Growing up in Taiwan in the 1980s, hardly anyone I knew kept dogs as pets. The only people I knew with a dog were my grandparents who lived a farm about 90 minutes south of Taipei. Kuro (Japanese for “black”) was basically a guard dog that roamed through the rice fields that surround my grandparents’ traditional U-shaped farmhouse. He spent his days sleeping outside, eating our leftovers, playing with us grandkids w
Back in Taipei city, the only dogs I encountered were stray dogs that sometimes chased me on my way to and from school. They would often be afflicted with terrible skin diseases and be maimed by scooters or other unfortunate accidents. Once in a while I would see a nursing mom with puppies behind some bushes and I would feel the urge to take one home, but I was always stopped by my mom. “Dogs are dirty!” she would scold me.
It wasn’t until middle school that someone I knew in the city got a pet dog. It was an adorable red poodle puppy and was small enough to hold in my hands. Instead of canned dog food or leftovers, the puppy dined on Gerber’s baby food. It also had a diamond collar with a little bell on it. That was the first time I saw a dog treated as a prized possession, a part of the family. The puppy was purchased at an outrageous price, which to my adolescent mind was a sign of the family being wealthy enough to be able to lavish money on a dog. Slowly, the landscape around me began to change. I started seeing more and more veterinary clinics open up and there were more and more pet shops too. When I moved back to live in Taiwan as an adult after many years in the US, I noticed people’s attitudes toward pets had greatly changed. The dogs were often dressed in designer outfits and shoes, and pushed in strollers, or worn in a baby carrier. This was completely different from how our beloved Kuro, who roamed the countryside, was treated. However, the dogs I saw were mostly small purebreds such as poodles, Chihuahuas, or other terriers. Purebred dogs had become a status symbol.
Where were the dogs that look like Kuro? I started to do some research and realized that Kuro was a Formosan Mountain Dog, a canine breed that is native to Taiwan. Formosan Mountain Dogs have inhabited Taiwan’s rugged mountains for thousands of years. They were essential to the indigenous tribes as they were relied on for hunting. As a breed, they are extremely loyal, highly intelligent, and very agile.
Perhaps in remembrance of my grandparents, and also to learn more about dogs like Kuro, I spoke to Liza Milne, Marketing Coordinator for Mary’s Doggies, a rescue organization in Taiwan that specializes in rescuing Formosan Mountain Dogs. Mary’s Doggies rescues, rehabilitates and finds homes for dogs from the streets of Taiwan. According to Milne, attitudes toward the Formosan Dog in Taiwan have greatly changed over the years. However, they are still often passed over in favor of smaller, more well-known dogs such as poodles, pugs, and Maltese. Many people in Taiwan still see black Formosan Mountain Dogs as aggressive, purely because of their color.
Currently there are hundreds of thousands of stray dogs in Taiwan. There are also thousands of dogs living in deplorable conditions in private and government shelters that are understaffed, underfinanced, and cannot give the dogs the medical or emotional care they need. Some shelters have over 1000 dogs in them with only two or three staff members and a few volunteers.
Many of the dogs that Mary’s Doggies rescue find homes in the US. Certainly there are many dogs in US shelters that need homes, but the situation in Taiwan is so dire that Milne feels that Taiwanese dogs need as much help as possible. “Honestly we in Taiwan have to look at our situation. There is just not enough room here, or funding, or government help to solve the stray problem. So if we want to help the dogs in Taiwan we need to do whatever we can, and if there are families in the US or Canada willing to give one of our rescues a home, who are we to turn them away and not give that dog a better life?
“Of course, the dream is to not HAVE to send dogs overseas for adoption and that the stray problem in Taiwan is controlled and more people here adopt mixed dogs and black dogs. However, until this becomes a reality we’ll continue to do what we do.”
I now have two Formosan Mountain Dogs living a very active life in the US. They had both been living in the streets of Taiwan prior to their rescue and eventual flight to the Pacific Northwest. Our Formosan dogs have been a wonderful addition to our family as they are incredibly intelligent, loving, and gentle with our children. Sometimes, with two furry heads on my lap, I reminisce about running around the courtyard of my grandparent’s farmhouse with Kuro as a child. Perhaps giving my dogs a new home was my way of remembering the very first dog in my life. I hope that my children will have their own fond memories with these beautiful Formosan dogs.
If you are interested in helping stray dogs in Taiwan, please see Mary’s Doggies http://www.marysdoggies.org/index.php