BEIJING, Nov. 25 (Xinhua) -- More than 800 cats, locked up in rows of iron cages in a store in northern China's Tianjin municipality, would have been transported to Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and slaughtered had it not been for about 30 residents who rallied for nearly 24 hours, negotiating with the trader and police, to free the animals Tuesday.
Pet lovers and animal welfare volunteers started pouring into a neighborhood in Hongqiao district of the municipality, 120 km from Beijing, minutes after photographs of the caged cats were flashed on the Internet on Monday night, according to Wednesday's China Daily.
The trader said the cats, which he bought for 10 yuan apiece, were to be sent to Guangzhou, slaughtered and served as food at restaurants in South China.
Li Na, a saleswoman by profession, who was present at the spot, said the cats were either picked up from the streets or stolen from their owners.
Li was among dozens of local residents who spent the night outside the "flower and birds store" to ensure the cats were not sneaked away behind their backs. Residents said the store, which has a license to sell flowers, birds, fish and worms, had been trading cats for the last six months.
Qin Xiaona, chief of the Beijing-based Capital Animal Welfare Association, who rushed to Tianjin as word spread, alleged it was obvious most of the cats were stolen.
"The police told us that the trader bought the cats. But the trader was unable to provide receipts to prove any of the 800 purchases," Qin said. Qin said the cats were suffocating in the cages and many of them would have died on the way to Guangzhou.
It took Li, Qin and their likes 24 hours to convince the trader to free the cats after intervention from the police last night. Police have given the volunteers a room in a nearby school to house the cats, many of which are in need of urgent medical care, Qin said.
"Even though I was happy when the trader agreed to release the cats, I was simply disgusted when he asked for money in return for the animals' lives," Li said.
He Yong, a representative of the International Fund of Animal Welfare, said the incident was only the "tip of an iceberg".
China has no laws prohibiting the trading of cats, resulting in large-scale theft of the animals, which reportedly get eaten.
"The chain of the cat trade is really long," He said.