April 18, 2011
Surviving the Dog Meat Trade in China
Hundreds of animals spared a grim fate
by Peter Li
Having heard of the interception of a truck loaded with 480 dogs bound for northeast China's dog meat markets, hundreds of animal advocates converged on the Beijing-Harbin Expressway, where they found the dogs crammed into a four-layered deck on the vehicle.
Rescuers worked immediately to attend to the dogs, who it was feared might have spent days on the road without any food or water. It quickly became apparent that many were exhausted and ill. Quite a few displayed eagerness to be touched, suggesting that they could have been household pets prior to their capture.
A seedy business
"China does not have dog farms that can supply meat dogs in large quantities such as this," said Mm. Qin, director of Beijing Capital Animal Welfare Association, HSI's partner organization in China, "but there have been numerous reports by the media on the theft of household dogs through use of poisons and other brutal means." It is suspected that the 480 dogs could have been collected over a period of two to three weeks before being loaded onto the long-distance truck for a destination more than 1,000 miles away.
After intense overnight negotations, the advocates and the truck driver reached an agreement for the release of the dogs to local shelters. The need to pay some $17,000 to secure the animals was hugely controversial, even among the rescuers themselves. The advocates plan to pursue action against the truck driver, the business behind him, and the local authorities who had issued the health certificate for the shipment.
Terrible to endure
The suffering of the dogs was heartwrenching. A significant number of them had serious health problems. Many displayed open wounds. Dehydration was widespread. Some dogs were already dead. At least one gave birth to puppies on the road, an excruciating experience for the mother dog. "We held these precious young lives in our hands with great sorrow and sadness," said one woman who worked around the clock to care for the dogs. "You guys really should not come into this world that is not so nice to you," she said, gently placing those still alive down on a thick blanket.
The animal issue is a human issue
This incident triggered a hot debate in the Chinese media. Opponents said that the dog rescue was a violation of the rights of those who eat dog meat and of businesses dealing in dog meat. Those involved in the rescue were called "BMW-driving, coffee-drinking, running dogs of the West" who supposedly care more about dogs than about humans.
Animal protection supporters countered that by helping the dogs, the rescuers were helping people, calling brutalizing dogs a sign of moral degradation and asking, "Isn't the rescue an act to save the souls of those involved?" Others pointed out that if the dogs were indeed stolen, wasn't the rescue a help to those who had lost their pets? Finally, said some, by stopping the shipment of sick dogs to the food markets in northeast China, the intervention had also served the health interests of the consumers.
This incident suggests that China has come to a stage where the Chinese authorities must address the social stability and public health issues connected to the rampant dog-eating culinary sub-culture.
How we're helping
HSI was informed immediately when the interception took place. Our partner group, Beijng Capital Animal Welfare Association, was directly involved in attaining the dogs' release. Another partner, Green Beagle, mobilized supporters and coordinated onsite relief efforts. Through long-distance calls, HSI monitored every step of the 15-hour negotiation and offered support for the entire effort. The dogs were eventually released into the care of a third partner, China Small Animal Protection Association, along other groups we have collaborated with in the past.
HSI will now watch post-rescue efforts closely and offer whatever aid possible to help the dogs regain their health over time, whether purchasing dog food or sanitation supplies, helping with vet care expenses, re-homing the animals or reuniting them with their families. Please give to support our efforts to help these and other dogs in need
Dr. Peter Li is HSI's China Specialist.