By The Associated Press
From: Merced Sun Star
Photo: AP – Tou Chih-kang calms an excited dog before trying to make a portrait moments before the dog is to be put down.
TAIWAN — The photographer gingerly places a small, mixed-breed puppy on a platform in his makeshift studio at an animal shelter in northern Taiwan. The dog looks about 2 months old, with alert, trusting eyes and a shiny black coat.
Tou Chih-kang captures expressions, personality. He creates the kind of photos that any pet owner would love to have.
This puppy has no owner and will not get one. Once its photo shoot is over, it will be taken away by vets to be put down.
Tou has been recording the last moments of canines at the Taoyuan Animal Shelter for two years. He has captured the images of some 400 dogs, most of which were pets abandoned by their owners. To him the work is distressing, but he’s trying to spread a message of responsibility.
“I believe something should not be told but should be felt,” said Tou, a thick-bodied 37-year-old with an air of quiet confidence. “And I hope these images will arouse the viewers to contemplate and feel for these unfortunate lives, and understand the inhumanity we the society are putting them through.”
His photographs are redolent of the kind of formal portraits — of people — that were taken 100 years ago, designed to bestow dignity and prestige upon the subject.
This year Taiwanese authorities will euthanize an estimated 80,000 stray dogs. Animal-welfare advocates say the relatively widespread nature of the phenomenon — Taiwan’s human population is only 23 million — reflects the still immature nature of the island’s dog-owning culture and the belief among some of its majority Buddhist population that dogs are reincarnated humans who behaved badly in a previous life.
“Animals are seen just as playthings, not to be taken seriously,” said Grace Gabriel, Asia regional director of the Massachusetts-based International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Tou, who uses the professional name Tou Yun-fei, said he began his project because the Taiwanese media were not paying enough attention to the dogs’ plight. He said he doesn’t believe in having pets, but the problem had long plagued his conscience.
While some of his friends refuse to even look at his photographs, others say the images taught them to take pet ownership more seriously.
A few photos are on display at Taoyuan city hall, part of a bid to raise citizens’ awareness of the responsibilities that come with raising a pet.