[Taken from http://www.cinaoggi.it/images/stories/attualita/2011/aprile/16/cani-liberazione-000.jpg]

Packed into crates that were shoved into a truck and with barely enough room to move, 520 dogs were headed for restaurants in northeastern China where they were set to be slaughtered for food. However, in a strange twist of fate, animal lover who happened to drive pass managed to force the truck off the road.

What transpired thereafter was that the animal lover, who was on his way to a resort-hotel with his girlfriend, confronted the truck driver. Soon after, news of this went viral and more than 200 animal activists immediately headed to the scene, where they paid off the driver with S$21,000 to leave behind the dogs. Their victory was short-lived as they realized that they had nowhere to house the dogs.

Despite assistance from the various shelters in the region, these activists were faced with the problem of sick, dehydrated or malnourished dogs. Although they were promptly sent to animal hospitals around Beijing, some have already perished. With too many dogs and too little resources, hospital bills for these dogs also pose a major problem.

Although the majority of these 520 dogs have been saved from the dinner table, another issue has surfaced: that of China’s changing perspectives and culture. For hundreds of years, the Chinese have been eating dog meat as it has been said to have a unique flavour, and that it can keep you warm, especially during the winter. But now, eating dog meat has become a social issue, as pet ownership has increased dramatically in recent years. With increasing affluence, more Chinese now have the time and money to keep pets. This gives animal activists leverage in a country that once considered the consumption of dog meat a norm.

Yet the other side of the story is that those who empathize with the truck driver, who has complained that he has not had any delivery requests ever since the incident occurred, are furious that this has happened. The issue here, it seems, lies not with the rescue of the 520 dogs destined for the slaughterhouse, nor the quarrel between animal lovers and non-animal lovers. What is at stake, it seems, is the issue of class disparity in China, where there is a widening disparity between the rich and the poor. There is also some historical background to this—during the Cultural Revolution, only the rich and arrogant had dogs and they allowed their dogs to bite the poor. In today’s social context, this implies that those who treat pets well are likely to treat those who are weaker badly.

One man has gone to the extreme of issuing a threat online to kill a dog a day until activists donate the money they intended for the dogs, to impoverished Chinese. He defended himself, arguing that there are too many poor Chinese, and more should be done to help humans instead of animals. His online threat sparked a deluge of response from the online community, with hundreds of threats targeted at him and his parents. Yet he does not see the point of helping the dogs; he saw them as a source of food and protection, not as creatures to be loved and cared for. An estimated 10 million dogs are consumed annually in China; these dogs, either strays or stolen from their owners, are often kept in appalling living conditions.

Instead of stereotyping based on social statuses, perhaps we should, like Mr Wang Qi, a worker at the China Small Animal Protection Association, view this situation as a civilizing act. “By teaching people in [China] to love little animals, maybe we can help them to love their fellow human beings better,” he said.

Since China does not have laws against animal cruelty, it is heartening to know that increasing numbers of activists are standing up for animals, especially dogs. In a country that has a long tradition of consuming dog meat, it seems inevitable that the dramatic events that occurred along the highway has caused a rift between animal lovers and those who view dogs as animals to be consumed for food. But at the end of the exhausting fight for animal rights, animal lovers can give themselves a pat on the back for giving a voice to the voiceless.


Source: “Pet cause raises hackles” from The Straits Times 31 May 2011