149 dogs saved from meat market
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2009:
CHENGDU–The last day of 2008 brought the first known mass
seizure of dogs from meat traders in mainland China in almost 70
years. “The 149 dogs were confiscated from the trading station in
Pengzhou, 30 kilometres north of Chengdu, by the local Animal
Husbandry Bureau, after it discovered that the trader was operating
without a licence,” announced the Animals Asia Foundation.
“The officials were notified of the situation by Qiao Wei,
operator of the Qiming Rescue Centre in Chengdu, who had received a
tip-off about the dogs,” the Animals Asia Foundation release
Best known for operating the China Bear Rescue Center near
Chengdu, “Animals Asia recently built the spacious quarantine area
at the Qiming Rescue Centre to shelter dogs rescued from the May 2008
Sichuan earthquake,” the release explained.
“Most of those dogs have been adopted or reclaimed by their
families,” said Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson, “so
we have room to house these new dogs while they recover and await
adoption. The dogs were in an appalling condition, many of them
very thin and clearly in shock,” Robinson told media. “I hate to
think how long they had been in those cages, many of them packed in
so tightly that they were piled on top of each other.”
Photos showed that many of the dogs wore collars and were
possibly stolen pets, but others appeared to be street dogs.
Robinson asked families in Pengzhou whose dogs were missing
to contact the Qiming rescue centre.
The dog rescue followed a string of other incidents in which
Chinese law enforcement and state-controlled news media either
encouraged opponents of dog and cat eating or conspicuously did not
interfere with rescues and protests.
Among the most publicized was a December 18, 2008 rally by
about 40 people outside the Guangdong government’s Beijing delegation
office. Said rally leader Wang Hongyao, “We are very angry because
the cats are being skinned and then cooked alive. We must make them
correct this uncivilized behavior.”
“The protest was apparently in response to Chinese media
reports that carried pictures of furry felines peering out through
bamboo crates and metal cages, apparently en route to Guangzhou,
Guang-dong’s capital,” reported Gillian Wong of Associated Press.
“Other pictures showed cats being skinned in restaurant kitchens.”
Elaborated William Fore-man of Associated Press, “The
Southern Metropolis Daily–a Guangdong paper famous for exposes and
aggressive reporting–ran a story that said about 1,000 cats were
transported by train from Nanjing to Guangdong each day. Some people
in Nanjing spend their days ‘fishing for cats,’ often stealing pets,
the report said.”
In Guangzhau, the Guang-dong capital, animal advocates held
protests similar to the one in Beijing at the central train station,
and stormed trains trying to rescue cats.
Their efforts inspired Barbara Demick, Eliot Gao, and
Nicole Liu of the Los Angeles Times’ Beijing bureau to investigate
the cat meat trade by purchasing a cat at a Guangzhau market. They
then released the cat at “A row of apartment houses next to an empty
lot,” where a women told them mice were plentiful. “Her accent
indicated that she came from northern China, and many of the people
around the neighborhood were migrant workers from outside Guangdong.
They don’t eat cats. We can only hope for the best,” Demick wrote.
Previous Chinese actions of note on behalf of cats included
the September 2006 storming of a cat meat restaurant in Shenzhen by
about 50 activists; a rescue of about 415 cats by more than 100
activists who stormed a cat meat market in February 2007; and an
August 2008 episode in which six members of the Shanghai Animal
Protection Associ-ation caught up with a convoy of trucks hauling
1,500 cats to Guang-dong at Jiaxing, near Shanghai. A 15-hour
standoff followed. Police eventually allowed the truckers to leave
with about 700 cats, wrote Fei Lei of the Shanghai Daily, but only
after their condition was extensively exposed by news media and about
800 cats were allowed to escape when activists broke cages.
The Shanghai SPCA in September 1939 won convictions of two
men for misrepresenting dog meat as rabbit–a time when eating dogs
and cats appears to have been much less accepted in China and in
nearby nations than in recent times.
The Italian explorer Marco Polo noted with disgust that dogs
and cats were eaten in Guangdong circa 1350, but five pre-World War
II humane societies serving other parts of China and Korea seldom
mentioned either dog eating or cat eating occurring in their regions
in their reports to U.S. donors.
Trying to abolish dog eating was, however, a focal concern
of the Philippine SPCA from 1902 on. Closed by World War II, the
Philippine SPCA and the Hong Kong SPCA reopened almost a decade after
the fighting stopped. Wartime meat shortages had encouraged dog
eating in both the Philippines and Hong Kong.
The Philippine Animal Welfare Society, founded in 1954,
rallied international support that in 1996 helped to win passage of a
law against killing dogs for human consumption. The Philippine SPCA
remains active on the issue, housing 70 dogs who were seized from a
dog meat trader by the Quezon City police anti-car theft unit on
December 4, 2008, in response to a tip from the Network for
The Hong Kong SPCA won a ban on killing or selling dogs for
human consumption more than 40 years ago, but efforts to fully
suppress dog eating in Hong Kong continue. The first jail sentence
for killing dogs in order to eat them was issued in June 2007. In
October 2008 the Hong Kong SPCA followed members of the Animal Life
Guard Action Group of Hong Kong to the site of a suspected dog
slaughterhouse. “About 20 group members found choppers, meat
knives, air pistol pellets, animal traps, hooks, a wok and bones
around the house,” wrote Colleen Lee of the South China Morning Post.
For more than 40 years after the war closed the Seoul and
Chosen SPCAs there was no humane society in Korea.
For more than 50 years, until the Animals Asia Foundation
began rescuing bears from bile farms in southern China, there were
no humane societies in China between Hong Kong and Beijing.
Eating cats appears to have boomed in Guangdong in the
interim, stimulated by rising affluence resulting from proximity to
Hong Kong. Also within the past 20 years eating cats began to be
reported in South Korea.
Eating dogs appears to have spread up the Chinese coast and
into both North and South Korea after World War II, and to have
spread south with Chinese military influence during the 1960s and
1970s in Vietnam and Laos.
In parts of Southeast Asia that remain staunchly Buddhist,
including the former South Vietnam, dog-eating is much less
The traffic in dogs and cats for meat has been economically
boosted since the mid-1990s by the sale of items made in China with
dog and cat fur to mostly unawares buyers in the west. Effective on
January 1, 2009 the 27-nation European Union followed the U.S. and
Australia in prohibiting dog and cat fur imports, leaving Russia as
the largest remaining buyer.
“I urge the Chinese authorities to ban this trade and in
particular to close down the export of cat and dog skins to Russia,”
said Struan Stevenson, the Scottish member of the European
Parliament who authored the EU ban.
As with the U.S. and Australian legislation, the EU law may
prove hard to enforce, since dog and cat fur is typically used in
small amounts, on mislabeled items.
But the Chinese government tolerance of protests against
eating dogs and cats may signify that Beijing increasingly recognizes
the value of pets in an era of obligatory one-child families, and
may see the dog and cat meat and fur industries as more trouble than
they are worth.
Recurring rabies outbreaks in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hubei,
Hunan and Yunan provinces kill more than 3,000 people per year. The
outbreaks are officially blamed on pet-keepers failing to vaccinate,
but these are the provinces in which dogs are most often eaten and
farmed, factory-style, for human consumption. “Meat dogs” are not
Responding to a July 2008 rabies outbreak in Yunnan,
officials vaccinated 84,000 pet dogs and killed 11,500 during the
next three months, said the Beijing News. Those who were killed
included street dogs, strays, and any dogs believed have been
exposed to rabies.