20th Anniversary: The moments that defined two decades of opposing cruelty and helping animals in need

14 August 2018

The greatest triumphs over 20 years of opposing bear bile farming, fighting the dog meat trade and helping animals in captivity by those on the ground.

Over the past two decades there have been so many triumphs that one of our hardest jobs is reporting everything back to the thousands of supporters around the world whose compassion funds our work.

There have been so many dramatic rescues, so many triumphs of horrendous circuses being closed down, and countless joys of dogs rescued from the meat industry...

But among them all we’ve asked the people at the center of it all – those working day-in day-out, on the ground, for years – which moments stand out for them.

Jill Robinson MBE, Founder and CEO

"You have one hour, in the garden, with one dog." Those words began a programme that today has seen thousands of dogs walking their compassionate, cheering paths in hospitals and homes for the blind, elderly, deaf and orphaned children in seven countries across Asia.

When my golden retriever, Max, strolled into the hospital grounds, placed his big golden paws on the bed of a paraplegic boy on that pivotal day in August 1991, the smile from the teenager lit up the sky.

Max Dr. Dog at Hong Kong’s Duchess of Kent Children's Hospital in 1991

Something clicked and I knew that the power of unconditional love from a species so deserving to be called our very best friends had found its mark in Asia. 

Dr Dog, and its sister programme, Professor Paws, have continued to change lives as part of Animals Asia’s programming since 1998.

The fact that they continue to have such an impact today is indescribable as is the knowledge that these amazing therapy dogs have shown more than half a million people that they are our friends, not food.

Dr Dog and human companion pay a visit to a nursing facility for the elderly

Having lived and breathed Animals Asia every day for the last 20 years, I couldn’t choose just one moment, so I’ve squeezed in a second.

The morning of Wednesday 19th July 2017 is another I will never forget. Standing next to Tuan Bendixsen, our Vietnam Director, we signed the formal agreement with the Vietnam government in Hanoi to end bear bile farming by the year 2022.

The historic handshake between Animals Asia and Vietnam Administration of Forest

I couldn't stop smiling – and think the kindly government officials might have thought I was slightly deranged. Perhaps I was. This was the moment that I had been waiting for since 1993 when I first came face to face with a caged bile farm bear. The moment I’d waited for since I made a simple promise that would take a lifetime to achieve. 

Our "end game" in Vietnam will see the remaining 800-900 suffering bears being rescued and brought to sanctuaries. Realising this goal, will require collaboration with the authorities and all charities working in the field to keep our word to end one of the world's most barbaric practices. Now that we have the green light, we’ll do whatever it takes to help these bears, waiting for their freedom, as soon as we possibly can.

Tuan Bendixsen, Vietnam Director

There have been some incredible breakthroughs in our work in Vietnam over the years – from successfully fighting an eviction notice to becoming the government’s official main partner to end bear bile farming – but thinking back to the 30th of October 2015, still fills me with the most satisfaction.

L to R: Animals Asia's Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen, founder and CEO Jill Robinson MBE, and FPD staff are meeting Hercules

That was the day we rescued moon bear Hercules. It wasn’t a spectacular rescue by any means. He had already been moved in a transport cage from the farm which had held him for at least a decade and we simply had to “collect” him from the local Forest Protection Department office.

But Hercules’ rescue represented an impossible task accomplished. He was the last bear to be rescued from Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province.


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I first saw a bear farm in the province in 2007 when the industry – fuelled by tourism to the province’s famed Halong Bay – was beginning to take off.

By 2010, we were actively campaigning to close the farms but it wasn’t till 2014 that we had a breakthrough. This was when we were given access to some of the farms and were able to document the horrific conditions of the bears there.

An international campaign followed and against all the odds, the Prime Minister himself gave us permission to rescue every bear in the province.

In all we were able to rescue 33 bears, with Hercules being the last to make it home to our sanctuary.

Quang Ninh is now free of bear farms and it will remain that way forever. A great many years of persistent lobbying, gathering evidence, raising awareness and working with the government all paid off. And when we brought Hercules home and knew he would be safe for the rest of his life, I realised just how world-changing our work can be.


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Dave Neale, Animal Welfare Director

The abuse of animals in the circus industry is an issue that continues to haunt me and my colleagues within the animal welfare department on a daily basis, and we will continue to campaign until China, Vietnam and Indonesia end this abusive practice.

Back in 2010 we had a major breakthrough with the campaign in China that is still having a positive impact today. Following extensive investigations, the release of an investigative report and an undercover video, the Chinese ministry responsible for urban zoos issued a directive banning all “abusive animal performances”

This policy has subsequently been written into the China Zoo Association’s code of ethics and animal welfare, and the government ministry provided further support when they issued national zoo management guidelines in July 2017. 

While a few zoos continue to hold out, these changes have led to the closure of numerous animal circuses within Chinese zoos as well as preventing the development of new circuses from springing up. The legal basis given to the ban also continues to provide us with a springboard to call for a national ban. 

This coupled with the closure of individual circuses in both Vietnam and Indonesia following extensive campaigning provides us with the essential hope we all need to see this campaign through to the end, until animals are no longer caged and humiliated for our entertainment.

Irene Feng, Cat and Dog Welfare Director

From the small, but pioneering Dr Dog programme in Chengdu, our cat and dog welfare programme has grown exponentially year on year – to the point that looking back, I’m blown away by the sheer scale of our work for China’s cats and dogs.

We’ve become a hub against cruelty by empowering China’s animal lovers. Today we fund or mentor an astonishing 60% of all China’s animal welfare groups – giving them the skills and tools they need to build the compassionate communities they long for.

Volunteer vets help vaccination for dogs in Qiming Animal Protection Center, Nov 19th, 2017-small

We also work directly with government, collaborating on humane dog ownership management and pushing for legislation to protect China’s animals.

More than 523 officials from 51 cities across the country have attended our Dog Ownership Management Symposium – covering every single principality in China, and 65% of all provincial capitals.

Officer Li from Chengdu Dog Ownership Management Office addresses the symposium

This holistic approach to cat and dog welfare – working with the public, the authorities and grass roots welfare groups – is changing millions of people’s perceptions of animals and popularising concepts and an understanding of welfare.

We’ve also been actively opposing the dog meat trade by investigating the industry’s illegality and reporting offenders to the relevant authorities. By targeting their illegal activities and raising the public’s awareness of what positive, loving companions cats and dogs can be, we are helping people to choose not to eat such meat and to turn away from cruelty – towards a compassionate, harmonious future.

Just look what can be achieved when animal lovers around the world unite against cruelty. One person can make all the difference. And you can too…

By pledging a monthly gift today, you can join our global community of compassionate people who refuse to be spectators to animal suffering in Asia.