A View from China – What’s a Dog’s Life Worth?

By on January 28, 2016

China is a country that has a mixture of tradition and modern culture, the fastest growing economy in the world for many years, and a population of 1.4 billion people.

Yet, the changing landscape and attitudes which come with supersonic growth have not changed how the country's own animals are treated by and large. In fact, the demand for resources have had a huge negative impact on the environment and the animals, and concerns only grow for the future.

A lack of laws and regulations to protect animals and prevent cruelty, results in increasing number of abandoned pets in Beijing and many other cities across China. More and more cases of animal abuse emerges on social media and this has only heightened illegal trade in dogs and cats for meat, skin and fur, says Grace Han of Together for Animals in China.

"Many of the dogs in our care were abandoned pets, some were rescued off the trucks destined for slaughter", says Xiaoli, animal shelter owner and TACN project coordinator in Beijing.


Caring for rescued dogs [source: TACN]

A recent survey report suggests there are approximately 150 million pet dogs in China, As is to be expected, people have various preferences for different dog breeds. This number takes up 61.74% of the total number of pets in Chinese cities, among which 19.13% are cats, 6.09% are turtles and the rest are rabbits, birds, rodents, fish and other exotic animals.


Pets and ownership survey report [source: chinabgao.com]

The report also shows that the Southern province, Guangdong, has the most pets, although it’s also one of the areas in China that has the highest consumptions of dogs, cats, exotic animals and wildlife. Other areas with high consumptions of dog meat including Yanji, Jilin, Xuzhou, Guizhou, Guangxi and many more.

Everyday, hundreds of trucks loaded with dogs and cats travel across China taking ‘supplies’ into these areas, some often travel thousands of miles with hundreds or even a thousand dogs onboard, all cramped in cages piled up on top of each other.


Dog meat trade truck [source: TACN]

In China, a dog’s value can be so dramatically different depending on how the dog is being viewed and by whom. A dog pampered and sold to breed enthusiasts, such as the magnificent Tibetan Mastiff 'Big Splash' can be worth up to 10million Yuan (£945,000 GBP). If they land into dog meat traffickers’ hands they would be skinned, slaughtered and sliced up then sold as raw dog meat for 8 Yuan a kilo (or as a cooked dish for up to 100 Yuan).


Dog meat menu vs the most expensive dog ever sold in China [source: TACN & The Dailymail]

Many of the dogs (and cats) destined for slaughter are strays, and many of which are former companion animals cruelly rejected and abandoned by their owners, there are also stolen pets snatched from their homes or during walks outside with owners nearby.

Even Tibetan Mastiffs are among the dogs heading for slaughter, some of which were sold to traffickers by breeders and some were stolen. Dog thieves operate all over China, their criminal act often caught by surveillance cameras and exposed on social media.


Dogs being snatched from a family’s backyard, the crime was captured by security camera ( Full video ) [source: Weibo]

Every year, millions of dogs (and cats) are slaughtered illegally for their meat, skin and fur. The majority of these animals carry infectious diseases, viruses and have severe physical injuries and infected wounds as a result of being abandoned and living on the streets before being captured, whether by force or poison.

Dog meat trade traffickers readily use deadly poisons on dogs by leaving poisonous food outside where stray, starving dogs or even in some cases, family pet dogs eat and die from. It’s also common for these dog traffickers to kill dogs using poisonous darts/needles/arrows.


Police intercepted crossbows and poisonous darts [source: cnhan.com]

With the growth of online social platforms, such as Weibo and WeChat, in recent years the dog meat trade and specific seasons or festivals, such as Yulin's festival, have however born a new generation both in China and overseas, who have been made aware of the horrific dog (and cat) meat trade and the cruelty involved in it and a change in the tide feels like it could be coming.

Some people choose to raise more awareness, others choose to take action. The 'Jingha highway rescue' is often referred to as a remark of the beginning of the animal rights movements in China, it has sparkled many more rescues in the past few years, including '803 Rescue', '811/812 Rescue', '823 Rescue', '928 Rescue' and many more rescues who formed last year to take a stand, raise a voice and make a change. This can only be a good thing for the future of China's animals.


