This weekend, Sophie Ling, our volunteer outreach worker found herself in the middle of a diplomatic wrangle involving the rescue of 800 cats bound for slaughter in Southern China.
No stranger to negotiations, Human Resources Director Sophie is used to dealing with cultural diversity on a multilateral level. She is also a devoted animal lover who has tirelessly given her time to the No To Dog Meat and No To Cat Meat campaign.
Although the world is now waking up to the horrific dog meat trade, cats are often overlooked which is why when I received a phone call from activists in Shanghai that there was a possible raid on a warehouse where former pets and strays were being stockpiled, I asked Sophie if she could represent our charity and offer practical help and donations.
Sophie went one step further, engaging kindhearted colleagues and friends, and using her diplomacy skills to negotiate with police and government officials.
The current situation in China when it comes to animal rescue is that although activists are able to raid illegal warehouses and stop traders from moving their trucks, it requires careful negotiation with the police to ensure the cats - often former pets as well as strays - can be released from the cages where they are packed tightly inside.
Without this release they are left without food and water in the boiling heat. Sophie witnessed the poignant scene of cats in the crates giving birth.
Chinese officials - many of them are animal lovers - were reluctant to hand the cats or dogs back to traders and found it easier to rely on red tape and the need for official letters impossible to obtain at the ninth hour. However the diplomatic cultural dance which took not just hours but days was what was needed to reach a "happy "ending.
I found myself from afar joining Sophie in this set of negotiations relying on our charity team of translators from around the globe to make sure our well meaning words were not lost in translation. The feral cats were finally freed into the countryside and the former pets handed given to the local Shanghai activists we work with and the authorities posed happily for the media gratefully thanked.
Cat or "little tiger" is a delicacy particularly favoured in the Guangzhou province, close to Hong Kong as well as in Vietnam. This makes it a lucrative business for traders who rent warehouses in the countryside ( in this instance in Jiashan- two hours from Shanghai ) where they stockpile stolen pets and feral cats. Then once a week they load huge trucks and travelling by night the 935 miles from Shanghai to Guangdong.Activists,including our own NoToDogMeat team are frequently women and all are volunteers.Armed with only their voice, a powerful weapon, they stake out the warehouses and then block the trucks. It is impossible even on a successful mission without badly needed funding to neuter and re-home all the cats. That's why in the early hours of the morning the wildest of the cats were released into the countryside near the police station.The rescue ( despite the odds) was considered to be a success.
Without animal welfare laws in place the situation is still extremely uncertain for rescuers and the animals alike. Cats are officially not classed as food in China which means they should not be subject to any seizure and quarantine inspections. The constant uphill task which we will all continue to approach diplomatically is how to explain this.
May 18th is World Awareness Week Against the Dog and Cat Meat Trade and our Westminster charity will present a petition to the "new" occupants of 10 Downing Street asking British leaders to join us in securing the rights of these sentient beings. This issue of economics over ethics is for another debate.
NoToDogMeat is the global campaign of the UK Charity World Protection for Dogs and Cats in the Meat Trade 0207 873 2250