When I lived in China several years ago, one of the most inexcusable aspects of the culture was the treatment of and attitude towards animals: pets, wild animals, zoo animals, etc. I am extremely tolerant of most opinions and outlooks towards life, but one inclusive of abusive notions towards animals is completely untenable. I was shocked by some of the behavior I viewed in China in regard to animals. Without delving into too many details, I’ll just say that Taiwan is the polar opposite.
In Taiwan (Taipei, at least) there is almost a reverence for our peers in the animal kingdom. When I first arrived in Taipei, I saw covered strollers EVERYWHERE (For those who don’t know, a stroller is a like a shopping cart, but used to transport a child). Not only where there many strollers, but they were a strange shape – a shape not really conducive to the anatomy of a human child. Upon further inspection, I realized that humans were not being transported in these strollers, but dogs! People LOVE their animals here.
In southern Chinese cities, there was (at least, when I was there) a not-insignificant number of street dogs. Although extremely intelligent, world-weary, and, in general, not a threat to humans, these dogs were viewed as a bit of a menace.
In Taiwan, there are street dogs AND cats. In addition, not only are they not considered a menace, but they are often, given a great deal of care by the people living around them.
This cat lives in my neighborhood. He belongs to no one and everyone. On a typical day, he can be found begging for food from one of the local restaurants (which he is, invariably, given), or sleeping on one of his favorite cars. Several weeks ago, this poor kitty developed an infection on his back (likely from a brush with another local cat). Within several days, ointment had been applied, and he was back to 100%.
The owner of this dog died over two years ago. Instead of allowing this poor, domesticated guy to starve to death, the surrounding neighbors decided to, collectively, care for this pup. The dog, technically, is a street dog. However, one would never be able to determine this from how well-fed he appears.
For the most part, most pet-animals are extremely well-behaved and friendly. Many diners even have open policies when it comes to people being allowed to eat with their pets (health code isn’t nearly as stringent).
After speaking with many friends, I realize that this affection for animals correlates closely to the level of development in Taiwan – as if there is some kind of pet/animal welfare index from which one can judge the level of advancement of a society. Many of my Taiwanese friends are in their late-twenties to early thirties, unmarried and child-less. It appears that a society with less children bodes well for the treatment of animals.