Animals Taiwan founder Sean McCormack wants Taiwan to become a model nation in animal control policy
By Trista di Genova
Special to The China Post
Originally published in May 2007
“Everybody wants a perfect dog,” said Animals Taiwan founder Sean McCormack in an interview at the organization’s rescue shelter in Shilin last week.
“But if the dog doesn’t fit in with an owner’s perfect life and becomes a less-than-perfect dog, people tend to think they have no options. That’s it, you’re in trouble!”
At this point, McCormack stands up to
discipline “Chanel,” the newest dog on the block, and
the only one barking; the other 54 have apparently
learned this lesson. He rolls Chanel over onto her
back, points and tells her firmly: “Stop it.”
However, this doesn’t work – yet — and she
starts barking again. The third time he puts her in a
“down-time” room for a while, and she falls silent.
“If she doesn’t learn to listen, if I let her
carry on whenever she wants, she’ll never get
adopted,” he explains.
A few dogs like Elvis or Yangmeimei only have
three legs, or have paralyzed hindlegs; they rest on
rugs so they don’t chafe their skin as they move
around. But pity is the last thing they need, he
stressed. They just need to be rewarded for their
McCormack learned these “tricks” from
experience, from books, watching public TV programs
and videos, of which they have many at home in
England, he says.
“But it’s all based on the same thing:
teaching them to know their place. And I mean that in
a good way,” he said.
McCormack never owned a dog before coming to
Taiwan, but now he’s got a huge pack of them, and five
felines in the “cathouse” in the back — cats are
easier to find homes for because they fit in with the
Animals Taiwan only responds to emergency
situations, such as car accidents or similar desperate
situations, and don’t take abandoned pets.
“People rationalize if they bring the dog to a
shelter, it has a chance of finding a home,” but they
are usually “put to sleep,” “euthanized;” in truth,
killed on “doggy death row.” Every year in Taiwan,
around 700,000 strays are put to death, 10,000 in
Taipei City alone.
McCormack says it’s promising how the adoption rate
here (mostly strays off the street) is three times
higher than in the “convenience culture” of the U.S.,
where the kill rate is still 2-3 million a year. A few
years ago, it was 5 million.
In fact, he compares pounds to “using a bucket to fix
a leaky pipe,” because pounds are mandated to take in
“If you spend all your money on building and
expanding shelters, it’s like a buying a bucket for a
leaky pipe; eventually it will fill up and overflow,
and you’ll have exactly the same problem as before.
The problem continues while resources are taken up in
Over the past three years, the foreign and Taiwanese
volunteer-run organization has saved over 300 animals,
serving as a model for other rescue operations
starting up around Taiwan. Animals Taiwan draws on a
network of veterinarians, and raises money for medical
bills through fundraisers like a Pub Quiz at Capone’s,
or through parties hosted by private individuals. MTI
Global empowers them with “the computer stuff,” and
Enspyre helps by phonebanking for events.
“As we expand, we’ll focus more on education,
promoting neutering of animals and responsible pet
ownership,” McCormack said. “But we’ll never stop
helping the needy ones, the less than perfect ones,
because that’s why we started — to end suffering.”
Aided by volunteer PAMIR lawyers, they plan to
secure non-profit status within the next few months,
which will allow greater corporate and government
“With more money, more credibility, we can
have a more far-reaching effect” in implementing CNR,
Taiwan recently phased out the catch-and-kill
policy for cats, but they still use it for dogs. The
CNR policy is the “most humane, the most effective and
the only thing that works,” he argues.
“This is why catch-and-kill doesn’t work. If I
catch all the dogs in Tienmu and kill them, all I’ve
done is open up those resources. Dogs from other
neighborhoods will move into that area, take advantage
of those resources, and there will be a population
explosion — dogs can produce a litter of six puppies,
twice a year. A couple of dogs can create 300
offspring in a few years. And you won’t be able to
catch the smartest, most aggressive ones who breed and
“But if you catch them, neuter and vaccinate
them and put them back,” he continued, “other dogs
can’t move in, and the ones there can’t breed, and
aren’t as aggressive. Now you have control of the
“People think the reason there are fewer stray
dogs now is because of the catch-and-kill policy,” he
said. “But at the same time, people stopped leaving
garbage on street corners. There was less food for
dogs to eat; food was more scarce.”
Animals Taiwan aims for 100 percent neutering
of strays through the CNR policy, “but even if it’s 5
percent it would start making a difference,” he said.
“Taiwan has enormous potential to become a
role model in animal welfare policy. It’s not a cruel
place, it’s just had very little experience with
animal welfare. Like England, it’s an island, so you
can quickly isolate the problem and have a profound
effect on the population. If two-thirds of the stray
dog population are neutered, 67 percent to be exact,
the population levels off and we’re stopping the
problem at its source. We’ll have fixed the leaky
For more information about Animals Taiwan and upcoming
In Taiwan, Smartphones are a dog’s best friend
By Dan Nystedt, IDG News
It takes about an hour to lure the stray dog into a steel cage with food. During that time, Sean McCormack, a co-founder of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Taiwan, sits taking pictures and video with his HTC smartphone.
