March 29, 2012
click thumbnails below to enlarge
A volunteer feeds one of the dogs rescued from slaughter last
December in a stand-off between animal rights activists and
dog-meat sellers in central China. Such rescues have been taking
place with some regularity in China.
To say that people in China eat dogs is something of a stereotype.
Sure, some still do, but these days, more and more Chinese are buying
dogs as pets and treating them like beloved family members.
In the last year, that growing affection has taken a radical turn.
Activists have begun stopping trucks along the highway carrying dogs to
slaughter and then negotiating their release.
A Last-Minute Rescue
A recent case occurred in December in Eastern China's Jiangsu
Province. Dai Huajing was driving along a road and saw a truck filled
with dogs packed into cages like fur coats. The truck driver was
negotiating a price with butchers at a roadside market.
"The dogs' mouths and legs were tightly tied up and the cages were
very, very small," Dai recalls. "They couldn't move."
Dai grabbed her cellphone and began calling fellow animal lovers. The
news ricocheted around Sina Weibo, China's most popular, Twitter-like
Animal activists surround a truck taking dogs to slaughter last
December in Central China's Jiangsu Province. The activists
ultimately paid about $8,000 to rescue the dogs.
Within several hours, about 150 activists had surrounded the flatbed
truck, demanding the animals' release. As negotiations dragged into the
night, they used baby bottles to feed the dogs water and petted them
through the rusting, wire-mesh.
"We're going home, don't be afraid," said Gao Jin as she tried to
comfort a sad-looking mutt.
Eventually, the activists pooled nearly $8,000 and bought the dogs'
Dai said her decision to confront the dog-meat sellers was
"I think it was a very natural thing to do," she says. "A truckload
of dogs would be sent to be butchered. So, the first thing I had to do
was to stop it."
Multiple Rescues In The Past Year
Over the past year, animal lovers have stopped eight other dog-meat
sellers along China's roadways and rescued an estimated 2,000 dogs.
We learn from textbooks about the bond between pets and
humans. When you are in danger, your pet will come to your
rescue. If kids are imbued with this concept, they would know
animals are people's friends and we should not eat them.
Chenkai, a volunteer who helps rescue Chinese dogs
Dog meat is legal here, but a growing number of Chinese want to ban
It's part of a shift in attitudes toward animals in China driven by
rising incomes, urbanization and increased pet ownership.
To appreciate the changes, consider the scores of students and
volunteers who travel every other week to the shelter where the dogs Dai
helped rescue now live.
On a recent Sunday morning, a mostly young crowd piled into a pair of
buses for a 90-minute ride from the Chinese city of Nanjing to the
shelter in the countryside. Along the way, they crouched on the floor of
the bus and pulled apart steamed pork buns to feed the dogs.
Many of the volunteers were students like Sun Chenkai, who studies at
Nanjing University of Finance and Economics. Sun says education is
changing the way young people here see animals.
"We learn from textbooks about the bond between pets and humans,"
said Sun, as the bus rocked back and forth down a bumpy, rural road.
"When you are in danger, your pet will come to your rescue. If kids are
imbued with this concept, they would know animals are people's friends
and we should not eat them."
A Heated Debate
Roadside rescues have sparked a heated debate about dog meat. Last
summer, Shanghai TV aired a show on the issue in which dog lovers
squared off against dog-meat lovers. Some of the participants seemed
"I firmly support eating dog meat," said a woman, who grinned and
pumped her fist in excitement before a studio audience. "Dog meat is
tasty. It's my favorite, my favorite!"
Fan Xiantao runs a famous chain of dog-meat stores and restaurants in
China. He went on the TV show and defended his business.
"I've been butchering dogs since I was 8 years old and I still do it
now," he said. "Do you know how many dogs I butcher every year? No less
The Pingan Afu animal shelter, in central China's Jiangsu
Province, is home to about 1,800 stray and rescued dogs.
Fan lives in Jiangsu Province's Pei County, where dog meat is a major
industry. He says at least half a million dogs are slaughtered there
Fan, who was in Shanghai on business recently, insisted his methods
"The way we butcher dogs is not very cruel," said Fan, between sips
of coffee at a Starbucks in the city's financial district. "We have a
traditional method that's very effective. Normally, we club them. We hit
them in the head and kill them instantly."
What happens when a dog survives the first blow?
Fan says one strike always works.
A Long Tradition
Fan also says Chinese have been eating dogs since ancient times and
there's no reason to stop now.
"It is a national delicacy and eating dog meat is a culinary
tradition," says Fan, who dismisses the activists who want to outlaw his
"They are rather pathetic," he says. "How can they stop dog trucks
when they don't have money?"
Fan has a point. Money and sustainability are real issues for dog
Gao Jin works part-time at the shelter that cares for dogs that were
rescued in December. The shelter, really a sprawling dog farm in the
mountains, already has too many animals people don't want.
"The monthly adoption situation is not very good," says Gao, who
gives tours of the compound while wearing a headset and a pink plastic
speaker strapped to her waist. "Because among the 1,800 plus dogs here,
the vast majority are farm dogs. This type of dog isn't particularly
liked in China. Many prefer purebreds."
Ha Wenjing, a former publisher, founded this private shelter, called
Pingan Afu. She says it costs nearly $16,000 a year just to feed the
dogs, and she finances the operation through volunteers, corporate
donations and her own cash. Ha acknowledges that stopping trucks to
prevent dog slaughter is unsustainable.
"Relying on individual animal welfare organizations, hoping they can
save 100 dogs every day, we really don't have that ability," she says.
But that doesn't mean they won't keep trying.
Ha says she and her supporters will keep working to raise money, so
when they see another group of dogs headed to slaughter, they'll have
the wherewithal to act.