This week we welcomed Kindness to our family and to our sanctuary in Tam Dao, Vietnam. The sweetest old lady who accepted treats from our Junior Vet, Thai, with such astonishing gentleness, through the bars of a cage that had held her captive for at least 18 years.

Kindness bear in cage
Kindness awaits rescue

I could hardly hold back the tears as our Associate Veterinary Surgeon Rachel and our team laid out a gently sleeping bear onto the tarpaulin for a procedure she'd never experienced before. Her first health check. Prone and vulnerable there in the garden square of a bear farmer's home. How many times had she lay on her back, on those same tiles, as her bile had been extracted, time and time and time again.

tuan_jill_examine_cageJill and Vietnam Director Tuan check on Kindness

Now she was being checked for health implications - some more obvious than others. Horribly tartared teeth were examined and immediately scheduled for radical dental work once she's a little stronger. Three ingrown nails on her pads were observed - before cutting the claws away from the proud flesh of pads they'd painfully punctured. Our hands ran across her frail, thin body with a promise that she would be spoiled for choice of food, for the rest of her life.

Health check_kindness bear
Veterinary Surgeon Rachel, Jill, and Junior Vet Thai begin Kindness' first health check

And together with our Vietnam Director, Tuan, I met the farmer and his family. And we talked. And we learned from each other. And they accepted our invitation to come and visit Kindness at our sanctuary, and meet our team and bears, any time they like.

Mr Ha told us that their bear had a name - Misa - and it was hard not to show surprise, as we have never heard of a bear being named on a farm in the past. His wife also surprised us by saying that she was worried and hoping that no harm would come to their bear. And I knew that her sentiment was genuine, because I spoke at length with their daughter, Trang, who now lives and works in Australia and was spending a week with her parents before heading home to Canberra.

health check_kindness bear
Dry pads and ingrown nails - consequences of life in a cage

Trang was genuinely shocked watching the health check, and asked "is she going to be ok?".  Mr Ha advised that their bear was fed porridge congee, all different kinds of fruit and some fish. But jackfruit was her very favourite and she had enjoyed this special treat the day before, to wish her well and send her on her way from the farm.

It's easy to judge, isn't it? But on that afternoon I knew that - while we were world's apart in terms of how kindness feels and how kindness is demonstrated - the family genuinely cared for their bear.

Kindness is home - arriving in darkness to welcoming light at our Vietnam rescue centre

On this day of our anniversary, 8th August, I'm transported back to the same day in 1998 - when a small group of rather crazy individuals decided to bring healing where there was harm, sanctuary where there was suffering, and kindness where there was cruelty.  John, Boris, Gail, Winnie and I had a dream, and Animals Asia was born.Gail_Boris_Jill_Founders_AAF
Three of our founders on a mission - Gail, Boris and Jill

Our founding mission was to end the cruel practice of bile extraction, end the consumption of cats and dogs, and improve the welfare of captive animals. 

rescued bear_happy bear
Providing sanctuary for rescued bears

Two and a half decades ago we passionately believed that those goals could be reached, but we knew too that success would take time. 

Caring for Asia's captive animals

25 years later, on our silver anniversary, we have achieved more than we ever thought possible.  Thanks to the authorities and the over 400 local NGO's, dogs and cats are increasingly facing a better future after being removed from the official Livestock list of China. More patience is needed but the development of regulations to help them, protect the country from rabies and other disease, and bring the community closer together with animals proven to be beneficial to our mental and physical health, are forging ahead.

Cat and dog welfare_AAF
Improving animal welfare for cats and dogs alongside the authorities and local NGOs

Captive animals and those who care for them are helped across Asia with growing provisions that see improved training in veterinary and keeper care, enhanced housing, management and standards of welfare, and kinder visitor experiences.

rescue centre enclosure enrichment
Providing enclosure enrichment and improved housing for captive animals

And advancing the protection of bears in China and Vietnam through positive projects of management and care, human/bear conflict mitigation, compassionate conservation programmes, biodiversity education, traditional medicine collaboration, and building three sanctuaries together with the authorities in China and Vietnam, that so far have seen over 680 rescued moon bears, brown bears and sun bears showing themselves off to a delighted public.

Bach Ma new bear sanctuary
Bach Ma Bear Rescue Centre is under construction with Phase I almost complete

As another founding goal is reached together with the Vietnam government, their commitment honours their promise of ending bear farming, and we work - arm in arm - to ensure it is done.  Our Memorandum of Understanding is the only agreement of its kind in the country -  to close this industry down and rescue the remaining 300 or so bears.

Mr Ha Cong Tuan, Head of Central FPD and Jill sign our first sanctuary in Vietnam into existence in November 2005... 

... and again in July 2022, they sign a new, exclusive agreement to build our second sanctuary at Bach Ma to rescue the remaining bears in Vietnam

On the farm in Ha Nam, as Tuan shook the hands of kindly government officials Mr Dzung and Mr Nam - who had joined us on a rescue previously in 2009 -  my heart burst with pride as we celebrated rescuing the last bear, on the last farm to close down, in the whole province.

FPD officials, Mr Dzung and Mr Nam worked with us to ensure Kindness was rescued

Our gratitude to you, dear friends and supporters for your trust and your faith over these long, long years - we are doing this together, cage by cage, farm by farm, bear by courageous bear to the day that no bear is left behind.

Thank you team Animals Asia across this globe. We know why we're here and we know that the promise made to a frightened, caged bear in 1993 holds as true today as it did 30 years ago. Your tenacity, courage, empathy and respect continues to shine, and demonstrates that kindness in action - for all species, including our own - means positive, permanent change.

It all began with kindness 25 years ago - and today we celebrate this mission, through a bear named Kindness, once more.

Hector bear_pose