15 July 2016, 10:48AM
In early June, I was invited to Xi'an, China, to join speakers at a TEDx talk. The title of my presentation – which could be no more than 18 minutes long – was "Animal Welfare through People Welfare - a perfect synergy of intelligent intimacy". The theme described the wonderful connection between people and dogs – and encouraged the audience to consider the barbaric treatment of so many dogs that suffer the cruelty of man.
Dogs such as Tuffy were highlighted – a beautiful six-week old pup that arrived in the veterinary surgery of our China Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu, after being punished for the crime of chewing his owner's mobile phone. Doused with boiling water and thrown from the fourth floor of an apartment block to the concrete ground below, Tuffy was whimpering and close to death by the time he was rescued and brought to our door.
Miraculously Tuffy survived and is now living with the wonderful Chinese woman who found him – and he is loved and spoiled beyond his wildest dreams.
Another dog that was mentioned was Muppet – just one of millions of dogs marked for death each year for the food trade in China after being stolen from the streets or from someone's loving family home.
As contrast to this hideous treatment of our canine companions, was the success of our Dr Dog and Professor Paws programmes in China – where dogs bring happiness to patients in hospitals, and "educate" children in schools.
The message was clear: how on the one hand, we celebrate being in the company of a species that loves us unconditionally, lives – and often loses – its life to help ours, works with doctors to detect human cancers through their incredibly sensitive noses, but is treated so despicably at the hands of humankind.
Just before my presentation was one by Chen Yan. Ms Chen was unable to see, and right by her side throughout her presentation, was Jenny, her guide dog for the blind. Highlighting the caring nature and forgiveness of dogs, Chen Yan spoke movingly about her fight to have Jenny allowed to ride on the metro in Beijing.
The audience was in tears as they heard that time and time again Ms Chen and Jenny were rejected by officials of the Metro and forced to find another route home. Incredibly, her experience at the hands of the Metro, now mirrored her treatment in Xi'an.
It had all begun so well when the Westin Hotel welcomed her and Jenny to stay in the hotel for the duration of the Tedx presentations. However, it took on a more sinister turn when she went along to the local restaurant – Wei Jia Liang Pi – and asked to sit down for a meal. The restaurant denied her entry and asked her to leave. Despite Chen Yan being Chairman of the Beijing Dongcheng District Blind Association, sponsor of "Let guide dogs pass without discrimination" campaign, a participant in the 13th Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony in Beijing, and despite complaints from local diners that the restaurant was being too harsh, Ms Chen and Jenny were forced to leave the premises and find somewhere else to eat.
Jane Zhao – a member of Animals Asia’s Education Department – and I were horrified on hearing this news and Jane quickly called the restaurant to lodge a formal complaint. Incredibly, Jane's pragmatic and diplomatic stance saw the restaurant owner completely changing his mind and ultimately stating that not only would the restaurant change its behaviour, but that it would conduct a training programme for all managerial-level staff, teaching them how to accept and treat such dogs in the restaurant from then on.
That evening, an elated Chen Yan made her way back to Beijing with Jenny, her gentle black Labrador, a small but significant victory under her belt. Our TEDx talks will soon be aired and more tears will inevitably be shed by audiences across China for the bravery of a woman who refuses to be brought down by prejudice towards any species outside of our own.
My grateful thanks to this caring ambassador for animals – and my great respect to Jane for so carefully engaging with the restaurant in a way that saw them finally embrace the help and love of our very best friends.
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