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New Year dog rescue – Part I

The last thing we expected to be doing on New Year's Eve was following a truck full of caged dogs destined for the notoriously cruel meat markets of southern China. Little did I realise when writing about Rainbow and the team's dog demonstrations in Chengdu over Christmas that we would later be involved in the rescue of the very same species destined for the food tables of Guangzhou.

A call at lunchtime from the Chengdu Qi Ming dog and cat rescue centre we help to fund told of a raid on a slaughterhouse just down the road, and the rescue of 149 dogs found there illegally - and, even more astonishingly, that the authorities were happy to confiscate them all.

With Rainbow and Jacky from the Education Department heading up the rescue, Eric our translator, vet Leanne and nurse Emily, volunteer Katie and I headed out of the bear sanctuary in trepidation of what we would find.

Motoring along the main road, suddenly there was the truck right ahead. Every one of us felt sick to our stomachs as Rainbow filmed the injured and terrified dogs crying in their cages. Young, old, mixed-breed and pure-breed, with several wearing collars - were they sold by uncaring owners, or stolen? Many were trying to crawl away from dogs next to them who were biting out indiscriminately each time the truck braked and caused them to move.

The cages were piled three and four high and many dogs below were lying there with urine and faeces covering their bodies as it cascaded down from the terrified animals in the cages above. Several of the dogs were frantically clawing and biting at the cage bars and mesh, and I don't think any of us will forget the sense of confusion and betrayal in their eyes. 

Immediately we saw that two of the dogs were very sick indeed – one was possibly dead - and we knew that we had a long afternoon on our hands.

Pulling up at the Qi Ming rescue centre alongside the truck, the smell of death and decay – the very smell of the hell hole markets – hit us as soon as we got out of the car. Still the dogs were crying, howling, growling and biting, locked in their misery and pain, and not realising that their nightmare was finally over and they were safely "home".

As Rainbow, Jacky and the Qi Ming team began the hard job of hauling and offloading the cages from the top of the truck the rest of us began to prioritise the obviously sick dogs in order to move them away from the rest of the group.

Luckily the Qi Ming rescue centre now had space as many of the earthquake dogs previously rescued last May had finally gone back to their owners' rebuilt homes or to relatives. Fate was obviously playing a hand as otherwise these poor dogs would literally have had nowhere to go.

As with newly rescued bears, the feeling of cutting open those rusting cages and letting the animals free was beyond words. Both satisfying and sad as some dogs were so traumatised that they had to be gently coaxed out of the cages, as they feared something worse was yet to come. When I recall where they would have ended up, they were right to be afraid.

Those markets see the traders bludgeoning, throttling and boiling them alive and it's as much as you can do not to fall onto your knees in shame while taking pictures and telling the dogs how sorry you are that their lives have cruelly ended at the hands of a species that seem light years away from their own.

As we cut open the cage holding one of the very sick dogs, our eyes opened wide in surprise as this poor creature apparently at death's door lay there for a few minutes, before shaking himself, trotting out of the cage and wagging his tail. It was a surreal moment for us all, realising that the poor lad had been so traumatised that his best defence was to play dead and hope that his torture would soon go away. 

Sadly, the other dog we were worried about wasn't so lucky. He was suffering from distemper, which had gone too far. We watched with tears pouring down our faces as Leanne gently euthanised this quivering victim, who never knew kindness and love - and prayed that the rest would survive.

Late that evening, the dogs were housed as best as we could manage – not ideal by any means, but at least all were lying on cardboard or in lined cages, with food, water and shade and a night ahead where they could sleep peacefully at last.

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