At our partner shelter, south of Beijing
In China, running an animal shelter has so many challenges. Over 400 dogs need around 180 kg of food a day. In a country with bad roads and chaotic traffic it takes a high level of organisation even to get the food delivered. As for vets, there is a growing trend of new chains springing up to cater for the growing middle classes and their prices are easily on a par with the west even though wages aren't. Rescuers have to learn to be extremely resourceful and have a strongly committed volunteer network just to stay afloat.
This year I spent my summer in China. After Yulin, now that the cameras have left, the slaughterhouses have once again reopened. This year, however, the butchers and traders have learned they are sitting on a gold mine - not just from consumers of meat but from well-meaning activists who throw money at them to save dogs. However there is a growing number of grassroots activists and rescuers in China - people who would not have dared speak out before are now not only advocating kindness to animals but also valuing the companionship of dogs and cats in the way we understand it in the West. This year I also saw that now even high school groups are willingly giving their time to bath rescued animals, help clean up waste and administer vaccinations. These young people know that atrocities such as boiling dogs alive but they are also aware of human rights abuses which go unspoken and unnoticed.
Newly rescued Samoyed dog being shaved by volunteers at Mr Zhao's shelter.
Four years ago I was counting on the British government and world leaders to bring about change. Now, I have switched focus and am confident that by continuing to empower and encourage local activist groups the idea of animal protection will gain real traction and animal welfare legislation and practice will become a reality in China.
Jasmine with blue and amber eyes - rescued from a dumpster and available for adoption.
Some would say my initiative to create a charity called World Protection for Dogs and Cats in the Meat Trade to fight the meat trade at a time when few were addressing the subject was over-ambitious, arrogant even. The catalyst which propelled us for first time to the Korean Embassy in London, 2012, was seeing the dog meat farmers in Seoul, Korea holding their own protest in a bid to legalise the trade. Protesting with my friend the late John Hughes in the rain we said to ourselves it would take an army to get this issue heard. At times it has been only my two beloved dogs (the Samoyeds) that kept me going forward - knowing that beautiful, loving beings exactly like them were being brutally tortured for food or fur. I just could not understand why governments and legislators were not addressing the issue.
At that time I opened a UK government e-petition for our government to 'Urge the South Korean Government to Respect Global Animal Protection Laws' which took a year to gather 10,000 signatures. Hugo Swire and the Foreign Office were unmoved and dismissive in their response at that time.
UK government response to my e-petition.
I turned to the House of Commons, battled those that control the agenda and nine months later that year was allowed to address the issue at the annual companion meeting, December 2013. I remember the look of horror on the faces of those assembled as I showed them the packaged Korean elixir drink made from puppies boiled alive that could be drunk through a straw in seconds. It was not until our campaign flooded social media and empowered other activists to start their own petitions and protest groups that word started getting out and larger charities began to take notice.
In the last two days national newspapers in the UK have run gruesome headlines showcasing issues we have been publicising day in day out for years. This Monday there is to be another dog meat trade debate thanks to a petition which raised 100,000 signatures. This debate will focus on Korea.
Can a Westminster debate have any influence on overseas practices and legislation? Why do we focus on the dogs and cats for meat and not on other animals? At any rate, people are thinking about the reality and consequences of the meat on their plate and that is a good thing. It is right for the British public to know dogs they willingly watch being raced to death can also end up in a boiling pot and that both are abhorrent.
Annabel and I in Beijing.
I had a glimpse of some of the attitudes to dogs as I walked one our rescued dogs in Beijing. Annabel, an apricot chow-type dog, blind in one eye, is pictured on our pages at the moment and was pulled from a truck bound for slaughter. She provokes smiles from both fear and delight. Recent laws in Beijing have not promoted the welfare of dogs - it is illegal to own a dog taller than 35cm and you can't take your dog on a bus or train. Meeting a lovely couple with two growing Alsatians, I asked them what will happen if their valued pets were to be confiscated. Their solution will be to return the dogs to the country farm which bred them and get smaller ones but the reality for most large dogs has been euthanasia.
Mr Zhao caring for our rescued dogs
Towards the end of my trip I travelled to a slaughterhouse in the North. It used to be a breeding farm but switched trades when business got bad. We managed to negotiate the release into our care of a dozen worn down breeding dogs - German Shepherds - sold for a pittance as it was feared they all had distemper. We also managed to rescue 17 Samoyed dogs - who just like the Mastiffs also now used for meat were once popular pets. Their story was powerful to me as I have a special place in my heart for them. Despite their ordeal, they were still so joyful and so trusting. I asked Mr Zhao who runs our partner shelter and has been to festivals like Yulin many times why he thinks business is bad and why puppy farmers then turn to dog slaughterers. He guesses it is just about money.
Our newly rescued Samoyeds - hard to recognise in the sorry state we found them.
Everything in China is about economics and making quick money - people are focused on surviving in the present not really thinking of the future. Mr Zhao used to run a factory selling window frames but was forced to close when products came on the market of a cheaper quality. Now he lives a simple life with his dogs. As winter 2016 approaches finding homes for the rescued Samoyeds and German Shepherd as the cats is now our charity's priority.
Perhaps you can help?! Here some of our dogs who need sponsoring. They are also available for adoption.
You can help by sponsoring or adopting one of the dogs or cats by contributing to our #buyabag scheme means for every tote bag purchased we can buy a 15kg bag of food