Amid ongoing rescue and relief efforts for Sichuan quake sufferers, the picture of a soldier saving a panting Pomeranian from the rubble has cast the spotlight on another side of the national disaster - the plight of animal victims.
For days after the May 12 quake, Western media wondered what had come of the giant pandas held in nature reserves in the region.
Xinhua recently reported two of the endangered bears still missing and five zookeepers dead at the Wolong Nature Reserve, located near the quake epicenter.
In other quake-flattened areas, more than 100 trained sniffer dogs from government and private organizations are also straining to help soldiers and rescuers seek out buried survivors.
Many worry that pets - from cats and dogs to birds - have suffered from the deadly quake as well.
Increasing disposable income levels and changing demographics contributed to rising pet ownership in China between 1999 and 2004, figures from global marketing research firm Euromonitor International have showed.
Young adults and the elderly, in particular, showed piqued interest in raising pets. Cat and dog ownership both rose during that time, with the rate of canine owners nearly doubling.
Total pet population in the country also increased in 2006, latest figures have showed.
United Animal Nations, a non-profit organization, designs programs to help animals in case of natural disasters. It offers several ways for pet owners to better prepare for such disasters. A traditional collar and tag or an implanted microchip will help identify the animals later, for example.
Hurricane Katrina, which pounded the United States' southern coasts in August 2005, catalyzed a massive animal rescue operation. More than 250,000 pets were stranded and left to swim through heavily polluted floodwater and scavenge for food, PBS, which aired a documentary on the subject, reported. Some pets became feral after their owners fled the hurricane's destruction.
Last year, the Humane Society, an animal welfare group, sent emergency funding to Peru following an 8-magnitude earthquake south of its capital, where hundreds of pets and farm animals were abandoned.
(China Daily May 21, 2008)