British teacher comes to stray dog rescue in east China city

Updated:Apr 01,2019 10:12 AM Xinhua

Though too old to walk, Rusty, a black Labrador, hobbles over to George James, crouches down and pants while enjoying the scratches from the Englishman.

With an ill-fitting white coat and dirty apron, it's hard to believe that the scruffy man surrounded by dogs was dressed in a suit teaching college students just a few hours ago.

The former British emergency physician came to China two years ago. He teaches at a university in Hefei, Anhui Province. But he is better known as the city's stray dog keeper, adopting more than 100 stray dogs in the shelter he established, George's Shelter.

Living in the shelter, Rusty has avoided the ill fate of starving on the street after his owner passed away. He now lives out his final days in comfort and safety.

"Stray dogs, just like people, also feel scared, lonely and hungry. We have a responsibility to protect and love them," said James.

James named the first dog he adopted Rosemary. One freezing night two years ago, he found the one-month-old white terrier puppy shivering on the street, begging for shelter.

As he continued to adopt more and more animals, the small apartment offered by the university was too small to support them. James now rents an old house in the suburban district of Hefei, providing the space he needed to set up George's Shelter. Many of his students and volunteers have joined him in taking care of dogs.

"I want to build a home for these unwanted babies where they can feel safe," he said.

George's Shelter has rules: all dogs must receive disease checks before entering the shelter; they must be regularly vaccinated; sick dogs and aggressive ones should be quarantined; donations of dog food and vaccines are more preferred than money.

"More importantly, stray dogs must be sterilized. Otherwise, 100 will soon become 200, or even 500," James said.

He said many western countries also have a stray dog problem. Some animal clinics sterilize stray dogs free of charge. The cost of animal sterilization surgery is still very high in China.

"I wouldn't have been able to stick to the work without the support of so many kind Chinese people," James said.

The owner of the house rents the place to him for free after learning James wanted to use the house to help stray dogs. Over the past week, an animal vaccine manufacturer in Shanghai donated vaccines worth 10,000 yuan (1,494 U.S. dollars).

Zhang Xiaojing, a retired doctor in Beijing, called James a "madman" after he visited George's Shelter.

He found James has very simple personal items in the house. During the winter, he places all the heating equipment in the kennel and provides bedding and blankets for the dogs.

Raising the big family of dogs keeps James busy. He gets up at 5 a.m. to hurry to the shelter, which is 15 km away from the university.

After cleaning and feeding, he heads off to teach at 8 a.m., and returns to the shelter after class and stays until evening.

James remembers the name of every dog and often jokes that he couldn't even remember his patients' names when he was in England.

He said his biggest concern is who would take over his work to take care of the dogs when he eventually leaves China.

To his relief, a veterinary school in Hefei has contacted him, discussing the possibility of taking over the stray dog shelter as an extracurricular base.