MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Rescuing animals from disasters is not easy, and dogs and cats are never a priority. But animal lovers have been galvanized by the Chinese earthquake. Since the quake, local governments have been killing animals, supposedly to prevent the spread of disease. Some Chinese think that's wrong.
NPR's Anthony Kuhn traveled with an animal rescue team to an area hard hit by the quake. He sent us this story about people rescuing dogs and vice-versa.
ANTHONY KUHN: Retiree Chen Yunlian runs a shelter for homeless dogs and cats in the suburbs of Chengdu. She recently read a report in the Chengdu Evening News that grabbed her attention.
Ms. CHEN YUNLIAN (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals): (Speaking foreign language)
KUHN: These two dogs saved an elderly lady who had been buried under a collapsed building for more than 100 hours, she says. Every day they stayed by her side and licked her lips and face when she was thirsty. When the rescuers finally came, they barked, and the old lady was saved. There were rumors that the dogs had later been killed by authorities who were trying to prevent disease.
The pet cull has not gone over well with people like Zhang Zhen, a young volunteer at Ms. Chen's shelter.
Ms. ZHANG ZHEN: (Through translator) I feel this is extremely cruel and barbaric. We must not kill them. They're living beings too. They're earthquake survivors also. Why should we kill them? Just because we're people and they're dogs?
KUHN: And so an expedition begins to save the dogs who helped save the old lady. A convoy of vehicles sets out from Chengdu, carrying Mrs. Chen's group, other local volunteers and a team from the Hong Kong Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The SPCA folks are pros, dressed in crisp white uniforms with epaulets, and equipped with dog-catching gear and portable kennels.
The team drives into the rugged mountains outside the city of Pengzhou, through an area of what used to be resorts. People are cooking lunch and washing clothes amid the rubble of their shattered homes. People we ask for directions have all heard of the dog story. Tony Ho is a superintendent with the Hong Kong SPCA.
Mr. TONY HO (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals): The latest information we've got is that the last time they saw the dog was during the incident. And then they believe that the dog went back into the hill, which as you see is quite a large area.
KUHN: We drive on past a giant swath of mud and rocks. Locals say this landslide buried two entire villages. Their 600 residents are now entombed here in a Sichuanese version of Pompeii.
The group then comes to a hillside meadow surrounded by collapsed houses. Here they encounter the abbot of a local Buddhist temple. In a loud, gruff voice, he says that the dogs are his. He disappears into the collapsed buildings and returns in a minute with a little yellow mutt.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KUHN: The volunteers erupt in squeals of delight. Mrs. Chen picks up the dog.
Ms. CHEN: (Speaking foreign language)
KUHN: We've been very lucky today, she says. We found both the dogs and their owner. This is one is called Qianjin, which means forge ahead. The other is called Guaiguai, which means well-behaved. We're heading off to pick up Guaiguai now. I couldn't be more excited. But first, the volunteers hammer out a deal with the abbot. Superintendent Ho explains.
Mr. Ho: I think because there is a need to rebuild the temple and, you know, all this area here, I think the animal welfare people are going to look after the dog for the time being. And they promised to return the dog once the - once, you know, the temple is rebuilt.
(Soundbite of dog whining)
KUHN: In recent weeks Mrs. Chen and her volunteers have saved over 70 cats and dogs from the quake zone. It's difficult. Many Chinese feel that people have a tough enough time surviving without having to worry about animals. But the earthquake has offered the opportunity to contemplate compassion and the value of life. Doris Yiu with the Hong Kong SPCA team feels vindicated.
Ms. DORIS YIU (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals): Dog is man's best friend and this proves it.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Pengzhou City, Sichuan Province.