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The dogs at Maoshan Animal Market huddle as one at the back of their enclosures. In one filthy cage, more than 100 crush together in wretchedness. It's a humid spring morning, not cold, but many are shivering. It's a different kind of warmth they are seeking. One by one, these trembling animals will be dragged out and slowly bludgeoned to death, while their terrified pack mates look on, cowering and whimpering, wondering which one will be next.
The market, on the outskirts of China's bustling southern city of Guangzhou, supplies the surrounding restaurants with dog meat, a specialty dish favoured by well off provincials.
The locals believe the meat will taste better if, at the moment of death, the dogs are panic- stricken, electric with adrenalin. So their death comes slowly. First a heavy blow to the snout with a rough-hewn truncheon resembling a baseball bat, then the dogs are left to absorb their pain for a minute or so, their cries curdling the blood of the other dogs in line. Often they stagger up to their tormentors, tails feebly wagging, in the hope of a reprieve. But there's no mercy here. The beating continues at a torturous pace until the dogs, in and out of consciousness, finally succumb to the blows.
One by one, these trembling animals will be dragged out and slowly bludgeoned to death, while their terrified pack-mates look on, cowering and whimpering, wondering which one will be next.
Animals Asia Foundation, founder and CEO Jill Robinson says millions of dogs are brutally slaughtered in China each year and most of them are deliberately tortured. Other killing methods include electrocution and hanging. Some are boiled alive.
'It's absolutely heartbreaking. Before they arrive at the markets, these dogs often spend three or four days on the back of trucks, crammed together in tiny cages. They get nothing to eat and they don't even have access to water. If they're lucky, they'll be hosed down just to keep them alive.'
Sadly, this is just one of the injustices suffered by dogs in China.
Pedigrees are routinely tossed out of middle-class homes as new breeds become fashionable. Starving strays are common on the streets and the authorities have no interest in humane euthanasia.
Culling days are routine in southern provinces, when bands of municipal workers take to the streets to bludgeon dogs to death, both strays and pets, sometimes in full view of their horrified owners.
Robinson, a Briton, who has been awarded an MBE for her work in promoting animal welfare, says that while there is a long way to go, the concept of animal welfare is gradually seeping into the Chinese psyche. 'I feel the momentum for change is building. And the great thing is that it is coming from within China.' AAF has launched a China-wide campaign called Friends %u2026 or Food?' to tackle the mammoth problems of cruelty and neglect and, specifically, to end dog and cat eating.
Cat and dog eating capital
Robinson has reason to be optimistic. Her group recently hosted the 1st China Companion Animal Symposium in Guangzhou ' the dog and cat eating capital of China 32 animal welfare groups, representing about 250,000 people from around China, voted unanimously to push for a ban on the consumption of dogs and cats. 'Imagine this forum happening 10 or even five years ago, it simply wouldn't have been possible,%' she says.
The most obvious hurdle facing animal activists is the dearth of legal protection for companion animals in China. There simply is none. Professor Song Wei, a lecturer in law at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, Anhui province, says the country's legal structure is so complex and so vast that the most effective way to tackle the problem is to amend existing legislation at the local level. Such laws currently focus on controlling animals and limiting their numbers, but ignore welfare issues.
'Along with legislation, we also need to see a shift in attitudes, and a change in our culture. We must combine a loving heart with the law,'Prof Song said, adding that such a shift had already started. 'There has been much progress even in the past five years. Abuse cases today always spark huge public outrage. There is much more awareness of animal welfare.'
A new generation of Chinese is leading the charge says young and urbane Li Yunjun. He started Private Pet Home in Panyu, just south of Guangzhou three years ago. Li's organisation rescues and homes strays, but focuses on education.
'My parents eat dog and cat meat even though they know about the cruelty. They do not accept what I do. They don't understand why I should care about animals.' But Li says very few young, urban people would eat dog and cat meat now. 'They see it as ugly and unacceptable.'
The practice is more common in the countryside, where men boast about the amount of dog meat they can consume in one sitting. Li says he is optimistic that dog and cat eating will eventually die out, but he says this will have to be driven by a change in attitudes, not just laws. 'Corruption is still a huge problem. Laws would help, but those that want to keep the industry going just need to pay money.'
It is in mainland China that the biggest challenges remain. Wu Jun of the Zhuhai Animal Protection Association in Guangdong province, says it is time he shared a shameful secret to illustrate the extent of ignorance that he and others fighting to end cruelty are facing.
'My wife and I once went to a restaurant and saw meat being sliced off the animals while they were still alive,' Wu says, struggling to continue. 'I have not been able to tell this to a foreigner before. Dogs and cats can't speak, but we can. So we must speak out even louder.'
Monday, February 4, 2008, 07:34 PM
Recently, I visited Maoshan Live Animal Market in Guangzhou with two of our China team, Christie and Rainbow. Such visits are probably the hardest part of our work at Animals Asia, but they're also among the most important. We must keep monitoring this situation and exposing the truth about these hell-holes. These are my notes from the visit:
It's 8am and I just don't know how Christie and Rainbow can cope with the pain. You feel it in every fibre of your body, as you breathe the rancid, acrid smell of disease and taste the dust of death and decay. It lingers for hours after you've left one of these obscene live animal markets in China.
The place is Maoshan Market in the southern province of Guangdong and even as the taxi pulls up outside the open courtyard the screams of terrified animals makes us wince. These cries echo around each avenue of the market until we finally meet the eyes of petrified dogs and cats that are minutes or hours from death. Panting from thirst and dehydration, crying with terror, confusion and pain, their suffering is profound. Sometimes their tails wag in hopeful anticipation that the soft apologies of people recording their pain will lead to release - until their eyes fade once again into hopeless reality and they turn away.
