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Cathay Pacific

One Hongkonger’s mission to get pets saved from Chinese dog meat festival to new homes in the US

Natalie Phan already has volunteers to adopt the animals saved last year. Now all she needs is people willing to take them across the Pacific

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 April, 2018, 6:46pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 April, 2018, 8:15am

One Hongkonger is recruiting volunteers to join a trans-Pacific rescue mission getting dogs saved from the Yulin dog meat festival to new homes in the United States.

Natalie Phan said she was looking for volunteers flying direct with Cathay Pacific Airways from Hong Kong to major American cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York, who are willing to take the dogs with them.

She will meet volunteers at Hong Kong International Airport and help them check in with  the animal in a container, which they will pick up at their destination. She will pay all extra baggage costs and provide the necessary legal documents for the animals.

Between 10 million and 20 million dogs are killed for food annually in China, according to the Humane Society International, an animal rights charity. At the controversial annual festival in Yulin, Guangxi province, thousands of the animals are killed in conditions activists say are brutal, with dogs beaten and boiled alive in the belief that the more terrified they are, the tastier the meat.

Activists often save batches of the animals from the slaughterhouse during the festival, with a view to finding them homes abroad. And that is where Phan’s volunteers come in.

“The traveller would not have to pay anything. We have already matched the dogs with American families over the internet and the adopted parents will be waiting to pick up the animals at the arrival hall of the airport,” Phan, who has been involved in the rescue since last year, said. 

“The most difficult part for the traveller is to claim the dogs once they arrive and carry them past immigration, where they present all the legal documents to the officers.”

Having a volunteer take the dog to the US costs half as much as transporting the animal to the country alone, she said.

At least 10 dogs, mostly mongrels, were waiting at a clinic in Shenzhen, mainland China, to be rehomed, said Phan, who has been appealing for the public’s help on a Facebook page called Fight Dog Meat.

Phan said the animals have to head so far afield – rather than just coming to Hong Kong – because bringing dogs to the city is complicated. Dogs and cats from the mainland have to go into quarantine for a minimum of four months, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

The dogs in Shenzhen were among about 1,000 who survived the festival in Yulin in June last year. A few days before the dogs were set to be killed and eaten, Chinese animal activists intercepted the truck carrying them, in cages, to a slaughterhouse. The activists quickly called for backup and hundreds of volunteers rushed to the scene, using private vehicles to besiege the lorry.

They demanded to see health and transportation certificates for the animals, and when the driver failed to present the documents the activists called the local authorities. Officials eventually let the activists unload the dogs and move them to a shelter in Guangzhou. 

It is such a cruel event. I always feel so bad for the dogs
Carman Lam, volunteer

When the dogs were rescued, many were delirious with hunger and thirst, wailing loudly or just whimpering, said Phan, the only Hongkonger who is still helping with the cross-border rescue. Phan said many later died due to extreme poor health. Some have already been adopted.

In the long term, Phan said she hoped to recruit as many flight volunteers as possible, as she expected more animal rescue missions on the mainland.

Carman Lam, who volunteered to take a mongrel called James to New York City, said she was happy to help. 

Why this dog was saved from the dinner bowl in South Korea

“I am an animal-lover and I heard about the dog meat festival in China a long time ago. It is such a cruel event. I always feel so bad for the dogs,” said Lam, who holds a US passport and visits Hong Kong every two years.

“Time and location was just right for me [to volunteer], so I thought it was meant to be.”

On March 14, 2017 Lam took James to New York. When they landed at John F. Kennedy Airport, they met Maria, from Long Island, and her family, who had decided to adopt James after watching a video appeal on Facebook.

Lam said the process was smooth and it took her 20 more minutes than usual to pick up James and get through immigration checks.

Phan said Cathay Pacific allows dogs to be checked in as pets, and flying direct would make the transit easier for the animals. Cathay Pacific said it carries pets in the cargo section of the aircraft, which has the same temperature and pressure as the passenger cabin. But it has certain restrictions on the animal’s breed, size, and container requirements. For example, the dog must be able to stand, turn around and lie down naturally in the cage.