Update, August 11, 2014: Within just days, Chinese activists achieved further interceptions, bringing the total to nine trucks/3280 dogs at one point and then a further truck, number of dogs as yet unknown, on top of that! The spotlight is focused on the cruel dog meat trade like never before, and the world is watching.
The call that went out across Weibo was urgent; lives were at stake.
On August 3, a Chinese animal lover spotted a truck stacked with cages full of dogs obviously headed for slaughter along the Beijing-Harbin Highway.
Her message, sent via China’s version of Twitter, quickly pulled together more than 30 people in their own cars, including members of several of HSI’s partner groups, such as Capital Animal Welfare Association and VShine Group. They gave chase for more than 300km before surrounding the truck at a rest area in Hebei province.
The activists began negotiating with the driver; eventually, law enforcement officials—tipped off by CAWA—arrived to inspect what indeed turned out to be fraudulent documents.
Meanwhile, others responding to the initial call for help stopped four more trucks as they traveled along the same route. Sadly, a sixth vehicle escaped.
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In the end, authorities handed over 2,400 dogs to the animal protectionists, who paid nothing to the dealers for their release. False reporting, lack of dog purchase records, and lack of health certificates were all cited as reasons for the seizure.
A historic rescue
Arguably the biggest interception of dog meat traders in China’s recent history, the liberation of these doomed animals has received significant media attention—and rightfully so. Widespread dog theft was implicated, as many of the dogs were wearing collars. Shockingly, one was even wearing a tag showing that he was a service dog for police. In another news-making story, one of the dogs was miraculously reunited with her family after they saw a photo on social media.
Video of the events shows vets working frantically as darkness falls on a field crowded with people and animals. They load food with pills, attach IVs and scatter antibiotic powder on wounds. Barking and whining can be heard all around as the camera zooms in on frightened, injured and confused dogs, some laboring to breathe. In one widely shared image that has provoked tears from many following the story, a brown dog looks up at a woman in seeming disbelief at being shown kindness as he is gently offered water after days of going without.
Even more heartbreakingly, we see mourners looking on while rescuers wrap the bodies of the 30 or so who didn’t make it in a plastic tarp, as rain pours down on them.
The counterfeit paperwork, the stolen pets, the horrific conditions and the massive scale of this one event—and the accompanying publicity—should serve as a wake-up call for Chinese authorities regarding rampant criminal acts by participants in the dog meat industry, and the suffering involved in this trade.
“I am truly impressed with the organization and mobilization skills of these activists, many of whom were born in the 1980s and 1990s. They managed not only to halt the trucks, but to ensure aid and supplies from across the country were quickly sent to the scene. They have polished their negotiation skills with the Chinese government and they are versed in Chinese policies regarding trans-provincial live dog transport and animal disease control and prevention. This was an amazing rescue and a huge blow to China’s dog meat industry. China’s young people are our greatest hope!” wrote HSI China Specialist Dr. Peter Li.
In total, more than 400 activists from Beijing and adjacent cities participated in the interception and rescue operations over multiple days. More than 1,000 volunteers signed up to step in when needed. With the help and support of the local government, the dogs were tested and treated by vets and volunteers from nearby regions, called in by CAWA and the other groups to deal with the sheer number of dogs who needed immediate attention. Hundreds of them were adopted on the spot by individuals who learned about the news and came right away.
“We are seeing an increasingly mature attitude on the part of Chinese animal lovers,” commented Li. “Many of those who came to the rescue site to adopt the dogs reportedly said, ‘We’d like to adopt dogs with disabilities or in need of medical care.’ The lady reunited with her lost pet also took an extremely undernourished black dog out of gratitude to the activists who helped find her companion and out of compassion for a less adoptable dog.”
On hearing of this incredible story, HSI immediately offered funding to help purchase emergency supplies, send 10 Chinese activists from VShine to help the rescue operation, and provide post-rescue care in a Beijing shelter. Dr. Li has also been advising our local partners and reaching out to local and foreign reporters to raise awareness of the news.
More to do
As of this writing, nearly all of the dogs rescued from the five trucks have already found homes and amazingly, two more trucks have just been stopped. More will come, no doubt, but the public and the government are beginning to take serious notice of this issue. The treatment of these animals is not only tragic but ironic, people are saying, given that down south at the same time, trained rescue dogs are being used to help save human lives after an earthquake hit Yunnan province.
We grieve those animals for whom aid arrived too late, celebrate for those who will now begin new lives as beloved pets, and promise ourselves that we will do everything we can to bring an end to this cruelty. You can help—please stand with us.