Dr Jill Robinson, MBE, founder and CEO of UK charity Animals Asia, writes

Before the rescue

about the Qi Meng dog rescue rescue in China and Animals Asia innovative education projects in Asia that help to demonstrate dogs are our friends, helpers and companions, not food.

The increasingly familiar message came several weeks ago when we were contacted about a rescue of some 800 dogs crammed into cages and on their way to the meat markets of China.  Two local groups here in Sichuan (where our bear rescue sanctuary is based) had intercepted a truck heaving with the weight of the dogs and bound for the markets and restaurants of the south.

By the time our team arrived, these dehydrated, sick and horribly distressed dogs had already been cut out of their cages and divided into two groups, with Home of Love taking approximately 450 and Qi Meng taking 350 – now adding to the 600 or so dogs they had already rescued over the years.

By any stretch of the imagination this was a huge task to take on, but this is the rapidly advancing progress of local groups we have come to see in China, after nearly three decades of working here on the ground.

Over the next few weeks we helped Qi Meng as they separated the dogs into sex, injury and disease and quarantined them all away from the on-site resident dogs. Appeals went out, and the country rallied to help – sending recovery cages, blankets, food and funds for medical care.  So much for those awful sweeping statements we still hear that people in China don’t care about animals or their welfare.

People here care deeply.  When I first began working in China in the mid 1980’s there was one official foundation in the country, in Beijing. Today there are around 70 groups with members accelerating the message of compassion towards animals almost everywhere you look.  Over the last couple of years, the incidence of groups and individuals rescuing meat dogs (and cats) has increased and the issue is well and truly in the public eye, and on the agenda of the draft anti cruelty law that is being debated across the country.

It’s true that many people in China still look upon cats and dogs as food for the table, rather than companions beloved by so many today. But it’s equally true that millions here are embracing these species and now challenging the traditions and practices of the past.

Our bi-annual hosted conferences in China with the leaders of the welfare groups and invited media gather hundreds of people together to discuss the issues that companion animals often face – whether indiscriminately bludgeoning dogs to death by the tens of thousands (owned or not) when a rabies case emerges, or focussing on how more quickly to bring dog and cat eating to an end.

More conferences and workshop, attended by the Chinese authorities, academics, veterinary specialists and NGO’s  focus on disease and rabies prevention, responsible pet ownership, humane dog management and suburban dog control. Our market investigations continue to shine the spotlight on this ghastly practice and expose the dog and cat meat industry as being unregulated, illegal and out of control – and, in many examples today, now seeing people’s pet dogs and cats stolen for the trade.

To assist in enhancing respect for companion animals, our Dr Dog and Professor Paws programmes operate in Chengdu, Shenzhen and Guangzhou – the latter being the dog eating capital of China – where recipients of canine therapy and unconditional love are acknowledging that dogs (and cats) are our friends….not food.

Since the Dr Dog programme began in 1991 nearly 1,000 dogs have wagged their way into hospitals, disabled centres and homes for the blind, deaf, elderly and orphaned in no less than 7 countries of Asia.  Each year we have Devotion Awards in Hong Kong and China which honour working dogs and the agencies who work with them, side by side. Customs, police, fire services, all showing off their heroic four legged helpers and, once again, positioning the message that dogs deserve more than being seen as food for the table.

Similarly with Professor Paws, a programme which sees dogs working in Chinese schools and helping to teach children about the environment, animal welfare, even how to approach dogs safely (considering that children in China are still often taught to fear them as vectors of rabies and disease) – and a perfect example of promoting dogs as the loving ambassadors of friendship they are.

Eddie in a meat cage

The future of the recently rescued “meat” dogs in a loving family home is by no means assured, but our team are taking their pictures which will be placed with compelling stories in local magazines and hopefully seeing those featured adopted and adored.  Perhaps some of them may even end up like Eddie – short for edible – and rescued from a meat market in Guangzhou in 2001. Today Eddie is showcasing himself (and his species) as a qualified – and very loveable – ambassador for Dr Dog.

Eddie today

So with thanks for the opportunity of writing this guest SafePets blog, I would like to ask that anyone reading this with growing optimism for the future of animals in China, please join us and get behind the groups here who are pioneering change, and giving a voice to those that suffered so silently in the past.

Thank you to this wonderful organisation, not just for this post, for but for the amazing work they do.  See their website Animals Asia

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About safepets uk

Pet training and behaviour company treating cats, dogs and livestock. Range of free advice on website. Covering Midlands to London. Training and behaviour advisers to Pet Education Trust.

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