New lives: Lawyers help rescue dogs from meat trade in China


Photo courtesy of animal rescuers in China and dog ‘guardians’ in the US

By Daina Bray and  Joan Schaffner
Thanks to a group of animal lawyers working together through the American Bar Association (ABA), Ellie, Happy, Dashu and Xiaoshu—four dogs rescued from the meat trade in China—are all enjoying new lives with families in the US. These special dogs are helping to bring much-needed awareness to the dog meat trade and also give us all reason to consider our own eating habits.

It is estimated that ten million dogs are slaughtered in China every year for the dog meat trade. While those numbers are immense—with China accounting for between one third and one half of all dogs slaughtered for human consumption in Asia—consumption of dogs is not a common or widespread practice across China. According to a survey conducted by the Beijing Capital Animal Welfare Association in collaboration with Humane Society International, only about twenty percent of Chinese people say they have ever eaten dog meat, while almost seventy percent have never tried it. Even among the twenty percent who have eaten dog meat, a majority of them say that this was only once or twice in their life.

The trade is limited in geographic scope, with about eighty percent of the trade occurring in South China, Central China and Northeast China.

Rather than being raised for the trade as is common in other Asian countries, most of the dogs killed for meat in China are stray animals or stolen family pets. Conditions during transport and at the meat markets where they are slaughtered are notoriously cruel.

Dogs can be transported in crowded, inhumane conditions for days by truck and then ultimately butchered in front of other dogs and in public spaces in markets and residential areas, where even young children can witness the violence. The Yulin Dog Meat Festival in Guangxi Province, which was founded by dog meat traders ten years ago, has become synonymous with the cruelty of the trade and has attracted international condemnation. As many as 10,000 dogs have been slaughtered during the festival each year.

Activists both inside and outside of China are working to end the trade. While the consumption of dogs for food is not illegal in China, illegality is rampant in the industry, leaving it susceptible to legal challenge under existing laws. Relevant laws include those that prohibit the stealing of pets, as well as sanitation, health and transport rules.

Lawyer members of the two ABA Animal Law Committees (the International Animal Law Committee within the ABA International Animal Law Section and the Animal Law Committee within the ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section) recently worked with Peter Li, China Policy Specialist with Humane Society International, to rescue several dogs from the trade, bringing them to the U.S. to start new lives and to raise awareness.

Ellie and the sisters Dashu and Xiaoshu share a similar story: they were orphaned in Beijing when their mothers were stolen by dog meat traders. Happy’s story is even more dramatic: her throat was slit by a dog butcher. She managed to escape and find her way into the arms of a kind rescuer, who cared for her while she recovered.

Ellie arrived in Chicago in June 2018. While the initial plan was that she would travel on for placement in Colorado, a family in Chicago fell in love with her and she is now happily settled in with her dog sibling Tuff.

Dashu and Xiaoshu arrived in their forever home in upstate New York in September 2018. Their adopters are retired and love these two little sisters, who enjoy their fenced back yard and playing with their cat sibling Runt.

Happy arrived in Colorado in September 2018 and was adopted by the veterinarian who spayed her. Happy’s beautiful coat has grown in even thicker for the Colorado winter and she loves spending time with her three young human sisters, including walking them to the bus stop every day.

All of the dogs struggle with fear arising from their past traumas, and some have had a hard time with men or strangers. Their adopters have been endlessly kind and patient with them, using positive reinforcement to show these special dogs that they are now safe and loved.

Many thanks go to these amazing adopters, the donors who contributed to the cost of transporting these dogs, and to Marcy Stras (Chair of the International Animal Law Committee), who conceived of and worked on this project from start to finish. Also thanks to the U.S. rescue groups who helped receive and place them, including the San Francisco SPCA, PawsCo in Colorado, and Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Virginia.

Finally, we want to recognize the amazing rescuers in China who saved these dogs: Professor Jin in Zhijang in Southeast China, who rescued Happy, and Du Te of Beijing’s August 21 Rescue Center, which rescued the other three. These brave rescuers stand at the forefront of the fight against cruelty every day.

In light of the role that dogs play in American culture and families, many Americans are shocked by the consumption of dogs for food. But the inhumane treatment inherent in intensive farming practices used for chickens, pigs, cows and other animals in the U.S. is well documented.

A recent opinion piece in The Guardian asks us all to look in the mirror: “Yes, dogs are smart and friendly – but so are pigs. Researchers from Cambridge University found pigs are as smart as three-year-old humans. They can play computer games and recognize people they met several years ago. They develop trust and empathy like we, and dogs, do…. Just as westerners get angry about people in Asia eating dogs and cats, many Indians get outraged by westerners eating cows. People shake their heads in disbelief at guinea pigs and alpacas being served up in South America. But ultimately, what’s the moral difference in any of it?”


A Stanford Law School alumna, Daina Bray is the General Counsel of Mercy For Animals and previously served as General Counsel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Immediate Past Chair of the ABA TIPS Animal Law Committee.
Joan Schaffner is a law professor at the George Washington University Law School.  She is a past chair of the ABA TIPS Animal Law Committee and the 2013 recipient of the ABA TIPS Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Awar
Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2019 State Bar of Michigan Animal Section Newsletter.


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