Kadoorie Log #11: Attachment vs Detachment: What Makes for the Best Welfare?

My last week at Kadoorie ended where I began the placement, in the LED (Live Educational Displays). In the beginning I only had a few days in LED but over this last week I was able to gain much more insight into what many of the keepers have to do on a daily basis. It became very apparent that the relationship the people have with the animals is quite different from those in the WARC (Wild Animal Rescue Centre), and perhaps for obvious reasons. In WARC the animals arrive in a crisis, are cared for very closely; and  the hope for them is that they will be rehabilitated and returned to the wild. IMG_4792Caring for animals in WARC requires a level of focused attention as well as emotional distance. We don’t always know what’s going to happen to these animals. Often they come in injured or simply too young to survive  and many do succumb.  This bat was just days old and while he made it through the first night with feeding every hour or so, he didn’t make it through the second. DSCF8509In the best of cases, they get released. Either way, the attachment of the carer can get in the way of making good welfare decisions for the sake of the animals.   A certain kind of caring detachment allows for the focus to stay on the animals and their needs.  Too much attachment, in some cases, can blind the carer to the best welfare for the animal.

However, in LED the relationship between carers and animals is very different as these animals are long term residents. Because these animals are not facing either immanent death (the worst case scenario in WARC) or future release (the best case scenario) attachment is more acceptable, and perhaps even more important to the ongoing health and wellbeing of the animals. Many keepers in LED have emphasized that their closeness with the animals has a positive impact on the level of care they receive. The relationship becomes very intimate as each keeper is assigned to care for the same animals daily. Attachment to the animals allows for more tolerance for the animals at their worst. For example, the monkeys can be very difficult to handle as there are certain orders in which eating and transferring must occur. The monkeys always resist this order so it takes quite a while to succeed at whatever task is at hand. Having a close, intimate relationship with them allows for a greater ability to be patient with them, just as it does with loved ones in human families.IMG_0915

In each department different levels of care are required. The complex relationship between attachment and detachment have been a constant source of debate since we arrived. Both, it turns out, are advantageous but in different scenarios. In WARC, attachment is required at a level that allows for sufficient care of animals who are often in urgent need of support but not to the degree that the big picture surrounding the animal’s welfare is compromised as a consequence of what turns out to be what the humans need rather than the animals. In WARC a kind of attentive and concerned detachment seems to work best if the priority is to focus on the animal’s best interest. In LED where the circumstances are different, a certain level of attachment ends up being the basis for the best care for the animals.  Like people, these animals have personalities which can be frustrating at times. If the keepers were not attached, if they didn’t already care, it would be easy to allow these frustrations to unintentionally impact the level and consistency of care that the animals receive. In the end, the issue of whether or not one should be emotionally attached or detached when caring for animals, comes down to the context in which we encounter the animals.

Krista Bouwman

Kadoorie Log #5: First Days with the Inspectorate at the SPCA

This week was our first week at the SPCA. We were paired up with inspectors, who go out on a daily basis answering to emergency rescue calls. The hotline gets information about various animals in need. On our first day, we rescued a cat from a wet market (fresh meat and produce markets) where it  had been in one of the stores for four days without food or water. We also rescued an exotic bird, a dog that had been hit by a car and two more cats that had found themselves in sticky situations.





What we’ve gathered from our very brief experience with the inspectors so far is that there are some fascinating differences between Canada and Hong Kong when it comes to animals and people.  Many of the animals that we would think of in Canada as pets, especially the street dogs, are often as afraid of the people as the people are of them. This makes the work of helping them when they are sick or injured that much more difficult. While walking to the SPCA on Monday we tried to give a street dog some water, which it clearly needed, but its fear overwhelmed its need to drink and it ran away.  Perhaps the difference lies in part in the fact that Canada doesn’t have such a visible stray animal problem, which is not to say it doesn’t have a problem – just that it’s not as visible. But it’s also true that in Hong Kong different dogs are socialized to have different relationships with humans. There are the true pets who are very used to humans, the community or loosely owned dogs who are often a bit more circumspect and the truly feral dogs who won’t come near humans voluntarily (http://www.spca.org.hk/en/animal-birth-control/community-dog-programme). The category we don’t tend to have in Canada are the loosely owned or community dogs.

Despite the different categories of dogs, some things are the same. Today we went to try to capture a semi-feral, feral or perhaps even loosely owned dog – it’s not always easy to tell the difference –  that has an enormous tumour protruding out of its stomach. If and when this dog is caught it will likely be euthanized a: because it is suffering and b: because it will need surgery and medication and the costs would be prohibitive for an animal that even if it survived, would likely not be adoptable. The same welfare based approach would probably happen in Canada. What compounds this dog’s circumstances in Hong Kong, however, is not only its status but its size.  Given the space restrictions in Hong Kong, the public is a lot less likely to adopt a large dog to begin with, let alone one that might need considerable medical care. While the idea of euthanizing an animal simply because it needs expensive medical attention raises complex moral questions the same dilemma emerges in Canada on a daily basis. Such intensive veterinary care is often prohibitively expensive and many simply cannot afford it. This economic barrier to good welfare pushes people towards abandonment, surrender to shelters or euthanasia.