15th April 2011 Jingha Highway Rescue [source: Baidu]

Rescuing animals from the dog (or cat) meat trade is only the first step in their journey to a new, free life. When a truck full of dogs (or cats) being rescued, it’s not the rescue itself that’s the hardest part, it is difficult and tough, but it’s the post-rescue care and follow-up work that require the most manpower, resource, effort and time.


Oscar and Cleo were among hundreds of dogs rescued during “803 Rescue” in Luanxian, near Beijing in August 2015 [source: TACN]

During '803 Rescue' TACN was involved in on-site support, arranged for over 50 weak and injured dogs left over on-site to be transferred into safe quarantine location, partnered up with other organisations to provide post-rescue care and follow-up support for these dogs along with many individual volunteers.


Oscar and Cleo at temporary holding site [source: TACN]

Oscar and Cleo were taken to hospital by Xiaoli, treated for injury and early stage distemper, they were then brought back to the shelter with Xiaoli for further recovery and rehabilitation.

With all the luck in the world and great effort made by all involved, Oscar is now living the life of his dream in Sweden with his newly found forever family and has made a good friend called Bosse.


Oscar at his home in Sweden and with his friend Bosse [source: TACN]

On the other hand, Cleo isn’t as lucky, although she has adapted and is enjoying her time at the shelter, she would love to find a home to call her own, and make a great compassion for a suitable family/owner.


Cleo is friendly, active and very clever, if you or anybody you know would like to offer Cleo a forever home, she would be over the moon! Visit TACN's facebook page to find out. [source: TACN]

Many dogs rescued from the dog meat trade were in fact former family pets, and once recovered from injury and disease they started to show signs of being family pets. Some of these dogs are not used to or cannot cope well with shelter environment, and it's important we find them new homes as quickly as we can.

Almost every shelter in China is occupied to its full capacity, many of which are actually over crowded at two/three times over capacity and don’t have sufficient means to provide for all the animals, nor to maintain the level of welfare, not only for the animals, but also for the people who care for them.

When hundreds of dogs are rescued from the trucks, it requires a huge amount of funding to cover their daily essentials and treatments and much more to ensure their welfare and a positive future.

A dog might be sold for couple of hundred Yuan as meat, but for each dog rescued, the post-rescue care, treatment and follow-up work would cost thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, not mentioning the time and effort required from the people who take care of the dog.

One of the biggest challenges faced by animal shelters in China is the costs involved of caring for the animals when they come into care. With more dogs being rescued before being captured as a result of the increasing stray population, shelters easily become more overcrowded with poor animal welfare. To make the circumstance worse, many shelter owner, staff and volunteers are well meaning but do not know how to properly care for animals. They lack of understanding of animal welfare standard and have not received any formal training prior to running a shelter.

The only proven sustainable way to control populations of stray and shelter dogs is mass sterilisation of the animals, coupled with training and educational programmes to teach the general public, shelter owner, staff and volunteers how to properly care for animals.

Sadly, at this moment in time many shelters simply cannot afford to implement this and do not receive any funding from the authorities. More often than not in countries that have significant stray dog populations, it is left to NGOs (non government officials) to assume responsibility for addressing the problem.


Overcrowded shelter is common in China [source: a shelter in Wuhan]

Governments will too frequently complain of a lack of resources. In China’s case, a lack of animal protection law and prevention of cruelty to animals regulations have a big negative impact of the circumstance.

Knowing, seeing and experiencing the struggles animals and shelters are facing in China, I came together with Lucy and Xiaoli forming the grassroots non-profit organisation "Together for Animals in China (TACN)" in 2013, sharing a similar vision for improving the quality of life of animals in China.

We started by offering help and support to dog meat trade rescues, animal shelters and stray catchers, while improving the standard of the shelter established by Xiaoli since 2009. All expenses are paid out of our own pockets.

Alongside Lucy, I have also attended various animal welfare training and showcase events in the UK and the USA to learn from the world's leading animal welfare organisations, shelters and stray catchers to widen our horizon, knowledge and skills.

We spend weeks even months turning these invaluable resources into Chinese and pass them onto those in desperate needs in China by setting up annual animal welfare training programme and creating an online knowledge bank while coordinating with Xiaoli to carry out spay/neuter programme, front-line rescue, shelter and animal care works in Beijing.


