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A dog-day afternoon
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A woman carries a dog to get vaccination. The dog ran to her home in Zundao town of Mianzhu city after the earthquake. Photos courtesy of IFAW

A group of aid workers pick their way through fields of rubble in the quake-devastated town of Zundao in Mianzhu city. They have a challenging mission in Sichuan, but it's quite different than many of the other relief efforts taking place in the province post-May 12.

The volunteers with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) are here, not only to help the people, but also their dogs.

The animal experts, who hail mainly from Beijing, Austria and the United States, troll the area with sacks of dog food to help dog owners, who have been scrambling for food since the quake, feed their dogs.

At first, the locals, who traditionally feed their dogs leftover dinner scraps, had a hard time believing the big bags of nibble were made specifically for dogs. But, once the doubt wore off, the locals welcomed the efforts of the aid group.

"Someone told me dog food was a great idea since his dog normally eats as much as three or four people do," says He Yong, assistant to IFAW's Asian regional director.

IFAW has provided 1 million yuan ($143,000) worth of human and animal supplies to help quake-hit areas. Besides distributing power engines, cooking oil, detergents and other necessities for local people, the team has also provided veterinary care to animals in distress. They also gave anti-rabies vaccinations to some 1,000 dogs running wild after the quake.

"By helping the animals, we help the people," He says. "The quake strengthened the bond between animals and humans."

But, because unvaccinated dogs pose a serious threat to people, some local governments ordered stray dogs be put down.

Locals, who were afraid of losing their furry pets, lined up to have their dogs immunized when the IFAW team showed up. Initially, owners were scared to admit their dogs were not vaccinated for fear of losing them. The owners would lie and turn the animal experts away. He said he found the honest mistake heart-warming.

"You can tell the care and love for their animals is a deep and natural emotion," He says.

IFAW, which advocates humane care for animals, uses pain-minimizing equipment to trap, anesthetize and euthanize hostile stray dogs. The imported equipment, particularly the blowpipe and baited cages, elicited much curiosity from the locals, who had never seen such technology before.

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