Students run non-profit animal shelter

February 18, 2024 - 09:52
Generations of VNUA students with a shared love for pets have voluntarily run a shelter for the past nine years, being guardian angels of nearly 10,000 animals in distress.
Nguyễn Đình Hiếu (left) and Phạm Đức Toàn play with cats during their working shift at Hà Nội Agriculture University Animal Rescue Shelter. VNS Photo Trần Khánh An

by Trần Khánh An

(with additional reporting by Anh Ngô, Minh Dũng and Trang Trịnh)

A paralysed Miniature Pinscher puppy, named Mỡ, is waiting for a new home. He is among the many pets fortunate enough to be rescued and taken care of by an animal rescue shelter in a suburban district east of Hà Nội.

Located in Trâu Quỳ Town, Gia Lâm District, the non-profit shelter was founded by lecturers and students at the faculty of veterinary medicine of the Việt Nam National University of Agriculture (VNUA).

Generations of VNUA students with a shared love for pets have voluntarily run the shelter for the past nine years, being guardian angels of nearly 10,000 animals in distress.

A Miniature Pinscher puppy abandoned at a garbage dump was rescued with severe skin infection (left photo). Now, he eventually finds a loving new home. Photo courtesy of Hà Nội Agriculture University Animal Rescue Shelter

Guardian angels

“The primary reason that most of us are here is our love for pets. Animal welfare in Việt Nam still falls short of ideal standards,” said Đỗ Minh Phượng, a VNUA sophomore working at the shelter.

Phạm Đức Toàn, another shelter staff member, said: “I adore dogs and cats, and also desirably acquire valuable practical experience as a future vet. Therefore, I joined the shelter as a volunteer.”

Day and night, the 30-member team is ready 24/7 to rescue any pets in distress when receiving emergency calls. In addition to pets, they occasionally receive calls and messages to rescue other animals such as squirrels, pigs, and even some wild animals.

Phượng recalled a time when she rescued Bơn, a Mini Pin abandoned at a rubbish dump.

“With a severe skin infection, Bơn was bleeding at the slightest touch. Whenever he lay in his cage, we had to line it with soft padding to prevent continuous bleeding,” she said.

“It took over two months before Bơn fully recovered. Now, he eventually has found a loving new home he deserves.”

With the motto "We treat animals like family”, the shelter helps numerous abandoned pets find a new loving home.

Trần Bảo Linh, who is also a member of the shelter, adopted Chả – a cute kitten with weak hind legs.

“Caring for Chả is a little bit challenging as she totters with an unsteady, uneven gait. However, feeling deeply sympathetic towards her plight, I decided to adopt her,” Linh said.

“An important requirement in the adoption agreement was that if I could no longer care for Chả, I must return her to the shelter instead of giving or selling her to someone else who perhaps had negative intentions,” said Linh, who appreciates the shelter’s effort to ensure pets receive a loving and safe home.

Uphill battle

A volunteer gives health check and treatment to a cat at the shelter. – VNS Photo Trần Khánh An

Despite their best efforts, volunteers face an uphill battle just to stay afloat, including funding, food supplies, and the sheer capacity of cases the shelter receives.

As a voluntary shelter, the operation resources stream mainly from their own pockets, besides adoption fees and donations.

“Since we do not have financial resources to add meat to the meal, the animals here frequently eat rice and pumpkin soups,” Toàn sighed.

The shelter occupies a rented 20sq.m room, whose condition is far from a standard veterinary facility.

Nguyễn Đình Hiếu, a volunteer, recalled when they experienced severe flooding.

“When an unexpected flood came, we had to urgently move the cages to higher places like tabletops to protect the animals. When the water level rose dangerously, we had to temporarily relocate the pets to nearby volunteer residences,” he said.

Additionally, their parents initially discouraged their children from becoming veterinarians and working voluntarily at the shelter, seeing it as challenging, time-consuming and low-income work.

“Our parents also fear us being scratched or bitten, worrying about rabies or fungal infections,” Phượng said.

The cat was abandoned with severe skin infection and one eye blind. The majority of animals at the shelter are in a bad situation, panicking, disoriented and often injured. Photo Trần Khánh An

"We frequently wonder about where these animals would go, especially during rainy or cold days, if it were not at our shelter. Therefore, we strive to maintain a safe home for them whenever they need support."

Make a difference

Despite facing multiple issues, step by step, these students have tried to ensure that every pet in need receives the care and love it deserves. Moreover they have offered greater value than just a normal shelter – to raise awareness about animal welfare.

“We partner with vets to offer veterinary care, while also spreading knowledge of animal healthcare. We also collaborate with students from other universities to host charity events and animal welfare initiatives,” Toàn said.

“To raise funds and awareness about animal welfare, we are selling a self-designed 2024 calendar, whose images feature some of the adorable dogs and cats that we have been saving,” Phượng said, proudly showing the precious calendar.

Đỗ Minh Phượng, a member of the Hà Nội Agriculture University Animal Rescue Shelter, proudly shows their self-designed calendar to raise funds for the shelter. VNS Photo Trần Khánh An.

They urged people to continue caring for their pets, or if they cannot keep them, to find them a new home, rather than simply abandoning them.

Hiếu once found some dogs left at the shelter’s doorstep, as their owners were unwilling to pay for their pets' medical treatment and abandon them.

“Even though it is disheartening to see ageing dogs and cats abandoned, it is inappropriate to hold their former owners solely responsible,” Hiếu said.

“I just hope that the new owners – who have a deep bond with their pets – will continue caring for these animals throughout their lives.” VNS