The Cat Thief

Last night I was walking south on Fenyang Road when, at the intersection with Fuxing Road, I saw a small crowd of five or six people standing around a tricycle outfitted with cages packed tight with terrified cats and a few small dogs.  In front of it, a waif-like man dashed around, mostly crouched over, stirring two stainless steel pots. As I drew closer, I noticed he was chatting with a large, unwashed woman who was busy rattling a pair of metal chopsticks against a cage full of kittens, terrifying the animals [yes, from Dickens/Hell]. This would be an unusual scene anywhere in Shanghai (in my years here, I’ve never seen anything like it), but particularly so at that intersection – the affluent heart of the French Concession. I usually carry a camera with me, but last night I only had the benefit of my camera phone. So, when I thought the waif was looking elsewhere, I snapped this rough image:


At the sound of the closing shutter, the waif (on the left side of the photo) dropped his pot and leaped at me – or, more precisely, my phone. I pulled it back and he came to a stop a hand’s distance from my face. He was taller than I thought, towering over me with eyes set so deep into his weather-beaten skull that they appeared to be in a perpetual squint. His voice was even more uncomfortable: a deep, hollow thing that reminded me of what a double-bass sounds like when a bow whispers lightly across the strings. But the metaphors came later. At that moment, my only thought was to watch for a knife or another set of metal chopsticks. I was, to put it lightly, in a bad spot.

Fortunately, there were other bystanders, and simultaneously they all began to call out: “Laowai, laowai!” [“Foreigner! Foreigner!”] It wasn’t directed at me, however, but rather at the demonic man in my face, as if to remind him that the foreigner simply doesn’t understand our ways (some truth to that), that one doesn’t take photos of this kind of thing. So he backed off, and I got out of there with a few snickers at my back, but no worse for the wear.


  1. Might be this guy:


    [ed. note: a friend forwarded the following translation of the Chinese text that Micah inserted. It is:

    “This old guy’s actually well known; isn’t he the one with long hair, pushing a three-wheeler with cages on top full of dogs and cats? He’s not a peddler of cats but an itinerant, these dogs and cats were picked up by him, very pitiful, but this man is controversial, and because his dog Lili has a growth many people with good intentions donate money but he’s never been operated on, online dog lovers have a detailed record of following this guy.”

    I took a look at the site to which Micah links, and based upon this text and the photos there, I encountered a different person last night.]

  2. I’ve seen a guy with cages on his bicycle catching strays with a long pair of metal tongs. I assume he’s selling to the dog meat restaurants. We have several of those here in Haikou. Looks like your guy may be eating some himself and selling the rest for meat!

  3. Very fine: “a deep, hollow thing that reminded me of what a double-bass sounds like when a bow whispers lightly across the strings”

  4. thanks for sharing this terrible but interesting aspect of Shanghai. We humans visit such amazing cruelty on other animals! but legally speaking – is what that demon does legal? These are someones pets after all.

  5. There’s no such thing as pet catchers or places where they keep cats that nobody wants in China, so I guess these people are doing the government a favor. These are the cats that nobody would adopt and would probably spread rabies.

  6. There are so many unsettling aspects to this… Two that preoccupy me:
    Eating cat would be bad enough, but eating cat that’s been a stray on the streets eating God knows what adds another level to revolting.
    The other is the phenomenon of the 21st Century and 19th century living cheek by jowl together in today’s China.
    Disturbing and fascinating, thank you for sharing and I’m glad you escaped with just a few snickers.
    Have a good weekend…

  7. Jay, is it terrible? Was any real cruelty being done? Was that man a demon? Were anybody’s pets involved? I don’t see how Adam has (or could have)provided the facts to either support or refute any such assumptions, although I can certainly understand the feelings that inspired your comment. And Micah’s comment certainly adds some intriguing detail.

  8. He is a cat catcher. That’s his job to get rid of the stray animals in the city. The cats will be sold to a wholesaler and send south to Guangzhou. There they will be sold for around 10 to 20 RMB each for food and for their fur.

  9. Actually, if that’s the couple I’ve seen around the neighborhood, I think they’re homeless people with a lot of pets that they’ve rescued. Along with cats and dogs, several birds and some hamsters. They seem very fond of the animals, not that it’s a very good existance for them.

    The actual cat snatchers operate by night and don’t hang onto the animals for so long or so publically. I think this couple is tolerated because people feel sorry for them, but they get moved along eventually. They were living on the corner of Jianguo and Hengshan for about two weeks this summer.

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