Volunteers in China say they’re struggling to keep up with the number of animals being abandoned as the country battles the virus outbreak.
More than 2,000 people in China have died and more than 78,000 infections have been reported in the country.
Pet owners who fall sick or are caught up in quarantine can’t take their animals with them, and despite reassurance from the World Health Organization that animals can’t carry the virus, others are being dumped.
“I have rescued lots of dogs this month, most have been abandoned by their owners,” one volunteer from Furry Angels Heaven in Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, told the BBC.
“One animal’s owner has coronavirus and was sent to quarantine. Fortunately a policeman sent her to me.”
The volunteer didn’t want to reveal her name because of fears of official repercussions. She said she has 35 dogs and 28 cats in her apartment in addition to the animal rescue centre she helps operate.
“It’s a bad situation here. We are not allowed to go outside and I am afraid my dogs and cats will be out of food soon. I am worried if I or my family get infected with the virus then all of the dogs and cats could be killed by policemen.”
Without income from its regular paid work at the moment, she fears the animal centre’s savings could be used up soon.
“It’s expensive to rescue these animals”, she said.
As soon as the lockdown is over, the animals will be available for adoption.
The coronavirus outbreak began in late December, but it worsened as people went away for Chinese New Year in January. Many people went to visit family in other cities, leaving food behind for their pets thinking they would only be away for a few days.
But then the lockdown was introduced. More than 60 million people in Hubei province were placed under travel restrictions. People were unable to return to their homes and the food they had left for their pets had started to run out.
Panicked pet owners used social media site Weibo to plead for help.
“Help! I live in Ezhou City and my cat is trapped,” wrote one woman from a town near Wuhan.
“I’m asking a caring person nearby to help me feed the cat. I am willing to pay for it, thank the caring person and everyone else, please share.”
One volunteer, who gave his name as Lao Mao, is part of a group that provides assistance to people who cannot access their animals. So far his group has helped to rescue more than 1,000 pets.
Video footage posted on social media accounts show Lao Mao’s team entering properties, feeding animals and providing them with medical care.
“There are more animals needing help these days,” he told the BBC.
He said that the situation now for animals is “very dangerous”.
“So many of them have starved to death, only a few of them can reach me for help. There’s nothing much I can do but I will save as many as I can.”
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It’s not just animal rescuers in Wuhan that are feeling the strain. Animal groups across China told the BBC that they were struggling to deal with the current situation and strict quarantine measures.
Animal Rescue Shanghai told the BBC that the situation is a “nightmare”.
“It is high season during Chinese New Year which means a lot of dogs are kicked out and due to coronavirus, a lot of flights have been cancelled. We now have over 350 dogs for a place sized for 120,” said, Nana, who works at the shelter. We are really desperate.”
An experienced rescuer in Shenzhen who did not want to give her name also said Chinese New Year was a busy time of year for animal abandonments, but that she has never encountered one every single day.
“Businesses are closed so there is no-one to feed the strays. It started being very common to see roaming cats and dogs and hear them fighting and barking and meowing much more than usual.”
She said at one point, she saw a partially eaten mother dog with her puppies still around her.
But she said that as the situation has intensified, volunteers have joined forces like never before to handle the amount of animals in need.
“Community support has been really heart-warming, many people help, volunteer, support and share or decide to adopt or foster.
“Both Chinese people and foreigners have united to help each other help animals.”