But it is also true that in Canada the overall culture, including economics, surrounding companion animals has shifted considerably around veterinary care and people are increasingly encouraged to go to extreme lengths to provide their pets with medical intervention at all costs – literally! Surgeries running to the thousands of dollars are not unusual. But this raises the question of the relationship between class/economics and welfare. It’s only those people with money who can genuinely afford to provide this kind of care for their animals and this is as true in Hong Kong as it is in Canada. For those who don’t have access to the same financial resources the options are fewer – go into debt to pay the bill, abandon, or surrender the animal. Against this backdrop then, prolonging the life of an animal like the one with the tumour, seems like a poor use of very limited resources. For a street dog, there are few options.

In conclusion, there are interesting similarities as well as differences emerging especially around the challenge and management of unwanted animals. In both countries, paradoxically, euthanasia is often the option that is seen to be in the best interests of the animal; this is the animal welfare focused option.Yet ‘welfare’ is clearly inseparable from economics.

Krista and Ryanne

Kadoorie Log #3: Monkey Business

IMG_5047Our group, Krista and Ryanne, worked in the live educational display (LED) section this week at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic gardens. This means that we worked with a zoo keeper helping her with her daily tasks. Of all the animals we encountered during the day our favourite was the Macaques. This is a type of monkey that lives in the area and like many primates they are very social creatures. In the wild, they live in troops.

At Kadoorie, there are 7 Macaques: Rambo, Rosie, Darlexi, Sita, Oliver, Woowoo, and Quasi. These monkeys are of varying age and have found themselves to be at Kadoorie for a variety of reasons. For some of the younger monkeys, like Sita and Oliver, their mother was no longer capable of caring for them. For many of the other monkeys the government picked had them up as they were causing a public disturbance. For example, Woowoo was caught many times causing a ruckus at the hospital finding food by scavenging through the garbage.

In Hong Kong there is the urban area and then there is nature; there is not much of an in-between state. With Macaques there is great competition for food, especially in the winter. Any monkey that becomes ostracized struggles to survive. These are the conditions when they most often begin to stumble upon human garbage and find that this is able to satisfy their hunger. Eventually, they make the connection that humans equal food; which in turn results in the harassment of humans by the monkeys. And make no mistake cute turns to kind of scary pretty quickly: these monkeys can be quite aggressive so they become a nuisance to humans.

IMG_5299The human-animal relationship is a complex one. In this scenario, despite being so closely related to humans, the monkeys are often not seen as being sentient and intelligent like us. Instead, once they come into conflict with humans, they are more clearly positioned on the animal side of that boundary. Yet people often lay the foundation for this conflict by encouraging the monkeys by feeding them. And when relations break down the government gets called to deal with the “problem”. The immediate solution to the problem can result in captivity and sometimes euthanasia, an outcome that is less than ideal for anyone and one that doesn’t tackle the root of the problem.

Once in captivity, it becomes very hard to provide these creatures with the stimulation they need. At Kadoorie there is a divide between the monkeys. The older monkeys (Rosie, Rambo and Darlexi), do not get along with the younger monkeys (Sita, Quasi, Woowoo and Oliver). Despite the best efforts of Kadoorie staff only half of them get to go outside for the day (though the mini-troops are rotated regularly). Captivity cannot provide the kind of space, nor relationships that simulate the wild and the artificial structuring of troops is often not all that successful.

IMG_5297In addition to the monkeys’ not getting along, the way they came to be here in the first place plays a role in  their future ability to be accepted by members of their own species. For example, Sita was hand raised by people as she came to Kadoorie at only two weeks old. Understandably, she prefers the company of humans rather than her fellow Macaques and one unintended consequence of saving her life is that she has to manage being bullied by the other monkeys. This is a perpetual dilemma that is constantly being negotiated in rescue work with animals.

An interesting question that arose for us concerned the question of animal identity. When you take away an instinctual part of an animal`s life (such as living with and choosing their own troop), do you take away the identity of these animals? In other words, is Sita only part Macaques? It is easy to see that she has a need for humans yet for her own sake she lives with monkeys. But it’s an uneasy ‘living’. Sita doesn’t fully understand group dynamics nor does she altogether seem to enjoy interactions with her own kind. She would be shunned in the wild and she is being shunned in captivity. It is a wicked problem – a dilemma that arises in part because we are damned if we do – i.e. if we save them, and we are damned if we don’t. Whatever we do, it won’t be the wild, but will it be wild enough? Most of the time, if Kadoorie is an example of what we can do, the answer is yes, it is enough – but only with an enormous amount of commitment, care and resources.

Ryanne and Krista