|Pet project: Luong Ngoc Dung, a former Rescue Team leader for Hanoi Pet Rescue, poses with a formerly homeless kitten. The Rescue Team takes in and treats pets, while the Adoption Team finds them homes. — Photo Courtesy of Hanoi Pet Rescue
by Annalise Frank
Vu Thi Thu Trang found her passion for saving stray pets when she adopted Liet, a blind street cat she took in after a friend found it lying in the street, surrounded by ants.
"At that time I realised: If no one took the cat it would die," said Trang, 28.
She ended up caring for Liet for a year, paying its vet fees and spoon-feeding it homemade soup every day. Now, after finding Hanoi Pet Rescue through Facebook, Trang volunteers dozens of hours a week working as a rescue coordinator for the grassroots operation.
Nguyen Luong Tuyet Nhung, 24, started the rescue more than two years ago, during her last year of university. She started out caring for cats with her own money, like Trang, then started a Facebook page.
Hanoi Pet Rescue grew from there. It still doesn't have a centre for housing the cats and dogs it rescues. Instead, its coordinators work on the go, calling volunteers to transport animals to vet clinics or foster homes.
The rescue team cares for between 50 and 60 pets at a time – about 95 per cent cats, the rest dogs. It spends about VND20 million per month on vet fees, despite a 50 per cent discount from veterinary clinics.
Private donations fund the growing organisation, which finds itself at a pivotal point: It has outgrown its founders' pockets and private donations, and is seeking funding through grants and fundraising events. But it doesn't have the legal backbone or marketing team to accomplish either.
"The problem now is how to develop," Trang said.
The rescue recently started hosting fundraisers, the latest of which is a community garage sale: "Give an old thing, save a new life," the posters read.
Visitors can bring their pets for a free health examination and free pet food, or for a romp around a dog playground Hanoi Pet Rescue constructed, with bridges to run over and hoops to jump through. The event is November 9 from 1pm to 7pm.
But events like the garage sale won't fund Hanoi Pet Rescue's ambitions. Nhung hopes Hanoi Pet Rescue can become an NGO, which could raise its credibility.
However, getting the Government certificate required for NGO status is difficult in Viet Nam, especially for an organisation focusing on domestic animals.
"In Viet Nam, animal welfare is not cared about, so animal organisations are not cared about enough," Nhung said.
While some organisations study the trade of dogs for consumption, Viet Nam still lacks statistics on the number of stray and homeless pets, Trang said. The sheer amount of strays makes it difficult to estimate, and few organisations work with domestic animals.
Hanoi Pet Rescue and its more than 100 volunteers have cared for 2,000 animals. While 65 per cent of them have gotten permanent homes, some are beyond assistance.
"Catching is just the beginning of a very difficult process," Trang said. "We fail a lot. If a dog is really strong and breaks out of its cage and runs away, that breaks our hearts. They end up in the dog trade a lot of the time.
"Sometimes you cannot help. You really want to, but you cannot do anything for them."
Hanoi Pet Rescue interviews up to 20 people each time they need to find a pet a home. The rules are strict: owners or fosterers can't allow the animals to roam free outdoors, can't be away a lot, and must spay or neuter them.
Bronwyn Allen, an Australian English teacher, said she hadn't heard of any organisation in Ha Noi fostering pets before she found a Hanoi Pet Rescue post on Facebook.
Someone had found a mother cat, ill and bone-thin, caring for four days-old kittens.
Allen decided to reply, and soon the kittens and their mother took up residence in her guest room, separated from her two other cats. The mother, who had been eating rubbish out of desperation while pregnant, perked up on a regular diet, Allen said.
Though timid, the mother looked healthy as she prowled across the room to join her kittens, seven weeks after being rescued. The kittens would be found homes soon, but it would be tougher to adopt out their older, less picture-perfect mother.
"It's all about education, the reason I support Hanoi Pet Rescue," Allen said. "They're committed to educating people about pets and responsible pet care, supporting and caring for homeless, abused, unwanted cats and dogs." — VNS