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Wuhan citizens' group rushes to save scores of pets left home alone in quarantined city

In this photo provided by the Wuhan Small Animal Protection Association, a staff member takes a dog for a walk. According to the association, personal contact helps relieve the pets' stress.

BEIJING (Mainichi) -- The central Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero for the coronavirus outbreak, is in danger of becoming the stage for another, related tragedy as pets left at home by absent owners slowly run out of food and water.

The Wuhan Small Animal Protection Association, a local citizens' group, told the Mainichi Shimbun that it has already received more than 3,000 requests from absentee owners to save their pets since the city was locked down on Jan. 23, and the organization is working full-tilt every day to help as many animals as it can. The association unveiled its pet rescue service on the internet on Jan. 26, and took hundreds of calls for help that first day.

"We thought we'd get about 50 requests, so we were surprised by how many more we actually got," one staff member said. However, worker numbers, available transport options and procedures to unlock the houses limit their efforts to about 50 cases per day. Nevertheless, with a staff of around 80 including volunteers, the association managed to help pets belonging to some 600 households in a 10-day period.

When arriving at a home, association workers not only give the pets food and water, but also clean up the animals' waste and adjust the water levels of fish tanks if necessary. They also take requests from owners to let them see their pets via video call. And the group does all of this for free, except for special expenses such as the cost of unlocking the houses.

Most of the animals on the association's help list are dogs and cats, but it has also come to the aid of tropical fish, pigs, rabbits and other less common pet types. Thankful owners have sent in a stream of messages such as, "I've no idea when I'll be able to come home and was at a complete loss. I'm truly grateful," and, "I couldn't sleep until you came to the rescue."

However, sometimes association staff arrive too late to save the lonely animals. A majority of the pet owners who have reached out for help live in Chinese-style apartment blocks, and entry has been restricted to residents only in some of these buildings as a contagion countermeasure.

"Running around the city to help animals puts me at risk of getting infected, so I thought hard about it before deciding to do it," commented one association staffer. "I hope that the situation gets resolved, and that the owners get to see their pets again even one day sooner."

(Japanese original by Keisuke Kawazu, China General Bureau)

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