Taking on China's Dog Meat Trade

By Joel P. Engardio

Animal rights activists in San Francisco are holding the leashes to their dogs a little tighter when they see city buses roll by with colorful ads promoting tourism in China’s Guangdong province.

Andrea Gung wants to stop the dog meat trade in and near Guangdong.

She is organizing a noon rally in San Francisco’s Union Square on Feb. 19 – Chinese New Year – to encourage California Gov. Jerry Brown to speak out against the practice of slaughtering and eating dogs in China’s southeastern provinces. Brown signed a sister state agreement with Guangdong last fall to strengthen economic ties.

“I know Jerry Brown loves his dog,” Gung said, referring to Sutter, the governor’s Welsh corgi who has his own Facebook page with 15,000 “likes.”

Gung expects hundreds of activists at the rally. After all, San Francisco’s dog owners have a loud political voice in a city that famously has more dogs than kids.

Gung runs the Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, which aims to connect a small but growing animal rights movement in China with the resources of longtime Bay Area dog advocates. The group is named for a dog Gung helped rescue in China. Duo Duo was going to be sold for meat after veterinarian students were done practicing surgery on the dog.

“I remember seeing people eat dog meat when I was a kid in Taiwan,” Gung, 55, said. “I hated it so much and felt powerless. This time I know I can do something.”

Today, Gung focuses on animal rights full time after selling her import business of 20 years in 2013. Her two German shepherds are supportive. So is her husband, though he is not actively involved.

“My husband is more into civil liberties,” Gung said. “He fights for people while I fight for dogs. But I’m a feminist, so I also fight for women.”

Last year, Gung joined the protest of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China’s Guangxi province where 10,000 dogs were reportedly killed and eaten.

“I want to highlight the cruelty and brutality of the dog meat trade to get people to stop eating dog,” said Gung, who alleged many pet dogs are stolen to meet demand.

She posts photos on her blog that purportedly show the conditions dogs endure before slaughter. Multiple live dogs are stuffed into small cages that are stacked high on transport trucks. Gung claimed dogs suffer crushed bones under the weight.

Then there are the unregulated and unsanitary conditions in back-alley slaughterhouses that Gung said raises food safety concerns.

Participants of the dog meat festival say such criticisms are an affront to their cultural traditions. They also say scrutiny by international media uses a western double standard.

“Don’t you eat beef?” one man asked a CNN reporter. “If you stop eating beef, then we’ll stop eating dog meat.”

Gung conceded the point. She admits to eating some fish while otherwise being “90 percent vegan.”

But she makes a distinction with dogs.

“There is no humane way to eat a dog because the dog is our best friend – and that is not just a western slogan,” Gung said to counter the claim she is imposing her value system on people who live in China. “The dog has always been associated with the word ‘loyal’ in Chinese culture.”

Gung likes to point out that many parts of China already consider it taboo to eat dog. Taiwan banned the practice in 2001.

In 2011, a dog meat festival with 600 years of tradition ended under public pressure in China’s eastern Zhejiang province when activists flooded social media with images of skinned and cooked dogs. It is now a folk and arts festival.

“The best part,” Gung said, “is they added a beauty and talent contest for dogs.”

Also published in San Francisco Examiner January 18, 2015

DogsJoel Engardio