We promise they will never die in vain. Rainbow is saying 'please look at the camera; let me turn your agony into change for the animals of the future' I can only say sorry to the eyes that turn my way %- and I do out loud - and try to reassure them that their next life will be better.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of dogs are piled into tiny wire mesh cages in pyramids teetering high into the air on the backs of the trucks. Cats are stacked in cages that wobble precariously on industrial weigh-scales as their mass of body weight is calculated for the local restaurants.
One cage suddenly breaks open as it crashes from the truck to the concrete floor below and all hell breaks loose as three cats find the opening and dash out into the lane, desperately trying to flee. The traders don%u2019t miss a thing and surround the terrified cats, herding them into a corner, before grasping them around the necks with wire tongs and smashing them onto the ground until their bodies go limp. A young ginger male twitches for a few seconds and becomes still. A black-and-white cat convulses wildly in a semi-conscious state, blood pouring from her mouth, nose and broken legs before waking more fully and trying to scramble under a truck. Her adrenalin allows her one last chance of escape. The traders let her go, anticipating perhaps that she will soon die of shock and pain and isn't worth chasing. We try to find her, but it's an impossible task in the maze of animals and people and we pray that her agony will end soon.
Animals, both dead and alive, are squashed together, suffocating in cages the size of small suitcases' each movement of one causing others to scream in pain as broken and wounded limbs are nudged or sat upon. So many dogs are sick and suffering from the ravages of parvovirus or distemper; several wheezing last breaths, while others are now lifeless in their cages. As we continue taking pictures we hear a weak and plaintive mewing, and walk over to what we think will be a cage of mother and kittens. Instead, we nearly tread on a tiny newborn puppy, recently born of a sick or petrified mother and simply tossed away on the floor by the men.
His body is cold, but he's breathing and, wrapping him in the fabric of an old umbrella we find on the floor, I hold him close to my body, trying to raise his temperature. Less than 30 minutes later, Rainbow finds another , a tiny newborn black-and-white female, again with umbilical cord attached, and a body temperature even lower than the first. Two tiny lives to take later to our friend John Wu the vet whom we had just said goodbye to the evening before at our annual China Companion Animal Symposium.
The horrors of Maoshan - part 2
Friday, February 8, 2008, 10:46 PM
The market also doubles as a slaughter house- a round metal drum with orange spikes used for 'de-furring' the cats and dogs sits just outside a burning cauldron that will be cooking their meat for customers towards lunchtime.
Close by, truck after truck piled high with white goats begin arriving at the market, while donkeys are being dragged out of sheds and loaded into cages, trucked off to be slaughtered elsewhere. Frightened and exhausted, several have no strength to rise to their feet and the traders kick them in the stomachs and beat their backs with metal poles until they can stand the agony no more and rise on shaking legs. Even then, the abuse continues and the traders continue beating them and grabbing their tails, painfully twisting them into knots, and forcing the donkeys to climb up the metal ramps into the cages.
Christie says she is better in the market this time, but her sad eyes tell a different story, and Rainbow's face is ashen as he leans in to get a close-up of some trembling dogs crammed into cages. It is his first time. In reality, these places haunt you for days and weeks afterwards and we all work hard to keep positive at times like this.
But there is hope. Our 2nd China Companion Animal Symposium in November 2007 was as amazing and wonderful as the first. Nearly 40 group leaders - representing millions of people across the country - voting unanimously for goals that can turn the lives of these animals around. We have to persevere- and we will, because we can see the change each and every day.
Back in John's vet clinic, we are prepared for him to say he would prefer to euthanise the two weak and tiny puppies. Administering two-hourly feeds over the following days is an enormous challenge for a vet already saturated with work in southern China. John just looks at them for two seconds before saying quietly, 'let's try'. Hope is eternal, but we are prepared for the worst knowing the origin of their disease-ridden birth.
If they pull through 'Hope' and 'Shame', as we named these two little fur balls, will have a future as ambassadors for the dogs they left behind. My only regret is that I didn't walk around the market for a few minutes showing them to dogs that might have been their mother. As the light fades from their eyes, I so wish they could know that their babies are safe.
Note - the puppies did not survive.
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More information re slaughter of cats to 'clean up' for Beijing olympics - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=528694&in_page_id=1766&in_page_id=1766&expand=true#StartComments
In memory of Lucy our dear little donkey, rescued from a saleyard and unfortunately passed away whilst in our care in 2006 - Sweet Lucy we miss you.
Re the urgent need for comprehensive animal welfare legislation in China.
We the undersigned are writing to congratulate the Chinese government in the progress being made to introduce legislation to outlaw unacceptable practices involving cruelty to other living creatures and of work being done with agencies such as AAF and WSPA.
We would ask that the government urgently introduces comprehensive legislation to protect China%u2019s animals from being subject to abusive and cruel practices and addresses the need for humane treatment of all animals including those in domestic households, agriculture, food markets and fur farms and the protection and conservation of wildlife.
Thank you to the China Wildlife Conservation Association and the Sichuan Forestry Department for closing bear farms and releasing 500 bears into the care of Animals Asia. Please continue to promote the herbal and synthetic alternatives to bear bile and urgently outlaw the practice of farming bears for bile products.
The images we have seen and the accounts related by visitors to your country despoil the good reputation of China In the light of the upcoming 2008 Beijing "Green Olympics", it is truly tragic that facilities, practices, and activities such as these are still in existence.
We urge you to do all that you can to encourage the Chinese Government to implement comprehensive legislation to protect both wild and domestic animals from all forms of abuse. We look forward to hearing of positive changes in the immediate future.
On behalf of the undersigned.
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