Taiwan photographer's crusade: Doomed shelter dogs
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," says 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. In many of the dog portraits, the animals are placed at angles that make them look almost human.
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.
It would seem, judging by the many stores in Taiwan that sell fancy dog clothes and other baubles, as if Taiwanese fawn over their animals, and some do. But others abandon pets to the streets once their initial enthusiasm cools.
"Animals are seen just as playthings, not to be taken seriously," says Grace Gabriel, Asia regional director of the Massachusetts-based International Fund for Animal Welfare.