On September 17, Taipei became the first city in Taiwan to employ a police unit devoted specifically to animal abuse cases. The new unit will consist of 28 officers. They will have their hands full: According to the city’s Animal Protection Office, more than 400 animal abuse cases were reported between January and July this year.Taipei City Councilor Dai Hsi-chi, a longtime supporter of forming this sort of special unit, said, “Without the help of the police, it is almost impossible to prevent animal abuse.”

This is just one example of increasing awareness concerning animal issues in Taiwan. For instance, just last week activists held a literal collective crawl through the streets of Taipei to call attention to animal welfare. “When you crawl, you will know the fear and helplessness a dog feels when it is abandoned by its owner,” said Chen Yu-min, director of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan.

These dedicated animal advocates have specific policy ideas as well. One provocative yet logical idea is to tax those who profit from the trade in animals, such as puppy mill operators. “[The breeders] reap the ­profits and leave the problem to society,” said Huang Tai-shan, a physically disabled man who participated in the crawl. “It is taxpayers who end up having to deal with the problem, while the animals go through tremendous suffering. We therefore call on those who trade in pets to pay a special charge specifically meant to enhance animal welfare.”

Huang Tai-shan is a rather busy man. On October 2, he and other animal advocates announced plans to monitor Taiwan elections in hopes of electing animal-friendly politicians. Candidates will be encouraged to set up animal protection departments in their districts and to deploy police to crack down on illegal breeders and animal abuse cases.

While, like all nations, Taiwan has lots of room for improvement in the way it treats animals, these are encouraging developments. The growing concern the Taiwanese people are showing towards animals also serves to rebut the notion that caring about our fellow creatures is some sort of decadent, Western trait. Compassions cuts across cultures.

Photo Credit: Fred Hsu