by Xuan Phu-Trung Hieu
Treat animals the way you would wish to be treated. That's the message that young members of a dog and cat rescue group are trying to convey to people in the capital.
At a recent workshop on methods to stop smugglers from bringing dogs across the border, a young man sat quietly in a corner, typing on his laptop.
Nguyen Thanh Tuan, 27, doesn't advertise the fact that he is head of the only group in Ha Noi for rescuing dogs and cats. He works at an educational software company by day; in his spare time, he supervises the group, which currently has more than 400 official members.
The group was established in 2012 by Nguyen Trang An and Nguyen Luong Tuyet Nhung, who read online about dog and cat rescue efforts in HCM City. They were most impressed with a group named Loving Animals, led by Vi Thao Nguyen.
An and Nhung wanted to do something about the growing number of abandoned dogs and cats in Ha Noi, so they decided to establish a similar rescue team in the capital. At first, they could only rescue about 10 dogs and cats each month. But many people found out about the group on Facebook and registered to join.
Currently, they rescue nearly 40 dogs and cats each month. When they receive an animal, they classify it according to health status. In severe cases or when animals need emergency aid, they transport them to veterinary clinics. Otherwise they take them to members' houses until their health is stable. Occasionally, however, there's nothing they can do.
"One-third of the rescued dogs and cats are unable to survive because they are too weak or have starved too long. The team buries them in outlying land and handles the situation in accordance with animal disease prevention regulations," Tuan says.
While the group's founders are young, age is far from a prerequisite for membership.
"Uncle Diep in Dong Tac Street is a typical case. He is more than 60. Though he does not directly go rescuing, he is one of the most active members who feed the animals at home or find new homes for them," Tuan says.
Sometimes the members find themselves in crazy situations. Tran Dang, 24, an employee of a hotel in Ha Noi, recalled the time he went with Ngoc Quang, the youngest member, 16, to rescue a cat stuck in a high tree.
"Quang and I arrived and saw the cat on top of the tree," Dang recalls. Luckily, a nearby resident allowed Quang to climb onto his roof and even lent him a ladder.
"In many cases, I just climb the tree, worried, with a knife or scissors in my mouth in case the cat is trapped. I feel a bit like in action movies. Luckily I have learned martial arts!" Quang says with a broad smile.
Another unforgettable day, some kittens were moved by the mother cat to a very high position, where even she could not jump. The volunteers had to listen to the kittens' mewing and use flashlights to identify where they were. Then Dang had to hold Quang as he reached off the balcony to pull up the kittens.
This story indicates that along with harbouring a love for animals, group members must be also very persistent and clever. Courage doesn't hurt, either.
"There's a risk of encountering snakes or centipedes in the damp corners on the roof," Dang says.
One day, Huyen Trang heard a kitten crying in a vacant lot. Trang searched for advice from the internet. The next morning, she put some food into a small cage and hung it from a string. She sat watching the cat until the end of the afternoon, when the kitten was so hungry that it had to enter the cage. When Trang successfully lifted the cat up, she realised that she herself had forgotten to eat lunch.
Another member, Thuy Van, 24, saw a thin, dirty cat with a string on its neck near a dump near her house.
After school, she spent two sessions sitting next to the trash to catch the cat, with danger always imminent.
"While I was cutting the string on the cat's neck, it was so scared that it bit my friend," says Van.
Dang recalls saving seven kittens hiding under a pile of timber at a school with his bare hands. Each time he caught a cat, it bit him.
Group head Tuan says the group is now looking for a place to take care of cats and dogs before finding them permanent homes. "The ideal location is an open space away from the city centre so people won't be affected by barking or the bad smell," he says.
Dr Tuan Bendixsen, chief representative of the Animals Asia organisation in Viet Nam, says the group plays an important role in raising awareness about how to treat animals.
"This is the first group in the northern region rescuing dogs and cats, so they might face difficulties! But with their youthful enthusiasm, I believe they will soon grow as an organisation. Animals Asia will support them during this difficult period," he says.
To reduce the number of strays, Bendixsen recommended sterilising pets.
"If we keep dogs and cats when they are small, beautiful and cute, then release them when they get old, the number of wild dogs and cats will increase horribly," he says. — VNS