The first thing I want to make clear is I do not have any more of an issue with the meat of a dog being eaten than the meat of a pig or a cow. A common argument made about the protests of the Yulin Dog Meat festival is: Where are all the people protesting the eating of cows or pigs or chickens? And I fully appreciate that sentiment. While it is absolutely not part of my culture to eat dog and I have an emotional attachment to them I can appreciate that in some cultures dog is just another livestock animal. I was vegetarian for 15 years
and vegan for 5 of them. I began eating meat again several years ago and I have made my peace with that. If I am willing to eat a pig, a fish, a snake, an insect, or a cow, I should be able to eat a dog.
Also, as I am sure many of you know already, as part of my research I actually attended the Yulin Dog Meat festival 2 years ago. It was the most emotionally challenging thing I have ever put myself through. I blogged about it here but in short I did not see anything I was expecting. I was expecting horrible cruel people torturing sweet puppy dogs to death. What I found was to this day some of the very nicest people I have met in China. Everyone was kind and welcoming to me and after the cruelness of many of the people in the city where I live I was surrounded by the dead carcasses of dogs and the barking and whining of the those awaiting slaughter and yet I still felt more comfortable and more welcomed there than I usually do in Xi’an.
While I was there I did see thousands of dogs. Most of them appeared to be street dogs, dogs raised as livestock, or very old dogs the families had gotten rid of for cash. As depressing as it was I did not see any pure breed pet looking dogs. I also saw hundreds of dogs killed and every single one was done humanely with a slit to the throat. The dogs I saw did not appear to have ever felt the loving touch of a human and they were killed for food much in the same way as goats are. I am sure I have seen all the photos, all the videos, and read all the same articles as you have about the horrors of the Dog Meat Festival. All I can write about is what I saw.
Now on to part two of my research: The Liberation. I have made friends with a very active animal rights activist here in Xi’an. He told me they had stopped a dog truck on its way to the Dog Meat Festival and I said I wanted to see them. I was told there had been about 100 dogs on the truck and most of them had been adopted already. When I arrived there were about 25 left. Some were sweet as if maybe they had been a pet but most were definitely street dogs that would growl, snarl, and snap if you got to close. There was one greyhound.
While there my friend told me there was another truck coming through tonight and asked if I wanted to join them in stopping it. Are you kidding? Of course I did! I was supposed to be attending a going away party that night but I sent her a nice voice message saying I knew there would be loads of people there and no one would really miss me and the dogs were very important to me, love you and see you around! She understood.
So here’s how it went down: Someone from the rescue group has a contact that works on the highway. They pay him if he calls and reports a dog truck is coming through. Then they know how long it takes the truck to get from that point to closer to Xi’an. There were several cars of us and we sat waiting at the highway entrance to catch the truck. It was a highly suspenseful time. The truck knew we were waiting for them and the car we had tailing it kept commenting to say they were taking alternate routes trying to lose us. We would speed down one road then U-turn, turn left or right and speed down another. When we finally knew we were almost to the truck my friend and I got stuck behind traffic on a road with no shoulder so no way to get around. We were flashing our lights and honking our horn and as soon as we could we sped around them. As we turned a corner we came up on a big brawl in the middle of the road and saw one of our guys jump into a big truck, pull a crazy fast U-turn and speed off. We all followed the truck while a small group of people was left on the side of the road, people that had been traveling with the dogs.
We drove to a deserted road, pulled over, and raised the tarp covering the dogs. It was one of the saddest sites I have ever seen. The only thing I thought about was Jews being sent off to concentration camps. There were over 300 dogs crammed into this one truck and many on the bottom had been trampled to death. There were Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, a husky with beautiful blue eyes, and hundreds of others. These were no street dogs and certainly were not dogs raised as livestock. When we closed the tarp back up so we could drive on the dogs screamed, and howled, and cried like nothing I have ever heard before. It has been over a week and I am tearing up right now as I type this. It was like the most horrifying cries from the pits of hell. I felt so sorry for them.
We drove on to the designated stopping place. Everyone contacted everyone they knew to tell them to come out and see the dogs. By now it was almost 1:00 in the morning but about 200 people came out to see the truck. This may seem funny but I was struck by how nicely everyone was dressed. It reminded me of the stories we hear of the first battles of the Civil War when the wealthy would set up seats to watch. The Chinese do like fashion. Women will walk up mountains in dresses and heels and this was no different.
While driving the two hours back to Xi’an I found out we had not only stolen the truck but also kidnapped the “owner” of the dogs. What needed to happen now was he needed to call the police to report his dogs stolen but when the police arrived he needed to tell the policeman he didn’t want the dogs anymore and relinquish ownership to the rescue group. I will leave it up to your imagination as to how they helped change the “owner’s” mind but in the end he did relinquish ownership. After that the truck was driven to a shelter outside of Xi’an where they had agreed to take in the dogs and the guy was given his truck back.
I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was going to do when the police came since…uh…well…I’m kind of a foreign citizen involved in some not exactly legal action therefore risking jail time and deportation but at 2:00 AM when we had no idea if the police were coming in 15 minutes or 15 hours and I was offered a ride home I took it.
