Ven. Zhi Xian, a Chinese Buddhist monk in Shanghai, has made his mark on the city, rescuing almost 8,000 stray dogs since the early 1990s. The head monk of Bao’en Temple in northeast Shanghai began saving dogs and cats in 1993, eight years after he first became a monk. Ven. Zhi said he has noted a sharp increase in the number of stray and injured animals in recent years, the result, he says, of well-meaning but poorly prepared pet owners abandoning unwanted animals.
“I have to rescue them because if I don’t, they will die for sure,” said the 51-year-old monk. (WION)
Years ago, few people in China kept dogs or cats as pets, instead the they were primarily found in rural settings where they worked to catch mice or guard property. Ven. Zhi, who grew up on a farm, surrounded by animals, noted that even after being ordained, helping animals came naturally to him. His earliest rescues were usually cats who had been injured by cars.
Accompanying China’s economic boom has come a growing market for household pets, however some breeds rise and fall quickly in popularity as fashions shift and fade. According to Ven. Zhi, some people simply discard animals when they no longer wish to care for them. According to state media, there were some 50 million stray animals in China in 2019, with numbers roughly doubling each year.“This is not caused by people who dislike dogs, or by the government, but by so-called dog lovers who don’t have proper animal-caring knowledge,” said Ven. Zhi. (WION)
Animals saved by Ven. Zhi go to his temple, to a shelter he runs in Shanghai, or to new homes around the world. Aided by a team of volunteers, Ven. Zhi has filled his temple—which still acts as a place of worship—with many dogs who are sick and in need of care, along with some 200 cats and a small collection of chickens, geese, and peacocks.
Ven. Zhi estimates that around a third of the dogs rescued are too sick or injured to survive. Although lacking training as a veterinarian, Zhi offers compassion to even the sickest animals. Wearing an orange jumpsuit and gloves to protect himself from shy and defensive animals, Ven. Zhi takes time to give direct care to each one that he can.
The financial burden for caring for the animals has been large, estimated at some 12 million yuan (US$1.9 million). So far, that burden has been carried by Ven. Zhi, who has borrowed from his parents and fellow monks, and has received donations from laypeople. “The problem is that I can’t borrow any more money now,” he said. (WION)
Some of his volunteers speak English and have used social media to reach out to animal lovers around the world who might adopt the pets, successfully finding homes for some 300 dogs in Canada, Europe, and the United States since 2019.
Thinking about the dogs who have journeyed so far from China, Ven. Zhi remarked: “I think they’re very happy so I feel it’s worthwhile. But of course I miss them. I have a dream that one day, when I have some free time, I want to go abroad and visit them, take photos with every dog that I rescued.” (WION)
“My decision to be a monk is not because of some divine intervention. I just believe it.” Ven. Zhi said in an interview earlier this year. “In the beginning, I had a vague idea of what Buddhism means. But after a while, I felt like it was not just about kneeling in front of a statue. A Buddhist needs to sacrifice something for living beings and society.” (South China Morning Post)
This Buddhist monk has rescued thousands of animals in China (WION)
Driven By Faith & Compassion, This Buddhist Monk Has Saved 8,000 Stray Dogs (India Times)
Shanghai’s animal saviour: helping strays in China is spiritual journey for Buddhist monk (South China Morning Post)
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