Best friends for life


He is willful, naughty and a master at pretending to be deaf. He ignores all attempts at positive reinforcement during training, he professes not to have a clue how to sit, and finds fiendish pleasure in going over, under, or through any door that has the audacity of attempting to hold him in. Leave him for a short while – whether to attend a meeting, or catch up on some bear related business – and his soulful cries can be heard at least halfway around the sanctuary.

He is Muppet. And, having said all that, I can't think of a dog who deserves so much patience from his long-suffering carers, as he revels in the sheer joy of living, after narrowly escaping the butcher’s knife.

Yes, Muppet is "home". And what an amazing dog and four-legged friend he’s turning out to be. Vicki (his other "mum" who cares for him when I leave Chengdu) and I are taking it in turns to see how much we can bring out his good points, and improve on his "bad".

Every day has us laughing at his antics – whether hurtling off at a million miles an hour into the distance whenever we train him "off lead", or tossing himself into the long grass; turning somersaults of joy, and winding himself as he thumps down with the full weight of his body onto the ground. Trying to stop him jumping up is now written off as an impossible task, as he joyfully launches himself at fleeing victims, with all the force of a heat-seeking missile.

But what an absolute pleasure to have this silly, crazy dog now in our lives.

Meanwhile, the ever tolerant To Zhai – herself also a dog rescued from the notoriously hideous markets of southern China, now shared by vet Monica and I, and utterly gorgeous – watches on. She couldn't be more different than Muppet in almost every respect. From the word go, with a handful of biscuits and lots of encouraging words, she proved herself to be a perfectly trained dog. She'll happily sit in a second, walk nicely off lead, return as soon as she's called, and even turn back every few seconds just to make sure we are there. She also smiles – a silly grin that actually wrinkles her face, and shows her front teeth whenever she greets us, or when her ears are tickled or her tummy is scratched.

See the two of them together, and see two very best friends for life. Here is To Zhai with our China Cat and Dog Welfare Director, Irene, and Muppet with Simon.

Now they are impressing not only our staff, but visitors too. When Australian celebrity chef Simon Bryant came over to visit, together with our Director Anne Lloyd-Jones, both dogs charmed him out of the trees and inspired me to write a letter to our Australia supporters. (It’s coming soon.)

The plight of market dogs has long been close to Simon's heart and this trip was no exception as he joined us in witnessing the worst treatment of man's best friend. Using his passion and intelligence Simon is now back in Australia talking about his trip and encouraging people everywhere to support the rising number of groups and individuals in China who are now championing the change.

Just this week, news has exploded of another Chinese welfare group intercepting a truckload of meat dogs – just like the one that Muppet was rescued from – as it made its way to a live animal market in the south. Almost every month stories emerge of similar interceptions and rescues, with more and more members of the public challenging traditions of the past – and agreeing that our lives are happier and healthier as a result of sharing them with our four-legged friends.

With ambassadors like Simon – and, of course, Muppet and To Zhai – together with millions of animal lovers in China, our campaign will go on until dogs and cats are rightly accepted as our friends...and not food.


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