Published: 17:03, January 24, 2024 | Updated: 10:15, January 25, 2024
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Paws and passion
By Gui Qian

Meowzart's innovative cat competition in China, led by Gen Z, fosters creativity and compassion, uniting communities to rescue and adopt feline friends, Gui Qian reports.

One of Meowzart's posters for this year's "Best Meow Alumni "competition, featuring cartoon figures of the top stray cat candidates from various universities. (MEOWZART / FOR CHINA DAILY)

A unique cat competition is happening right now, featuring stray cats from more than 280 universities across China. They're all competing for the title of "Best Meow Alumni" from Jan 21 to Feb 21.

This event is in its third year and is organized by Meowzart, one of China's largest animal welfare platforms for college students. Using a mini-program on the Chinese social media platform WeChat, people can view profiles of the cat candidates from each university. The profiles include pictures and detailed information about the cats, such as their age, breed, personalities, and even "highlight moments on social media".

On the Meowzart mini-program, there are profiles of over 18,312 cats from more than 340 university cat care communities.

It is hoped that the increased attention on these newfound feline celebrities will boost their chances of adoption. The sales revenue generated from merchandise featuring their adorable images will also contribute to supporting the operations of university stray cat care associations.

For example, Big Head, the "representative" of the Sea Cat TNR team at Shanghai Maritime University, was successfully adopted after participating in 2022's competition. Now, this year, Big Head's friend, Sea Cucumber, is a top contender, thanks to his undeniable cuteness.

Across China, young people are actively involved in rescuing and adopting stray cats in their own unique ways. Almost every university has student-led associations dedicated to protecting stray cats on campus. These organizations not only provide food for the cats but also assist in their spaying or neutering and facilitate their adoption.

Meng Yan, the founder of Meowzart, emphasizes that student communities play a significant role in the rescue of stray cats. However, these young people face numerous challenges.

As students, they often struggle with financial problems and lack the means to sustain their organizations beyond fundraising efforts. Their limited experience and resources also put them at a disadvantage when dealing with schools and negotiating with those responsible for severe cases of cat abuse. Some students even face misunderstanding from others who perceive them as neglecting their studies.

Meng hopes that her platform can unite young cat enthusiasts and amplify their voices.

Since its establishment in 2021, Meowzart has been working to establish connections with university communities. By assisting them in raising cat food and encouraging the creation of cat-related works, the platform gradually build trust among its members.

The platform now provides guidance for students and operates a mini-program that allows student communities to easily share adoption information.

Meng Fan poses with her dog. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

All of these initiatives encourage students to promote "star cats" on their campuses, create merchandise for charitable sales, and organize activities to fully unleash their potential for rescuing stray cats.

"I hope that young people, while focusing on animal welfare and their living environment, can also showcase the spirit of Generation Z and leverage their strengths and interests," Meng said.

Every year on May 21, Campus Cat Day is celebrated. Devoted members of university stray cat communities express their creativity by crafting various artworks inspired by these charming felines, which they then share on Meowzart. The platform will select the most outstanding pieces for recognition.

This year, students from over 200 universities across China and individuals from all walks of life created over 40,000 works in various artistic fields, including photography, video production, creative design, meme crafting, painting, writing, dance, and music. Nearly 4,000 works were chosen as finalists, resulting in 20 university societies being honored with the Best Society Award.

The winning pieces have been curated into the Meowzart metaverse, boasting 521 museums that are accessible to everyone. This virtual world, centered around and inspired by stray cats, even features a post office and a police station, mirroring their realworld counterparts. For instance, the post office is situated at 197 Luban Road in Huangpu District, Shanghai.

With the help of Meowzart, student communities collaborate with professional veterinarians to develop educational materials about rescuing and caring for cats. For example, the cat society at Xinyang Normal University in Henan province wrote about the basics of the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) method. TNR is a globally recognized, humane, and effective approach for managing the population of stray cats.

Volunteers capture stray cats without harming them, and they are then taken to veterinarians for health examinations and sterilization if suitable. Those cats that are friendly to humans may be kept until they are adopted, while those unsuitable for adoption will be returned to the wild.

"The TNR approach not only prevents the overpopulation of stray cats, but also reduces the risk of illness among them," wrote the students.

"One characteristic of Gen Zers is that they act out of genuine intention or love," said Meng. "In the compassionate endeavor of rescuing stray animals, love holds particular significance."

Tang Tianle works as a volunteer at a stray animal adoption activity. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Adoption activists

While some Gen Zers use their creativity to raise awareness about stray cat problems, others focus on more hands-on adoption efforts, which are equally important but also labor intensive.

Tang Tianle, a 23-year-old from Shandong province and now living in Beijing, has participated in more than 20 such charity events as a volunteer. Her involvement began on a cold winter day two years ago when she rescued a small orange cat in front of her apartment building.

"The little kitty gives me so much comfort and companionship. Grateful for this bond, I've been keeping an eye on stray cats in my community ever since," Tang said. "So far, I've saved eight of them-three of which I've kept, three found new families, and two are still waiting for adoption."

Later, when she learned about face-to-face adoption activities that directly connect rescuers and potential adopters, she felt compelled to join and help.

Tang participated in events organized by Beijing Adoption Day, an animal welfare charity. Usually twice a month, they arrange for rescuers to bring their rescued dogs and cats to busy places like shopping malls, squares, and museums, where they showcase these animals, allowing potential adopters to interact with them and apply for adoption.

"Finding suitable adopters for stray animals is not easy. After adopters submit their applications, rescuers will carefully assess the information provided," Tang said. "They evaluate whether the applicants can offer a stable living environment for the animal and are prepared to assume the lifelong responsibility of caring for a dog or cat."

"Face-to-face interactions typically work well because they create opportunities for rescuers and adopters to communicate directly and establish emotional connections between adopters and animals," she added.

According to Tang, these activities usually last four to five hours, during which 50 to 60 volunteers, mostly young women under 30, take care of about 40 cats and 20 dogs. "We do a lot of heavy lifting, such as installing and moving cages, but we find it very rewarding to contribute our strength," she said.

Meng Fan, 27, from Cangzhou, Hebei province, has been utilizing her professional knowledge and skills in the adoption day activities.

With a background in broadcasting and hosting, and currently working as a program editor, Meng is well-versed in new media.

When she first volunteered in a face-to-face adoption event in June 2021, she engaged with the audience by providing live text broadcasts on Sina Weibo.

In subsequent activities, she expanded her efforts by livestreaming on more social media platforms, introducing information about each rescued animal and answering questions from the viewers.

"I need to keep talking for hours and livestream on almost all the popular social media platforms in China, including Sina Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu, so that we can reach more potential adopters," she said.

Having volunteered for two years, Meng has met many endearing stray animals, witnessed touching stories, and received considerable positive feedback. "I'm always dedicated and pleased," she said. "What we've been doing for these lives is meaningful."

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