Law that bans killing of abandoned animals to take effect, a year after Taiwan vet 'euthanised' herself

Vet Chien Chih-cheng put herself to sleep using the same drugs she used on the dogs at her shelter on May 5, 2016.
Vet Chien Chih-cheng put herself to sleep using the same drugs she used on the dogs at her shelter on May 5, 2016. SCREENGRAB: CTI
Ms Chien praying at a memorial for animals who died at the shelter in a television interview in May 2015.
Ms Chien praying at a memorial for animals who died at the shelter in a television interview in May 2015.sCREENGRAB: CTI

TAIPEI - A Taiwanese law banning the killing of stray animals will finally be implemented, but critics wonder if the already crowded shelters will be able to cope.

The debate rages on a year after the director of a Taoyuan shelter for abandoned animals killed herself on May 5, using the same drug she used to put down animals. She was 32.

Ms Chien Chih-cheng, an animal lover and veterinarian, left a letter which indicated that her job consumed her, BBC reported.

"I hope my departure will let all of you know stray animals are also life. I hope the government knows the importance of controlling the source (of the problem)… Please value life", were some of her last words.

A colleagues at the shelter told BBC Ms Chien worked overtime, rarely took a lunch break and cared for the dogs on her days off.

A graduate from Taiwan's top university, she could have chosen a more cushy job, but chose to be at the frontlines.

The media attention and criticism she came under after giving an interview to Taiwanese media could also have pushed her over the edge.

She was dubbed "the beautiful butcher", said CTI in an interview with Ms Chien.

She said in the interview conducted in May 2015 that she saw 60 to 70 animals being put down on her first day at work.

"After my first day, I cried the whole night," she said.

But that became one of her principal duties. In the interview, she describes how the dogs are taken for a walk and given a treat before they are euthanised.

"We also give it a little talk before taking it into the 'humane room'," she said. "When you put the dog on the table, it is scared, and shakes. But after injecting the medicine, it goes in three to five seconds."

While she said in the interview that she felt it was the right thing to do, colleagues said she was deeply hurt by her work.

She had just got married to another animal control worker when she took her own life.

While authorities said the law is not linked to Ms Chien's suicide, another debate about animal welfare broke out in Taiwan after her death, and officials re-affirmed that the no-kill policy will be implemented as planned. It takes effect on Saturday (Feb 4).

This action comes two years after the zero euthanasia policy was passed by Taiwanese lawmakers.

Outrage was initially stirred by a documentary Twelve Nights, about the plight of public shelter animals, according to the China Post.

Not everyone is convinced it will ease the lot of Taiwan's strays.

Mr Tiger Tung, founder and chairman of the Taiwan Life Caring and Animal Rescue Organization told China Post that animals could die from starvation, poor living conditions or attacks from other dogs due to overcrowding.

"Zero euthanasia is a false policy if there are no supportive measures to reduce pet abandonment rates to zero. Shelters have limited spaces, personnel and resources, but the number of admitted animals will keep increasing. The false policy - which the government created for better publicity regardless of an animal's situation - will cause more pain to animals," veterinarian Kung Chien-chia told Taipei Times.

Other improvements are planned: Budgets for the shelters have increased by 40 per cent, there will be more inspectors and now anybody who wishes to abandon their pet at a shelter will have to pay a fee as high as US$125.

Last year, around 70,000 animals ended up at the shelters and each year around 10,000 are put down when they're not adopted, while several thousand more die from other causes, such as injuries and illnesses, China Post reported.

The situation has improved over the years as public awareness grew, reports said.