The next day I got the location of the shelter and paid a driver to take me out there. It was terribly depressing. There were so many pets. These were clearly stolen house pets. They were sweet precious babies that were used to sleeping on couches under the air conditioning while being loved on. They were definitely not livestock. I was horrified. Many of them clearly were street dogs, many seemed to fit what I saw in Yulin two years ago very old pets that no one wanted to care for anymore so they sold it for meat, but oh my god more than 25% of them were definitely stolen house pets.
The condition of the truck and stolen house pets is what I am fighting against. My baby boy is laying in bed next to me as a write this.
He is not food. I could not kill and eat my dog any easier than I could kill and eat my daughter. He is family. And someone stole other people’s babies, shoved them onto this hellish truck, and sent them all the way across the country to be slaughtered and eaten.
Before anyone asks I have seen trucks transporting cattle and pigs in China. They look just like the trucks in the US do. They don’t shove more than 300 pigs onto one truck and have them so packed in that they are distorted and the ones on bottom are trampled to death. This is a special way of transport just for dogs apparently.
It has been 8 days since then. I have been to the shelter 5 times to help clean the kennel, bathe the dogs, and give them love. Yesterday for the first time some other people came with me. It was very nice to have help. Local Chinese volunteers come out everyday and say they are there to help but just like the night of the heist and hiking up mountains they wear nice clothes and don’t want to get them dirty so they won’t come in the kennel with the dogs. Instead they stand around taking pictures of me working and post them on their We Chat. It infuriates me but on the other hand I remind myself that volunteering and helping others, especially dogs, is not a part of Chinese culture so the mere fact that they are there really does say something. For a short while a group of five locals came in the kennel to help clean. They told me they had adopted a dog on the first day and they wanted to come back and help. I almost cried. It was the first time I had seen any Chinese person other than shelter employees actually come in the kennel and get dirty. Tomorrow a local friend of mine is going to help. I do not mean to have the White Savior Complex and imply the locals that come out don’t care. They really do. Why else would they drive so far to get there? I think they just don’t really know what to expect, they wear their normal nice clothes, and then realize there’s not really anything they can do without ruining them. I hope they’ll all come back next week in their old jeans and help!
The owner of the kennel and the manager really care. The manager of the shelter was so overwhelmed with emotion the first time I met her she cried, the owner is a Buddhist and has Buddhist chants playing at all times on the grounds. Another way they show they care is giving the dogs bones to chew on even though they are dog bones and that is pretty weird from my cultural way of thinking. I wonder if it’s a Buddhist thing? Waste nothing? I really don’t know.
The kennel itself is a mixture of happiness and sadness. Some of the dogs are badly injured and some of them are very ill. They cannot afford medical treatment so the dogs either heal or die. One to five of them die everyday. Some are in such terrible shape that I arrive in the morning and they are dead by the time I leave in the afternoon but euthanasia is strictly against Chinese culture. They think of it as murder. No matter how much the poor thing is suffering they will just leave it there to die instead of putting it out of its misery. But that’s not a thing with just this shelter. That’s China. Omg when my poor baby cat went into kidney failure at the age of 16 and I couldn’t find a vet to help put her out of her misery I just about went crazy.
During the first 2 days almost all of the pure breed dogs were adopted. There is still one German Shepherd puppy with a deformed foot, one ancient Rottweiler, one Mastiff, and one adorable Golden Retriever/Mastiff mix, and one Malamute, other than that it’s almost all mixed breeds. Between adoptions and deaths about half of them are gone now. Many of them are so sweet you’d cry if you came and want to take them all home with you. There are maybe 50 that were clearly street dogs and cower and run away when you get too close. I have fallen in love with a couple of them and it truly breaks my heart that I will have to leave them soon. I only have 22 days left in China.
I have been so miserable here and for the past 6 months I have been counting the days before I get to get the fuck out and now one month before I leave I fall in love and have the greatest reason to stay. The saddest, saddest thing to me is that when I leave there will be no one to give them love. They’ll live the rest of their lives in that kennel and may never feel human touch again. I don’t blame the shelter at all. Oh my god they care, they really care but there are no more than 5 people there and they have 2,000 dogs to take care of. They don’t have time to give the dogs affection. And other foreign volunteers? They’ll lose interest. Please prove me wrong if you’re reading this.
I just got home from my sixth time to go out there and help in nine days. We rescued over 300 dogs. Fifty to sixty of them, basically all the pure breeds, have been adopted, fifty to sixty have died and I see little hope for the rest to ever find homes. About twenty of them are either sick or injured and about thirty of them are wildish street dogs. In the end was it really worth it? I struggle with that. I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just depressed. I looked around this afternoon and thought to myself these are the leftovers. These are the ones no one wants. It doesn’t matter how sweet their personalities are they don’t look expensive so they get looked over. Out of over 300 dogs 50 of them found homes and the rest are either dead, sick, injured, or will live the rest of their lives locked in a cage. Is taking a sweet, sweet happy little puppy dog and locking it in a cage with little to no human contact for the rest of its life really better than cooking it up for dinner?