A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Dog Rescue Leaves Beijing Barking Mad

Animal protection a growing issue in China

Dogs rescued on their way to being sold at meat markets

By Seamus McAfee

In Beijing, China, a city of colliding cultures, residents have come to expect just about anything. But even a local man was shocked when he came across a truck packed with dogs on their way to the meat market, leading him to spark a movement that would spur animal advocates into action and touch off numerous debates on the state of animal welfare in China.

After a passing motorist discovered hundreds of dogs in a truck on a busy highway, he posted an appeal online, with photos and news of the animals’ plight. Within moments, 200 people had answered the call, blocking the truck at a toll booth. In a tense 15-hour standoff, the two opposing groups managed to negotiate the dogs’ release for $17,000, donated by a pet food company and an animal protection group.

Sixty-eight of the dogs, suffering from dehydration, viral infections and more, were taken to an animal hospital, where more volunteers helped with their care. Not all the dogs survived, and the volunteers were saddled with bills yet to be paid. While animal protection groups cautiously celebrated the bittersweet ending, others criticized their actions, calling them illegal and placing animals’ lives above those of humans. The driver, painted as a villain in the incident, complained he lost thousands on the deal and is unable to find another job. The activists who forced him out, he said, were just “rich bullies who own pets and have nothing better to do.” One man even took to the Internet threatening to kill a dog every day until activists donated the money they’d raised to the poor.

The dogs’ rescue has inspired countless arguments on who was in the right or wrong. Regardless, it has called further attention to the issue and forced people on both sides to give more thought to animal rights in a country unaccustomed to seeing animals as anything but food. Traditionally, pets have been too expensive for most Chinese and were denounced as capitalist by the ruling Communist Party. Dogs weren’t given a special status and were often eaten along with cows, chickens and pigs. To this day, dog meat is valued by many Chinese for its unique taste and is even believed to keep you warm in cold weather.

However, as China has grown in wealth, many of its more fortunate citizens have been able to afford dogs as pets. In the process, they’ve gained feelings for their furry friends and an increasing bitterness toward Chinese who still eat dog meat. Recent years have seen a growing crowd of animal protection groups in China targeting the mass killings of dogs and cats and the use of bear farms, where bears are kept immobile in cages and so their bile can be harvested for “traditional” Chinese medicine.

There have been some signs of progress. The country is on the verge of signing its first ever animal welfare law, which could make the slaughter of dogs illegal. However, animal lovers have been met with plenty of resistance, including a new law in Shanghai which established a limit of one dog per family.

The dogs’ rescue has also highlighted the effective use of the Internet among Chinese activists. The social networking tools that helped protesters in the Middle East topple their oppressive governments could also threaten Chinese authorities’ grip on power. The Communist Party realizes this, and has frequently limited the average Chinese citizen’s access to the Internet, furthering angering people who are already upset by the government’s human rights record.

In the eyes of many Chinese citizens, the call for animal rights is of little importance in light of the ongoing struggle for democracy. But people who helped in rescuing the dogs, such as Wang Qi of China Small Animal Protection Association (photo right), say animal welfare could, in fact, be a stepping stone toward improving conditions for humans in China.

“People are saying it’s a silly thing protecting animals,” said Wang. “But it is a question of civilization. By teaching people in this country to love little animals, maybe we can help them to love their fellow human beings better.”

What do you say? Have you connected to any Chinese or other Asian animal protection groups online? Let us know in a comment or on Facebook.

What you can do: You can visit the donation page of the China Small Animal Protection Association or Humane Society International’sStreet Dog Defender program, which is helping to cover the cost of the dogs rescued.