years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
The dogs arrived crammed into tiny cages and stacked on top of each other.
Cage after cage of terrified dogs were carried into the Qi Meng rescue centre.
Twizzle arrived in the UK for quarantine in July 2009
Helena Molloy, a volunteer Vet Nurse at our Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu, China arrived for her placement the same day 149 dogs destined for the slaughterhouse were seized and rescued near Chengdu.
Here is her story of how that event has changed her life.
“I first heard of Animals Asia Foundation’s work to end bear farming in China in 2003, when I was working as a Sales for Millpledge Veterinary and met two vet nurses who were about to go to Chengdu, China to volunteer at the charity’s bear rescue centre.
Fired by a passion to do my bit to help in this work to end the worst cases of animal suffering that I have ever heard of, I immediately volunteered to spend three months, as a vet nurse, at the sanctuary and do what I could to help “mend” the shattered bodies and minds of bears that were newly arrived at the sanctuary after years of pain and abuse on the farms.
And so it was that I arrived at Animals Asia’s sanctuary in Chengdu on New Year’s Eve 2008. As I later found out, the centre was untypically quiet that day as most of the staff had gone to Qi Ming animal rescue centre about an hour away to help out at an unprecedented event in China.
The centre had been contacted by a local rescue group - Qi Meng - after they and the police had cornered an illegal truck driver with 149 dogs all bound for the indescribable torture of the live animal markets and slaughter. They were to become some of the millions of dogs killed every year for the meat trade. The fact that the police had confiscated the dogs after finding that the owner was operating illegally, with no licence to trade in dogs or dog meat, and then contacted the local dog rescue centre instead of turning the normal blind eye, was nothing short of miraculous.
As Animals Asia Foundation had assisted the Qi Ming kennels in 2008 when it became over-run with canine victims of the Sichuan earthquake, the kennel proprietors naturally turned, once again, to Animals Asia for help.
As I arrived at the sanctuary, I knew none of this and little did I know that this event would change my life forever. Two days after arriving in Chengdu, I became part of the group to go out to the kennels several times a week and work with these poor dogs, destined for the meat trade. It was cold and wet and we had to spend hours trying to earn the dogs’ trust, just so we could assess their condition and vaccinate the healthy ones.
Sadly, there were many very sick dogs, suffering from distemper and other diseases, and the kindest thing to do was to end their suffering. I n addition, we had to euthanize many of the more vicious dogs that were a danger to humans and other dogs - particularly because of the very real threat of rabies - and because so crazed and terrified were they by the years of abuse at the hands of humans. It was heartbreaking but there was no point in prolonging their suffering by trying to treat them.
Among the 149 original arrivals, there were dogs that touched each of us personally and for me that was a dog who would be given the nickname “Mummy Dog”. Mummy Dog had arrived at Qi Ming pregnant. One day, we arrived at the kennels to find that she had given birth to three tiny puppies. Sadly these puppies would never survive the distemper that was rampant throughout the kennels.
After losing her puppies, Mummy Dog was harassed by all the other dogs for her milk so we asked the kennels to house her separately for two weeks and put her on a course of antibiotics for a gash she had to her hind leg. On every visit to the kennels, Mummy Dog appeared to be getting stronger and gaining weight. I would always feel especially sorry for her as she had lost her babies, so I would give her extra sausage meat that we used to take to the kennels as a bribing treat.
It was decided that in March we would hold an open day for the remaining dogs to try and home them. Sadly in China, there are three types of dogs: pedigree pet dogs, guard dogs and meat dogs. We didn't hold much hope since Qi Ming already had over 100 pedigree dogs looking for homes but we managed to home nine of the dogs. Although it doesn't seem like many, it was an amazing result. I left the kennels after the open day happy for those that had their new homes but sad that there was so many dogs still needing a loving home.
As my three months volunteer work was nearly done I had no reason to think I would ever visit Qi Ming again. I left Animals Asia and spent a few weeks travelling around China, my mind often wandering back over the past few months to the bears and the dogs. I spent my final few days in China back in Chengdu where I stayed at the bear centre.
She settled in well and took to new things quickly.
The day I was flying out of China was manic at the bear centre and Hayley, one of the permanent Vet Nurses needed a volunteer to go with her to Qi Ming on her weekly round to check the dogs. As they were all busy, I offered to go as I thought it would be nice to see the dogs one last time. We entered the run of the female dogs and Mummy Dog came bounding over, jumping all over me so excited to see me. Hayley said, “Wow Helena she's missed you, she likes seeing me but not that much.” I spent as much time as I could with her before we had to leave. It was really hard to say goodbye.
After China, I travelled to Hong Kong and then to New Zealand but I couldn't get the dogs out of my mind – particularly Mummy Dog. I was in New Zealand when I made the crazy decision to bring her back to England!
I sent an email to the girls at Animals Asia and looked into the costs involved. It took a couple of months to organise both the logistics and the required funds but Mummy Dog, now renamed Twizzle, arrived in England on 9 July 2009. I visited her at the quarantine kennels a few hours after her arrival. She was none the worse for the long journey and in fact, Rob at the quarantine kennels, said he couldn't believe how well she had coped with the journey, running out of her crate, tail wagging.
When she first arrived she didn't know what to do with the ball that she was given but soon learned how to play. She's also a quick learner and although remarkably fussy for a dog that had lived on the streets, she would do anything for a tasty liver treat. I'm so pleased that I made the decision to bring Twizzle back to the UK although I do often feel sad for all those dogs that I couldn't bring back.
I couldn’t wait until her release in January 2010, when I would be able to take her back to her new home and take her for long walks where she can finally run free after living in kennels for a year.”
New year, new update:
At last: after six months in quarantine Twizzle is reunited with Helena.
Twizzle is delighted with open space and soft snow to play in.
Home comforts: All tucked up, warm and cosy in her new home.
So, just a few weeks ago, on a snowy morning in January, I fought the winter road conditions to go and collect Twizzle from quarantine. It was very exciting and I have no regrets about spending such a lot of money on a Chinese meat dog.
It's quite funny actually, because I can’t tell you how many other dog owners I have seen while out walking with her, who have told me how pretty she is, without me prompting! In China she just looks like all those other dogs but here in England she really is quite unique looking, in a good way.
She has settled in well to home life and – other than getting on the sofa when I leave her home alone (clearly she is intelligent as she doesn't even try if I am there but the warm patch gives her away) – she is the perfect dog. She loves her walks and has two doggy friends, Bob and Beanz who belong to my friend, so she gets to charge around with them nearly everyday. Sadly she is very nervous in the car and gets sick but I am working on that and hopefully she'll soon learn that the car only takes her to fun places where she can run free and explore all the excitement of her new life.”