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A New Year, and a new life for a very lucky dog

It’s always the eyes — and those belonging to this little guy just stared and stared hypnotically into ours, begging to be released from the cage and taken far, far away from this terrible place.

It was Monday, and Irene, Carrot and I were beginning a week investigating the live-animal markets of southern China. We’d been joined by Loka and Todd, two lovely male volunteers who generously work in their spare time to help our programmes. Tragically, in December, Loka's dog was stolen. He searched the markets endlessly for a whole week — even after midnight — before finally giving up. He and his wife held on to the hope that she had been picked up by a loving stranger and given a good home ….

I knew that we couldn’t do anything here today to help the caged dogs, cats, and miserable array of wild and domestic species — not until the trip was done and we were on our way home. A tight schedule, a long, long trip of 2,000kms with so many places to see and film, and a team that didn’t deserve the extra stress of trying to rescue a dog when our investigations had only just begun.

It’s enough for everyone to keep focused on the job — keeping emotions in check as we fight back the tears and concentrate on capturing evidence to convince more and more people in China that this terrible torture has to end. But oh how his face haunts me — especially realising on cataloguing the pictures that the cage bars were reflected within his sorrowful eyes.

Over five days of investigations, we saw things that turned our stomachs inside out — and broke our hearts. We saw a heaving truckload of hundreds of dogs — caged, terrified and suffering more than we could ever comprehend. The situation was too dangerous for us all to move closer, so Irene, Carrot and I stayed in the car while Loka and Todd bravely went closer with hidden cameras:

From across the road, we could see the traders lining the driveway of the slaughterhouse with rubber tyres and then throwing the cages of screaming dogs from the top of the truck down on to the ground below. The tyres were there to prevent the cages from breaking and the dogs escaping, rather than trying to cushion the dogs’ fall. Loka and Todd were only filming for about 15 minutes before they came back to the car. Both were distraught — Todd puffed angrily on a cigarette, while Loka climbed slowly into the car, put his head in his hands, and wept.

We silently drove on to another province, and another day of misery for the animals who had the misfortune to be born where they were. Over the week, we catalogued many markets and dog and cat meat restaurants in a report that will be released sometime after Chinese New Year. It will show that this cruel industry is thriving off a dirty business of stolen pets and diseased and dying animals. It will show that this trade is being driven more underground as the public in the cities no longer wish to tolerate this treatment of animals now more commonly acknowledged as friends and companions in China.

The last day of our investigations saw us return to the market we had visited on day one. I knew it was futile, but I kept praying that the little dog with the pleading eyes would still be there. We found the cage and not surprisingly it was full of different dogs — each looking out at us with those same woeful eyes, begging to be taken away.

As I blinked back tears, a little black dog was peering out of the cage — her beautiful brown eyes following our every move. She was whining gently, begging to be noticed. Suddenly she began to “smile”, grinning up at us with her tail gently wagging and showing her gorgeous white teeth in the same way as Dalmatians and other dogs sometimes smile.

I couldn’t take my eyes off her, as she drew me towards her and gently licked my fingers as if to say, “It’s too late to save him. Please, please take me instead”. So we did. It was the end of the trip and for this most fortunate dog, of the thousands we had witnessed week, we had arrived just at the right time.

The rescue was dramatic and stressful for her and for us. She clearly hadn’t been properly socialised with people and had never worn a collar around her neck. Unlike rescued market dog Eddie in 2001, she wasn’t comfortable being held or led on a lead and we couldn’t risk her biting anyone knowing that rabies is so prevalent in China today.






But finally this terrified dog was in a cage, on the back of a motorised cart with Loka sitting next to her, calming her down, and on her way to the local vet clinic in the city. There, the kind-hearted vet could not have been more gentle and patient as he tempted her with dog food, until her tail wagged and she “smiled” once again.


She’ll be at the clinic for the next couple of weeks in quarantine and gently examined to ensure that she is healthy and free of disease. Irene and Todd sent news this weekend that she’s doing fine, is happily wearing a collar, and becoming more confident by the day. Now named “To Zhai” (or Rabbit) to celebrate this coming Chinese New Year of the Rabbit, she will never know how lucky she is — a little black dog whose eyes will never again reflect cage bars.

PS: Around midway through our trip, we I received an email from Suki in Chengdu. It couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.

For the past few weeks, Suki and our China education team had distributed over 300 anti-dog-and-cat-eating posters, and 6,000 leaflets to 10 welfare groups across the country. The groups then held demonstrations in the streets. One group, the Guang Yuan Bo Ai Small Animal Protection Centre, held a roadshow in Jian Ge Country and persuaded the boss of a restaurant to give up his dogs and never sell dog meat again. Plans this year are to make this the theme of World Animal Day across China — so despite our breaking hearts and the realisation that there was nothing we could do to help the dogs and cats we saw this week, believe me, I have hope.

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