The dog’s leg is bleeding from a wire trap set by a farmer in this small mountain town north of Taipei. McCormack plans to take the dog to a local animal hospital for treatment as soon as it’s safely in the cage.
A worker at a local temple says the wire traps don’t always injure the dogs, and that it’s the farmer that does the most damage. “I saw him,” says the worker. “He just walked right over with a big knife and [chopped] the dog’s leg off to get it out of the trap.” He shudders, making a chopping motion. “It was terrible.”
McCormack is recording the testimony, making a video as the man talks. “This is evidence. We can use this when we go to the authorities,” he says.
In Taiwan, where a problem with stray dogs has reached epic proportions, rescue workers at the SPCA have turned to smartphones to help them do their jobs. Besides collecting video testimony, they are used to show dogs to potential adopters or to let donors see how their money is being put to use.
They also use smartphones to update their websites, read e-mails and check for rescue requests on their Facebook page. And the handsets lead them to remote rescues via GPS and Google Maps.
Once, they fixed a flashlight to a smartphone and lowered it into an air duct to find a lost kitten, using video to see where it was. An echo in the pipe made it sound like the kitten was close by but it was actually two floors down. Without the video they might have wasted hours tearing up the pipe.
“This is our Swiss Army Knife, it does so much for us. I don’t know what we’d do without them,” says McCormack.
He has worked with animal groups in Taiwan for over a decade, arriving on the island when a boom in pet ownership led to an explosion in the street animal population. Puppies and kittens that looked cute in night markets and pet stores ended up dumped on the street. Strays became so prevalent that, in a twist, Taiwanese people — always eager to put a positive spin on a bad situation — started to say that stepping in dog poop was “lucky.” And people were getting lucky everywhere.
Taiwan has come a long way since then and the number of shelters and rescue groups has grown. But McCormack joined with Beki Hunt, and Connie and Annie Chiang to start the SPCA to focus on putting a stop to animal cruelty.
“We wanted to start an animal welfare group that’s different,” says Connie Chiang, campaigns director at the Taiwan SPCA. “There’s no other animal group in Taiwan that focuses on investigations.”
Smartphones have amplified the impact of their small team. None of the SPCA workers can be in the office all the time because there’s too much to do. And since it’s important to update their websites, they need phones to upload pictures on the go and check for posts on Facebook.
“We post a lot of our adoption cases and events on Facebook and we get a lot of attention there,” Connie says. “Adoptions can be really fast if we get photos up on the website quickly.”
Anyone who meets McCormack will get the hard sell to adopt a dog, complete with pictures on his smartphone.
“We just took in this new dog. Look at him. His name is TouDo. Isn’t he cute? You need a dog in your life, Dan, everybody does,” he said recently.
They even found that smartphones were a good way to raise funds.
Taiwanese vendor HTC donated several of its latest handsets to the group, including one that was raffled off to raise funds. It netted over NT$150,000 (US$4,865), despite having a retail price less than one fifth that amount.
“The HTC Desire phone wasn’t out yet so there was a lot of interest,” says Annie Chiang, marketing director at Taiwan SPCA. “The final winner was a vet that supports us, so it was great.”
Others in Taiwan’s technology sector are also helping. The only free animal hospital in Taipei was built by a Taiwanese tech mogul who has been much reviled in the press lately.
Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn (the trade name of Hon Hai Precision Industry), was accused by media of running “suicide factories” in China because a number of workers leapt to their deaths in recent months.
Never mind that the suicide rate at these massive complexes is far below the national average in China. Foxconn makes iPhones and iPods, so with “suicide” and “iPhone” in the headline the stories were sure to get attention.
The SPCA and other groups convinced Gou to open a hospital for neutering strays and healing injured animals. A neutering hospital helps keep a lid on the stray population. Gou was involved in the matter personally, despite running a company with more than a million workers worldwide.
Despite the effort, the Love For Animals, Care For Life Charity Animal Hospital is in peril. Members of the committee that takes care of Gou’s foundation don’t want to continue its work, a worker at the hospital said. They think the money would be better spent on humans for cancer research.
Meantime, work at the SPCA and the animal hospital continues.
So far, the SPCA has picked up four dogs caught by the farmer’s wire traps and taken them to the animal hospital to be stitched up. McCormack wonders aloud how the farmer would like it if his leg were caught in a bear trap. Animal lovers can be passionate to the point of seeming anti-human.
“I forget sometimes that most people are good and treat animals really well,” he says. “I really have to remind myself of that sometimes. A lot of good people donate to us and without them, we couldn’t do what we do.”