They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in the case of dog or cat photos, they can spark the deepest emotions whether you're a pet owner or not.
Often we'll receive stories about animal welfare issues which we read through and think 'will someone connect with this story with words alone?'. Sometimes stories are so heart-wrenching that you want everyone who reads it to connect because it's through connecting that they'll take action, sign a petition or join a protest and do something that will change an animal's life.
You want them to see what you see and feel what you feel, and sometimes the best way to connect the message is with a picture.
As we approach South Korea's 'Bok Nal' month long dog meat eating ritual, we wanted to bring you the story of a dog who was saved from this fate last year.
In 2015, the Humane Society International (HSI) team visited a Yulin slaughterhouse as part of an undercover operation. A rescue wasn't planned for that day but something happened which changed their plans and it's where one dog's journey from Yulin to Washington began.
Wendy Higgins from HSI said, “Typically we go to Yulin a month or a couple of weeks before the festival starts to initiate rescues which is what led to us visiting a Yulin slaughterhouse. Most animal groups try to avoid rescuing during the core festival days because this can so easily, and unintentionally, stimulate trade and encourage more dog thieves to supply even more dogs."
She continued, "And so on the day we visited a slaughterhouse in Yulin, we weren't actually at that time planning a rescue, so when the unexpected opportunity came about to take a small number of animals away with us, we made the very hard decision to do so as quickly as possible and leave before the slaughterman changed his mind.
It was a hard decision because choosing which animals you'll save is utterly heart-breaking. We normally plan a rescue where we empty the whole slaughterhouse and leave no-one behind, but this was a very unusual case and we had a few minutes to choose some or walk away empty handed.
We chose two cats and two dogs. We named the black and white dog little Ricky in honour of our star supporter Ricky Gervais who is a great advocate for animals, and the little brown dog we called Tom. Whereas Ricky was a little fighter and bounced back once he was in our care in China, little Tom was really traumatised by the whole ordeal, and he was sickly too. Despite our best efforts he just never recovered, his little body had suffered the shock of the brutal trade and he never turned the corner sadly. He passed away, but it was comforting to know that his last couple of weeks were spent knowing love and kindness and peace. Both of the cats we had rescued did very well, and together with Ricky they all came to Washington DC for adoption."
Wendy concluded, "Alongside Ricky, one of the cats, now named Huru, has also become quite famous as a Yulin ambassador, and they all settled well in their new homes.”
After arriving in Washington, Ricky's safe and secure future was found with his new owner, Chauntell Hawkins. We spoke with her to find out more about Ricky's new found role in the hub of US politics in Washington D.C.
Chauntell, thanks so much for sharing more about Ricky today. Tell us a little about how you came to own Ricky.
We previously had a dog that was terminally ill that had passed away and we had made the decision to get another dog. We saw Little Ricky featured in a news story about how he was rescued from the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. We learned that he was up for adoption at the Humane Society in our area.
You've owned Ricky for some time now, but remembering the early days, how did he settle in after arriving with you?
Ricky’s been with us for a year now. He settled in right away making a surprisingly easy transition to our home.
Were there visible signs of his past?
There were and still are visible signs of this past. The most notable signs of his past experience in Yulin are his reactivity toward other dogs and his low level of trust of humans. A trainer at the Humane Society said that his reactivity toward other dogs maybe the result of being packed in tight quarters with other dogs nipping at each other. His low level of trust toward humans could be the result of how he was captured and the manner in which he was handled.
Not only is Ricky named after British comedian Ricky Gervais, but like his namesake he has a high profile helping to spread the word about Yulin. How has he coped with fame?
Ricky copes with the additional attention well when there is a toy and treats involved.
We learned this when we were invited to Capitol Hill to Representative Alcee Hastings office of Florida. The Humane Society International asked that Rick be present at a press conference as Representative Hastings was preparing a letter to denounce the Yulin Dog Meat Festival to be delivered to the Ambassador of China. Representative Hastings gave Rick a ball and treats that day. He still has the ball.
That's quite the adventure! Have there been any funny moments while meeting anyone famous you can share stories about?
The only person that Ricky’s met of notary was Representative Hastings. Ricky’s most distinct characteristic is his ears. They are large like a bat’s ears and are usually up and at full attention (laughs).
When we were at Representative Hastings office Rick was off leash just wandering around the office during the press conference. Then the photographers wanted a picture with Rick, me and Representative Hastings seated on a couch in his office. When I picked Rick up to put him on my lap the ears that he so regally displays at full attention went down flat, that’s what we call 'Flat head', that’s Rick’s way of letting us know that he wanted no part in having these paparazzi taking his picture.
What are your hopes for the future for Ricky and other Yulin survivors (and those waiting to be saved)?
My hope is that Rick and other rescued dogs from Yulin will live such wonderful lives from here on to erase the past of the frightening ordeal they have experienced.
Finally, we'd like to have a bit of fun with you and Ricky.
Finish the following sentence: my dog is...spoiled. He is an attention hog that likes being stroked and looks for gifts whenever we return from an outing. He specifically loves squeaky toys of which he has many.
If Rick had a motto in life, what do you think it would be?
I think Rick’s motto would be 'Living like a Renegade'. He is full of so much gusto for life. I guess I would too if I were him.
Many thanks to Chauntell and HSI for sharing Ricky's story.
The fight to bring Asia's dog meat trade to an end goes on and more dogs, like Ricky, are relying on our voices and actions to save them. Keep up to date with the efforts of HSI online at www.hsi.org.