IT'S not secret that animals have feelings and that many of them communicate. Humans and chimpanzees share almost 100 percent of their DNA and many animals not in the ape family have intelligence and even emotional quotients - dogs, horses, elephants, dolphins and porpoises, to name a few.
Today many people believe animals also have rights, though vast number of people who eat them, raise them, use them for labor or entertainment don't seem to care. There's animal cruelty everywhere, as well as efforts by governments, organizations and individuals to raise awareness about animal welfare and press for legislation to regulate it. Animal welfare is gaining ground in Asia but progress is slow.
On the Chinese mainland there's no laws or regulations for animal welfare, though draft regulations have been discussed. Both Hong Kong and Taiwan have laws against cruelty to animals, though experts say these should be tougher.
Shanghai Daily takes a look at animal welfare organizations in Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as in Shanghai.
Animal 119 is Taiwan's only around-the-clock animal welfare organization which is also officially registered. Founded seven years ago, it accepts no government funding.
"The cash flow is fine now," says Dong Guanfu, founder of Animal 119. Contributions keep pace with expenditures. Donations come from individual members of the public, celebrities, companies and other sources. Johnson & Johnson, a baby products maker, is a sponsor. The organization holds charity bazaars selling pet products to raise funds.
"The biggest surprise is that we get checks from kind people from the Chinese mainland as well, I guess they get to know us through weibo and blogs," Dong says.
But the organization has faced tough times, for example, when a typhoon hit Taiwan last year and earlier during the global financial crisis. Its survival was a stake. Shelters caring for more than 800 cats and dogs were destroyed.
"I didn't panic even in the worse times because I had faith in people," Dong says. "I have faith that we Chinese are not less respectful of animals than people in Western countries. We got money from celebrities to tide us over."
Dong used to be director of his neighborhood community in Taipei before he started caring for animals. "I used to watch TV and found that dogs and cats had their own police (for protection) in some Western countries. Then I started thinking. We don't lack love or caring, what we really lack is a systematic organization and legal regulations."
He started the first animal ambulance, with a light and siren on tip, in Taiwan. From ground zero for hundreds of stray and abandoned animals, Dong has achieved a great deal. Now he is actively cooperating with similar organizations on the Chinese mainland.
"China boasts the biggest potential volunteer base in the world," he says. "Though the current (volunteer) situation has sort of lagged behind, awareness has been raised in recent years."
Dong has twice visited Hong Kong, which he says has the most mature animal care and rescue experience in China.
"Hong Kong is a small place but enjoys exceptionally centralized donations from the limited number of groups," he says.
Hong Kong-based Animals Asia was founded in 1998 and today has sanctuaries in both China and Vietnam for endangered and abused moon bears that are raised for their bile used in traditional healing. Bear farming is legal in China and operators are supposed to follow regulations but many do not.
Animals Asia has been working with the Chinese government; the China Wildlife Conservation Association in Beijing joins forces with the Forestry Bureau of Sichuan Province to carry out an agreement to rescue 500 bears.
Minjie Chen, who is responsible for Animals Asia's cats and dogs project, says stray pets are the last thing they want to deal with, but it's a big problem.
"We think educating people to take responsibility is very important," Chen says. Twice a year the organization holds seminars with other animal welfare associations and police to discuss how to deal with the problem.
"I think the Internet makes us more aware of cruel practices across the world, and sometimes just publishing a story causes 'copycat' instances of animal abuse," says Jill Robinson, founder and CEO of Animals Asia Foundation.
Is abuse getting worse? Robinson takes a positive attitude, saying more groups and activists are calling for justice.
"One day, hopefully soon, I hope the world wakes up to the abuses of animals in every facet of human lives, and realizes that being compassionate to other species, helps us to be more compassionate towards ourselves," she says.
"As a species, we are responsible for such awful suffering and, in this ever more violent world, surely we have to reflect on what it does to our children and the health of the planet ... and change," she adds.
Robinson estimates there are around 100 animal welfare groups on the Chinese mainland and even more in Taiwan.
"This is the China I love. There are people championing animals. These groups rallied when the organizers of an American rodeo tried to import one to Beijing in 2011 and cried, 'Not in our backyard.' They managed to block a multi-million-dollar 'spectacle of cruelty' from being played out!" she says.
Animal welfare groups across China also lobbied against the import of Canadian seal products, obtained by brutally clubbing seals to death, she says. Over 40 such groups jointly wrote a letter of opposition to resist the import, and in Shanghai, Ji'nan (Shandong Province) and Xiamen (Fujian Province) there were also a series of activities against it.
Meanwhile, the trade in dogs and cats as culinary specialties has been increasingly challenged, and sometimes truckloads of live animals have been stopped throughout the country. Most of the dogs have been stolen, Robinson says.
"These groups are making this topic a real issue today - and causing more and more people across the country to look at dogs and cats as our friends, not food," she says.
Shanghai has a number of animals welfare organizations. One of them is a three-year-old group of expats and locals helping strays and abandoned animals, called JAR (Jaiya's Animal Rescue). They rescue animals from the streets, arrange for fostering and adoption, as well as public education.
As with most NGOs, most of their funding comes from volunteers' pockets and donations from sponsors.
"We come across many different situations - some good, some bad. But we always emphasize that when an animal is saved, it's their responsibility to look after the animal's welfare since we do not have a physical shelter," says the founder Marvin Manalac.
"There needs to be more education in animal welfare and people need to realize the responsibilities involved," he says. "I cannot say if it's getting worse or any better, but what I can say is the media is doing a better job of exposing incidents of animal abuse."