trying to help and he’s proud of me, but it just doesn’t go well. WHY CAN’T I JUST STAY HOME WITH THE CAT?!?! I simply try to avoid the topic now. People ask me what I do and I say something like “I’m in between jobs right now” and then ask them what they do. Everyone would rather talk about themselves anyway, right? The few people who try to seriously understand whatever it is that I do, can’t really make heads or tails of it because they don’t know anything about China other than what’s in the news and we all know that’s not exactly putting China in the best light. They can’t (won’t?) understand why I would go there, much less keep going back. I hear questions like “But isn’t the food really unsafe? What do you eat there?” or “How do you breath with all that smog?!” These are valid questions, but even though these issues aren’t the end of the world for me, it’s hard to make people understand why I keep going back. The other reaction I often get is even worse than the usual indifference/confusion – and that is when people think I’m just showing off. I get that mostly from people I went to high school with. Most of my former high school classmates are still at home (small town, population less than 10,000), have a bunch of kids, make minimum wage and/or are on meth. When you run into a person like that and they ask you what you’re doing with your life, it’s pretty damn hard not to sound like you’re bragging. However, I feel like they shouldn’t ask that question of the former Honor Society president and women’s cross country team captain (I know, I know, I was hot shit) and expect to get an answer that’s going to make them feel better about themselves.

At the end of the day, my “China thing” (as it’s often referred to) is none of anyone’s damn business and it really has nothing to do with anyone else, but I just hate never knowing how to deal with these conversations. I like the fact that I don’t have to have this conversation in China with other expats. There’s an unspoken understanding and you rarely get asked about it, much less judged for it. My Chinese friends and my expat friends have more context for understanding my life, which makes it easier for me. I don’t have to go into minute details to make myself understood and I can speak Chinglish. I guess I’m just lazy. No, that’s not all it is…I don’t like feeling like I don’t belong and in a lot of ways, I don’t belong in America anymore. Maybe it would be easier if I was staying here for a few years, but I’m not ready to find out.