Three Shanghai Shipyard dogs

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When we hear of interactions between humans and dogs in East Asia, the news is seldom good. From the terrible living conditions of dogs in Korean dog-meat farms, to the culling of stray dogs in several areas because of rabies scares, to the skinning-alive of dogs in the Chinese fur industry, the encounters generally end poorly for the dogs.

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Dog meat is eaten in parts of China, remember the Yulin festival in June, but not in Shanghai, I’m told. That doesn’t mean life is easy for homeless dogs here.

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I spent the last days of February and the first week of March on a Shanghai shipyard, preparing a new-built vessel for its delivery to Africa. On the dock where my ship was at, lived three playful puppies, different ages and different mixes. I have no idea where their parents were and nobody could tell me. They were happy little fellows, as puppies generally are in almost all circumstances despite the realities of a human-controlled world that is generally cruel to animals. I heard from the Dutch field service engineer and site team manager, who had been working at the yard longer than me, that during the past winter the puppies were very skinny. 

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The Chinese shipyard workers receive twice a day a plastic tray with a small piece of meat, lots of rice and some veggies as lunch and dinner – we, the ship’s crew, shared the same lunch delivery the first few days. The dogs know the food-truck and follow it around over the shipyard. The Chinese workers will eat the small piece of bacon, fish or chicken that is included and their veggies, but leave bones and part of the rice out and that is how the pups scavenge their food together.

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The Dutch, not used to seeing stray dogs at home, let alone skinny ones, started bringing meat from their hotel and even buying dog-snacks from supermarkets. When I arrived, I fell into line with my countrymen do-gooders. 

The first few nights I stayed with the rest of the crew in a Shanghai hotel as on the new-built vessel there were no stores on board yet and the start-up work generally leaves no time for cooking anyway. We would have dinner in the hotel restaurants or in those of the neighborhood surrounding it. With the Chinese custom of sharing dishes rotated around on a Lazy Susan (餐桌转盘), the sizes and number of ordered plates were often lost in translation; I’m sure there was some opportunistic overfeeding to be able to charge more by the patrons as well. 

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This usually led to mountains of leftovers. A quick Google-translate search on a mobile phone provided me everyday with numerous doggie-bags or -boxes to feed our puppies some animal protein. 

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I’m a vegan myself, and so are my pampered dogs at home – my choice, not necessarily theirs – but I’m not squeamish about collecting the carcass-remains from the plates and dishes of my colleagues to feed the needy. So, when we moved from the hotel to our cabins on board the ship, I kept collecting food-scraps to feed ‘my’ puppies twice a day. 

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On a rare sunny day, after work, I would sit with them on the dock, watch them play-wrestle, almost jealous of their not-a-care-in-the-world, living-for-the-moment attitude. 

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It was fascinating to see their different characters: 

The fox-like lady-dog had a shy demeanor. The first few days, she would wait for food to be thrown at her instead of taking it from my hand. But she was more autonomous, probably a bit older than the other two. She was the only one bold enough, after a few days, to walk down the steel gangway onto the crane-barge – moored between the quay and ‘our’ tug – and would even cross the rickety plank construction providing access to the ship from the barge towards me, when she saw me coming out of the accommodation.  

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The tan puppy was probably the youngest. His desire for food overruled all possible inhibitions he should have had, especially the one of caution towards strangers. He was the only one ready to be petted on the first day, lick hands and the most playful. He was also opportunistic enough to grab the food directly from the bag or box I was carrying it in. 

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The reddish-brown with white patches, short-legged pup, finally, was more guarded; though frantically wagging his tail and eager for food, he was cautious. He was the most dominant of the triad, jumping over his mates, making sure he got his fair share without being overly rude to the others. He warmed to me over the days and when I sat down he would eventually place his front legs on my knee to be easier fed.

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Intelligent as they are, they pinpointed their feeding times in the morning and late afternoon and would be ready at the gangway for me to come out. For lunch and a late diner they would stalk the Chinese workforce and guards. 

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In between meals, if it rained, the boys would doze in the office container in the blanketed boxes cut-out for them. When the sky cleared, they would bask in the sun outside, stretched out on the warmed-up concrete of the dock, usually joined by their ‘sister’.

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Around the time we were ready for departure, a new Dutch-Polish crew arrived for another new-built ship lying in front of us and I passed my puppy-feeding tasks on to their cook, a kind man I knew from an earlier voyage.

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It could be argued that ‘spoiling’ these doggies for a few weeks in the knowledge that when you have to leave they will stay behind, is unfair to them, but I prefer to see it as giving them a headstart in life. 

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I would have loved to take my new friends home, but 6 weeks at sea and then having to import and export them out of South Africa would not have worked for anybody.

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When home, I did contact BestFriendsChina, but they were unable to help.

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I don’t know their fate and will probably never see them again. That does make me sad, but I feel good about having been able to show them these daily acts of kindness and am grateful for their generous company. I’m sure they enjoyed the food and hope they fattened up a bit in case meager times follow. Spring is well under way now in China and I hope they survive, grow stronger, and, who knows, maybe even find a loving home off the streets.

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Although, you and I can’t take home every stray dog (or cat) we would like too, there are ways we can make the world better for them in general:

First of all, don’t shop, but adopt! In many countries the shelters are full of dogs, cats and other ‘pets’ that are in need and deserving of your consideration.

It is indecent to bring more dogs and cats into existence, while the world’s shelters are full and millions are killed every year. So the (commercial) breeding has to stop.

Support rescues that take these dogs and cats from the streets and from shelters to find fosters and forever homes for them, and support no-kill shelters.

Support trap–spay & neuter-release programs for stray dogs and cats so their numbers can decline.

Remember that ending the life of a healthy, sentient being with a life ahead of him or her, is not euthanasia, it is murder! Culling is never an option!

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