Tuesday

As his forehead glistens with sweat, Zhi Xiang peers into the eyes of a stray dog whose coat has become matted in heavy rain and says soothingly: "Let me cut your hair, cutie."

The bedraggled pooch is among scores of dogs hauled off the streets of Shanghai by police and packed in metal cages in a foul-smelling holding area. More than 20 puppies are also crammed into a yellow plastic crate; one dog is dragged in while inside a tied bag. If it wasn't for Zhi's intervention, they will all be put down in a matter of days.

But Zhi is no ordinary animal rescuer, he is a Buddhist monk and will give these dogs a new life either at his ancient monastery or at a shelter he runs in the Chinese city. He already has nearly 8,000 dogs to feed and care for. A few hundred will eventually be resettled in Europe or North America. Driven by his faith, the 51-year-old has been rescuing animals, mostly dogs but also cats and other strays, since 1994.

"I have to rescue them because if I don't, they will die for sure," Zhi said.

It started when he began treating cats hit by vehicles on the road. Back then, there were few stray animals, but that has changed markedly in the last four or five years, he said.

China's growing wealth has seen a boom in the pet market, but some people simply abandon them when they do not want to care for them anymore, Zhi explained.

"This is not caused by people who dislike dogs, or by the government, but by so-called dog lovers who don't have proper animal-caring knowledge."

Breeding among strays is causing their numbers to explode. State media said in 2019 that there were 50 million stray animals in China and that number is roughly doubling each year. With help from volunteers and his small workforce, Zhi keeps several hundred dogs at his Bao'en Temple, where he is the head monk and golden Buddhas look on serenely against a backdrop of howling pooches.

The temple, which is still a place of worship, also hosts a room filled with 200 cats, along with a ragtag collection of chickens, geese and peacocks. The air is an incongruous mix of animal smells and burning incense.

One recent Saturday morning, Zhi was at Shanghai's international airport to drop off a dog to a passenger who volunteered to take it to a new home in the US city of Seattle.

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