Shanghai's imprisoned pets are being rescued by volunteers.
Across China, local governments' urgency to stamp out every virus case has pushed animal well-being down the list of authorities' priorities (AFP/LIU JIN)
Sarah Wang, a Shanghai resident, said her initial concern was who would look after her cat if quarantine was imposed following a positive Covid-19 test.
China's "zero-Covid" policy means that everyone infected with the virus is transferred to a central facility, where they may be held for weeks, leaving their pets at the mercy of local authorities.
Aside from concerns that the animals will go hungry or be abandoned, a video showing a Shanghai health worker bludgeoning a corgi dog to death earlier this month sparked outrage among citizens, with some taking matters into their own hands.
According to Erin Leigh, the principal organizer of an emergency rescue operation intended to protect pets that could otherwise become victims of the hardline virus approach, the clip caused "absolute fear."
Leigh, 33, has grown her company from a pet-sitting service to a network of thousands of unpaid volunteers in just a few weeks.
Wang's lucky feline has a temporary home with a sitter across town, thanks to the organisation.
Her pet wouldn't have survived my apartment being cleansed, the relieved financial worker told AFP.
Without somebody coming to feed her, her situation would have been extremely dismal, the 28-year-old added.
It's life or death for some pets in the city, Leigh said, adding that owners felt helpless.
The hurry with which local governments across China are trying to eradicate every viral case has relegated animal welfare to the bottom of the priority list.
Around 2,000 hamsters were slaughtered in Hong Kong in January after one tested positive for Covid-19, and at least three cats and a dog were among the animals slain by mainland health workers last year.
Following the release of the footage of the corgi slaughter, Leigh says she has been overwhelmed with requests from owners who are desperate to save their animals.
Get my dog to safety,' people say. I don't want that in my house at all.
In recent years, pet ownership in China has exploded, particularly in sophisticated cities like Shanghai.
Since the height of the first virus wave in Wuhan over two years ago, the financial center has been at the center of China's deadliest Covid-19 outbreak, and has been under a patchwork of lockdown restrictions since March, leaving the majority of its 25 million citizens confined to their homes.
As Shanghai officials tightened their controls, Leigh and others took to the internet to exchange information on the pets left behind when people were placed into quarantine.
A small team of administrators works around the clock to track down cases of troubled animals, classifying them by location and identifying those who require immediate food, housing, or other assistance.
The network then goes on social media to raise the alarm, posting "help required" signs in both Chinese and English until a rescuer is identified.
Volunteer Joey Ang, a 20-year-old Singaporean student, said they also connect owners and caregivers with homebound vets so they can all help each other in case there are any medical emergencies.
Hundreds of cats and dogs, as well as a few birds, fish, and snakes, have benefited from the team's efforts.
Pets that have been evacuated must navigate the often perplexing lockdown regulations, which can take hours to reach short-term lodgings just a few blocks away.
Volunteers mobilized to supply food to a locked-down pet business harboring approximately 50 famished huskies, according to Leigh.
However, in a city where officials worry about the ramifications of breaking poorly defined lockdown laws, the route to freedom is rarely straightforward.
Volunteers said security officers are often nervous about transporting disinfected boxes with animals into and out of housing compounds, which is an important stage in the process because most residents in lockdown can't leave their apartment complexes.
Fees for transporting pets have also increased.
According to Leigh, rescuers spent an hour and a half this week transporting a dog from its owner's apartment to another block barely 600 meters (0.4 miles) away.
According to Ocean Zhang, who assisted in the canine's release, a carrot-and-stick technique is generally effective in getting officials to consider the bad reaction if the pet comes to any harm.
The power of numbers is undeniable. Even emergencies... can be resolved in a couple of hours if we continue to work together.