1st Animal Welfare Training on 27th-28th Dec 2014 [source: TACN]

A young grassroots organisation like TACN is made possible thanks to the Internet and digital means of communication, with co-founders and many volunteers scattered all over the world, being a bridge between the advanced Western animal welfare community and the grassroots in China became an advantage which has shortened the learning curve and provided a shortcut for those desperate for knowledge and guidance.

We know changes must happen from within in China. There are thousands of grassroots animal rescue communities, shelters and volunteer groups across the country and each forms a community of their own, but only when they have the direction, guidance and knowledge can they truly help the animals in their care. Furthermore, they’ll be able to teach others and help improve the quality of life of animals in China for years to come.


2nd Animal Welfare Training on 26th Dec 2015 [source: TACN]

TACN currently employs one full-time shelter staff, has about 5 core voluntary team member and 10+ volunteers working on various core projects and programmes. The shelter in Beijing has a capacity of 40 dogs and 10 cats, currently housing 44 dogs and 6 cats including those saved from the dog and cat meat trade. All these dogs and cats need a loving, forever home. Besides rehoming, TACN mainly focus on spay/neuter programme, animal welfare training, stray animal welfare and public education programmes.

Launched in July 2014, TACN’s 'SNAP' programme (spay/neuter and microchipping) has helped over 60 animal shelters and rescuers in Beijing spay/neuter and microchip over 500 dogs, many of which are saved from the dog meat trade. TACN has also provided vaccination, dog food and welfare support to other shelters that took in dogs saved from the dog meat trade.


Veterinarians provide vaccination and microchipping service at shelter in Beijing, which house dogs rescued from the dog meat trade during “811/812 Rescue” in 2014 [source: TACN]

Spayed/neutered and microchipped dogs return to the shelter caring for them after surgery and three days hospital care. Once they have recovered back at the shelter they become more adoptable and make it much easier for the shelter staff/volunteer to promote them, therefore helping to reduce the number of dogs within the shelter.

“Very grateful for the SNAP programme, really helping us rescuers” says Ms Shen, who owns a shelter with just over a hundred dogs, half of which have benefited from TACN’s “SNAP” programme.

TACN currently partnered up with six animal clinics in Beijing for the spay/neuter and microchipping programme, all clinics have received practical animal welfare and flank spay training prior to participating in the programme.

“We want the stray dogs to receive the same welfare and service when they get spayed or neutered, so we request our partner clinics to receive training and work to international standard.” says Xiaoli.


TACN partner clinics received training in 2014 [source: TACN]

We take animal welfare seriously, especially in China, setting an example is important, so other rescuers and shelters have something to follow like a guideline, even though they learn one little bit at a time, it’s still improvement and the animals would benefit from that..

Most of the grassroots groups do not have the chance to visit advanced shelters and animal welfare facilities in the West, so we want to bring these to them, give them guidance and hope, show them what is achievable, because China is catching up fast, it’s only a matter of time for the circumstance to improve for animals and these grassroots shelters.


Animal shelter with most dogs saved from the dog meat trade, run by Mr Zhao and his wife in Gu’an, Beijing [source: TACN]

For shelter animals, the aim is not keeping them in the shelter but helping them find forever homes, so a shelter can sustain itself and help more animals. Since establishment in 2013, TACN has re-homed 25 animals, many of which including those saved from the dog and cat meat trade have found forever homes outside of China.

"With animals in our care, our ultimate aim is to give them a life worth living, that is to find loving and forever homes for them. From the moment an animal is discovered, rescued, treated, rehabilitated until the animals is successfully re-homed could take months sometimes years.” says Xiaoli, “I have rescued most of the animals in my shelter, they’re like my own kids and I care for them a lot. I want them to be with me forever, but I know they need the love, care and attention a home offers, especially after what they’ve been through, they deserve all the love and care they can get, some of them have never known love until they came here, and that breaks my heart."

One example is “Wang Wang (Hope)”, a female aged around one year, who was found by Xiaoli in November 2012. Alongside from being skin and bones, she was crawling on the rough dusty ground dragging both hind legs covered with blood. It was suggested that the injury was either caused by a car accident or deliberately inflicted, as she was paralysed from waist down.


