by Peter Li
April 20, 2012 was a significant day for the estimated 130 million dogs in China. A weibo (Chinese twitter) alert led to a massive dog rescue on a highway in Kunming, southwest Yunnan Province.
Stopped at a toll station was a truck loaded with misery and despair. Bound for Guangxi, some 1,000 miles from its place of origin, the truck carried 475 dogs headed for dog-eating markets. On learning of this, hundreds of Kunming activists converged on the toll station to demand confiscation of the dogs. Persistence finally led to their release after hours of difficult negotiations.
A sad state
The rescued animals were in shocking condition. Dead dogs were found in many suffocating small cages. Some were barely clinging to life. Most were stoic, emaciated and dehydrated.“The crying of the dogs was such that I fought hard to suppress my emotions,” said a rescuer tearfully. “But I lost control of my feelings when I saw a dog licking every drop of water around him that he could reach.”
Many dogs had injuries. Some of them could not even stand up when moved into bigger enclosures. Despite what they had endured, most were forgiving and showed no signs of aggression toward people. In fact, many dogs seemed to have been household pets. Some wore jackets. Others wore collars. Their temperaments suggested that they had been close to humans.
Hope for the cause
Leading the rescue and post-rescue care is Haoyuner Animal Protection Center (HAPC), Kunming’s biggest animal protection group and a previous participant in an event sponsored by HSI in China. Ms. Zhao, an HAPC staff member, told HSI that the dogs would be moved to their shelter after evaluation. “We are working hard to provide the best possible care for these traumatized animals,” Zhao said. Volunteers from across the city have joined HAPC to help and the rescue operation has attracted worldwide attention.
Kunming is relatively remote, and this rescue shows that animal protection efforts are expanding into the country’s less developed inland areas. “Those young people who spent sleepless nights caring for the dogs are the hope of our country,” wrote one Web surfer.
This incident was not without controversy. Dog-eating is not illegal in China. There are still people who see animal protection as a hobby of the rich. In fact,volunteers and activists are young and passionate, with limited means.
HSI has been following the development of the rescue operation. Our China operation team has contacted HAPC and offered funding help. We believe that the Kunming rescue sent a strong message to Chinese society to be conscious of and sensitive to the adverse moral, economic, public health and political impacts of dog abuse and dog eating.
We congratulate the Kunming activists for their success and we will continue our efforts to encourage greater awareness of animal welfare issues, support capacity building, assist in lobbying activities aimed at policy change, respond to distress calls and monitor developments as the Chinese animal protection movement grows. Give now to support our life-saving work.
Dr. Peter Li is China Policy Specialist for HSI.