By Laura Drucker
Her name is Hui Hui, which translates to “Gray Gray” in Chinese. She is a Greyhound; a gaunt six year old with warm, kind eyes. She is nervous and scared, which you can also see in her eyes. Hui Hui is packed in a small crated wagon along with eight other dogs in Mudanjiang, China. They are on their way to the slaughterhouse.
China is a country that has only recently developed a widespread appreciation for dogs as pets. The government, under Communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong, banned dogs from households throughout the 1980s, declaring them pests and a bourgeois pastime. But as China’s economy grew and its people prospered, having pets became more popular.
Today, about 30 million Chinese households—that’s roughly 7 percent of the country’s population—have a dog, according to Euromonitor, an international market research firm. The children of China’s “One Child” generation are growing up. Now in their 20s and 30s, these young adults grew up with dogs and cats instead of siblings and view their pets as family members. As new pet parents shower their companions with love, the pet care sector is expected to grow to over $2.5 billion by 2019, per data released by Euromonitor.
However, there is a much darker side to China’s pet industry—the one that Hui Hui has ended up on. The dog meat trade—epitomized by a summer dog-meat eating festival in Yulin—is a merciless cruelty that, though it is not a pervasive part of Chinese society, has managed to persist on a small semi-regional scale. Animal rights groups estimate that as many as ten million dogs and four million cats are eaten in China each year.
“The dog meat trade is a sub-cultural thing at most,” says Andrea Gung, founder and executive director of the Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, a California-based organization founded in 2013 to offer support to the budding animal rescue infrastructure in China and Taiwan. She explains that the trade exists primarily in two provinces: Guangdong and Guangxi, as well as in the Dongbei region, notable for its shared border with North Korea. Many Korean immigrants have moved into the Dongbei region, and have brought an affinity for dog meat with them.
A majority of the dogs slaughtered for meat are stolen, according to Gung. They are people’s pets, snatched from yards, or they are strays, picked up while wandering the streets. There are no dogs farmed for the sole purpose of slaughter, but Gung notes that some rural villagers do breed dogs and sell them to the trade for extra income.
The consumption of dog meat is a practice that is grounded as much in superstition as it is in tradition. “People who eat dogs have certain myths about it,” Gung says. Such is the basis of the Yulin Festival, held in the southern region of Guangxi. Once a year, some 10,000 dogs and cats are slaughtered, cooked, and consumed, with the expectation of good luck, good health, and increased sexual strength. Despite rampant protests in China and abroad, including a petition earlier this year that boasted four million signatures, the Yulin Festival continues to persist.
At the same time, the Chinese animal rescue community is growing rapidly. Local activists and international welfare groups work tirelessly in cities and rural communities, rescuing animals, providing veterinary care, and facilitating adoptions. For many animals, these organizations––which are often severely lacking in funds and constantly up against strict government regulations––are their only chance at survival.
In late 2014, activists in Mudanjiang rescued 141 dogs en route to the slaughterhouse. The dogs were divided up and sent to a host of different rescues. Hui Hui was among the rescued dogs. She ended up at the Tangshan City Small Animal Protection Association.
Hui Hui was finally safe, but her journey was far from over. Her leg was badly injured from being jammed into the wagon; surgery would be required. And her status as an injured, older dog meant that her chances at finding a home were slim. “Compared to America, the resources are very limited,” says Yu Hang, a volunteer at the Tangshan City Small Animal Protection Association, who is currently fostering Hui Hui at his home. “In China, handicapped animals are almost impossible to get adopted. Pets, by and large, are still a status symbol, and people only want pure breeds. A mutt is [hard enough] to get adopted, not to mention handicapped or old animals.”
Hope is not lost though. Across the globe, Steven Anderson, a volunteer with Crystal Lake-based 4 Greyhound Racers—a foster-based organization dedicated to the rescue of retired racing Greyhounds—including many who are seniors or have special needs—sat at his computer looking at Facebook pictures of a recent rescue of dogs intended for slaughter in China. When he saw a Greyhound in the group, he reached out to Gung to see about transporting the dog to the U.S. for adoption, but the dog had already been adopted. Months later, however, Gung told Anderson that she had just the dog for him: a sweet, kind-eyed Greyhound named Hui Hui.
For now, Hui Hui rests comfortably in the home of her foster dad in China while 4 Greyhound Racers, together with the Tangshan City Small Animal Protection Association and the Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, works to raise funds for her transport to Chicago and the subsequent veterinary care she will need. Anderson hopes Hui Hui can make the trip in late summer or early fall. “It really depends on how our fundraising goes, how much a ticket costs to have someone from her shelter fly over with her, or if we can find someone to donate their miles to have someone from her shelter fly over with her,” he says. As for her chances of finding a home once she gets here, Anderson is happy to report that he’s already had many people express interest in adopting her.
Hui Hui is not in Chicago yet, but she is far away from the horror that once awaited her. Her story is a beacon of hope—another step in the right direction toward ending the Chinese dog meat industry. While it may seem like just one small victory, it sends a message that the rescue community cares and will continue fighting to protect innocent animals who cannot speak for themselves—even when they are thousands of miles away.