Wang Wang (Hope) when found by Xiaoli [source: TACN]

X-ray revealed that Wang Wang’s spine has broken in pieces, further examination by the vet suggested her injury was deliberately inflicted. Wounds on her paralysed paws were cleaned and bandaged to prevent infection.


Wang Wang after treatment [source: TACN]

With the help of the donations, Xiaoli was able to get Wang Wang’s injuries treated. She underwent surgery and a titanium rod was placed into her spine to stabilize the fractures. Unfortunately, however, she will be permanently paralysed and never again able to use the rear portion of her body.

Despite the terrible misfortune and injustice of Wang Wang’s injuries, she is now living a life with more love and comfort than she had ever previously known. She currently lives in Xiaoli’s home with other rescued disabled animals.


Wang Wang get to go outside in a pram [source: TACN]

With help from newly found international support, Wang Wang has received a gift for comfort, a wheelchair that’s quality and comfortable, so she can move about and interact with her furry friends. Thanks to Walkin’ Wheels, handicapped animals like WangWang can regain a healthy and happy life without anything dragging them down! Their generosity and love makes it possible for rescued shelter animals like WangWang to own a such quality, comfortable wheel chair.


Wang Wang in her wheelchair [source: TACN]

There are many more dogs like Wang Wang, unfortunately not many of them are as lucky. For those disabled strays life is extremely tough, they’re easy target for abusers and dog meat traffickers. But there are still hope, as many of these disabled strays get picked up by rescuers who would provide them a safe place to live away from danger.

Besides disabled and weak dogs, puppies are also vulnerable and often targeted for dog meat. In 2014, TACN has rescued two puppies locked up and destined to be eaten.


Puppies when they were found [source: TACN]

Since rescued, the two puppies settled in at TACN’s shelter and started their new life, named Teddy and Bear.


Teddy and Bear at TACN shelter [source: TACN]

Teddy and Bear’s ultimate luck soon came, as they have attracted attention from animal lovers across the ocean, now they are happily living at their forever homes in the USA.


Teddy and Bear at the airport in Beijing [source: TACN]

Determined to shrink the dog meat market, TACN has launched the “Report Dog Meat Restaurant” project. By educating the general public, using existing laws and regulations of food safety, the project aims to encourage the public to report any restaurant that produces and sells dog meat (and any illegally processed meat).

Since launch in January 2014, the project has achieved its early stage success, 93 restaurants were reported and shutdown in Beijing, 60 restaurants were reported and shutdown in other cities across China.


A reported dog meat restaurant in Beijing [source: TACN]

This project is currently on-going and has 30 volunteers signed up actively reporting more dog meat restaurants across China. An English version of how to report can be found on TACN website: tacn.org/campaign

Tackling the dog (and cat) meat trade in China is not easy and will take time, but with more awareness, education and strategically planned projects there is hope. TACN’s mission to stop the trade therefore continues. Everyday on Chinese social media platforms seeing more dog meat restaurants being exposed and reported by people in different cities.


Weibo screenshot of dog meat restaurant being reported [source: Weibo]

The most recent rescue carried out by TACN has saved seven dogs from the dog meat trade, including five adult females and two male puppies. The trader threaten to skin them on-site and sell their meat and fur.


“930 Rescue” dogs locked up and destined to be slaughtered on-site [source: TACN]

These rescued dogs currently live at TACN shelter in Beijing and most of them are suitable for adoption. Their names are: Darcy, Honey, Mary, Mocha, Lady, Sunny and Victor.


“930 Rescue” survivor Honey awaiting her forever home [source: TACN]

TACN is also working with many expats who are volunteering to help animals in China, members from IPSU (International Pet Support Union) are currently helping out with shelter and animal care and re-homing of the animals. Thanks to people like Xiaoli and many of those working tirelessly on the front-line in China towards better life for the animals, we can see hope and really notice the change that’s arising from the horizon.

About the Author

To hear more about the work and help TACN continue to improve the welfare of animals in China, please go to www.tacn.org where you can find out more about dogs in their care looking for new homes. You can also read more about their campaigns and how you can help to spread the word and create a better future for China's animals.

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