A picture speaks a thousand words for stray animals

Tian Shengjie
Free stray animal photography helps more of them find forever homes.
Tian Shengjie
A picture speaks a thousand words for stray animals
Ti Gong

All these stray dogs are available for adoption. If you want more details, please contact us or Happypawpaw on the social media platform Xiaohongshu (Red).

Can you believe it? All these endearing creatures are shelter animals in Shanghai looking for a forever home.

Happypawpaw's (HPP) Openday, a public welfare project, took these photos. After six years of pet photography, the company started to focus on street dogs and cats at the end of last year for adoption.

"HPP may be the only team in the city to do this," said Ethan Wu, one of the four founders of HPP. "More than two years ago, our team decided to do something meaningful for the small creatures in our spare time."

Working with animal rescue institutions and animal-related companies in Shanghai, HPP has taken pictures of around 300 stray animals for free.

According to feedback from the institutions, most stray animals have been adopted after being photographed by HPP.

"Some were adopted overnight. It is amazing," said Katherine Zhou, founder of Shanghai Animal Rescue.

A picture speaks a thousand words for stray animals
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Ethan, the photographer, and his team take pictures of a street dog during the open day at the MIXC Shopping Mall in Minhang District on Saturday.

A picture speaks a thousand words for stray animals
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

HPP holds public benefit activities in various places in Shanghai from time to time. After online appointments, rescuers and organizations can bring strays to the scene. Each animal is photographed for about three minutes.

During a recent open-day event at the MIXC Shopping Mall in Minhang District, around 10 to 20 stray cats and dogs were photographed each day.

The photos will be published online, including on HPP's social media accounts on Xiaohongshu (Red) and WeChat as well as related organizations' websites. And each picture has a QR code with detailed contact of related rescuers and organizations.

"After we had been engaged in small animal photography for a long time, we found that stray animals have clearer eyes without cunning," HPP co-founder Allen Lee said. "There is the purest world in their eyes full of expectations."

A picture speaks a thousand words for stray animals
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Compared with pet photography, taking pictures of stray animals is more challenging.

Some of them have had horrible experiences, such as being beaten by humans, so they are more vigilant to protect themselves, especially when they see the long sticks of photographic equipment.

Lee said that when giving street dogs snacks to appease them before the photo sessions, a team member will pat the dogs' faces gently to test whether they are sensitive. If the dog stops eating and intends to bite the staff, they will be extra careful during the next three minutes.

"During the photography for stray cats, I will put the cat treats at a safe distance from them and wait for them to approach," said Sookie Cheng, an HPP team member.

But the team will not shut the door on them because of any external reasons, such as appearance, disease or temper.

"Every animal is equal and has the right to find a home," Wu said.

A picture speaks a thousand words for stray animals
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A rescuer, surnamed Li, hugs a street dog before a photo session, and HPP staff member Sookie Cheng registers information about the animal.

Penny Pan brought a street dog to MIXC on Saturday. This is her first time rescuing a street animal, and she has taken part in adoption from friends seven times.

"Good photos will attract more people's attention and the poor things are more likely to be adopted," she said. "It is reasonable to choose those who are cute and attractive."

Another rescuer surnamed Li agreed: "There is no denying that this is a face-dominating world, whether people or animals. These photos are the stepping stones to the forever home."

However, HPP refuses to retouch the photos and publicize the tragic stories of these stray animals.

There is only a pure white background without any props or decorations except the collars prepared by some rescuers. You can see the eye discharge of stray dogs in the pictures, as well as the skin diseases that have not yet healed.

"This is their original appearance. Shelter animals themselves are good enough to be loved," Wu said. "And we hope that people decide to adopt them out of pure love."

A picture speaks a thousand words for stray animals
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Allen Lee, a co-founder of HPP, hugs a stray dog in front of the photo studio at the MIXC Shopping Mall in Minhang District on Saturday.

In recent years, more Chinese people have started to keep pets. The purpose of raising them has changed substantially, from guarding the house and catching mice to accompanying people like family members.

But some people's selfish desires gradually infiltrate this field.

The China Small Animal Protection Association reported in 2020 that according to incomplete statistics, the number of stray dogs in China exceeded 40 million, 20 percent of the world's stray dog population. An article reposted by thepaper.cn said many street animals were pets abandoned by people.

These people always have some "cogent" reasons – moving to a new home, having no money to care their pets or being too busy – but they choose the worst way to get rid of them – leaving them on the streets.

A picture speaks a thousand words for stray animals
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Pictures shot by HPP decorate the photo studio.

Currently, there is no law to restrict abandoning animals in China, and nongovernmental organizations have become the main force in the rescue of these stray animals.

"It is far from enough to solve the problem of shelter creatures by small groups of people," Wu said. "It requires the efforts of all of society to improve people's awareness of civilized pet keeping."

Recently, the city's first "stray cat island" supported by the local spiritual civilization office opened in Laogang Town in the Pudong New Area, which gives HPP hope. They have negotiated with the government department to seek cooperation in the future.

As the poem written on the wall of HPP's photo studio says: "Animals are like iridescent light. But some light lost direction in the dark corner."

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