THEIR fluffy, beaming faces look the picture of happiness, but Bambi and Bonnie have just escaped a grotesque fate far worse than death.
The miniature poodles were narrowly rescued from China's booming dog meat trade, where they faced having legs hacked off while alive, then blowtorched.
It is estimated that the country is responsible for killing 10million dogs for human consumption each year, with traders selling canned meat, dog sausages, roasted legs and even dog penis snack packs.
Bambi was found in the kitchen of a restaurant with her legs broken so severely that the bones had completely separated.
But owner Emily Parker – a founding member of rescue organisation, Slaughterhouse Survivors – says she’s seen a lot worse.
“Quite regularly we have dogs come to us that have already been a part of the torture or abuse before being rescued," she explains.
“We’ve had dogs such as Stark the doberman, who had his leg cut off. We had another who actually had both legs from his left side amputated.
We’ve had dogs such as Stark the doberman, who had his leg cut off. We had another who actually had both legs from his left side amputated
“They’ll usually start with the legs because it doesn’t kill the dog, so it means that the adrenaline is pumping around the dog's system.
“They believe that the longer they can keep the dog alive while they’re preparing the meat, the better it will be for them.”
The charity has rescued 3,000 dogs since it was set up in 2016, but millions more have ended up being maimed and slaughtered in an industry estimated to be worth over £209m worldwide.
Emily, who usually lives in the north east province of Harbin but is back in Devon because of the coronavirus outbreak, tells Sun Online: “Knowing that humans are capable of that is probably the hardest part.”
Blowtorched alive at dog meat festival
Every June, in the south east city of Yulin, thousands of dogs are slaughtered, butchered, cooked and eaten for the ten-day Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, where some believe the fruit and meat combination will bring health through the long winter months.
Footage from last year’s event, which showed a dog being blowtorched alive, caused outrage around the world.
But the thousands slaughtered at Yulin are just a drop in the ocean for a legal trade that sees 30million dogs slaughtered worldwide annually.
Although it’s not part of the mainstream Chinese diet, China is the world's largest dog meat market, with 97,000 tonnes produced each year. A recent pork shortage sent the price sky high and boosted sales of dog products.
Pets and strays bludgeoned to death
Despite producers claiming the meat comes from legal ‘dog meat farms’, the lucrative trade has also led to an epidemic of dog thefts from pet owners, with one study finding that 87 per cent of households in one village lost a dog in the last few years.
Gangs of dog thieves capture strays and pets, sometimes through the use of anaesthetic-tipped needles shot from blow pipes or crossbows.
Dogs are typically bludgeoned to death in front of each other, put into a de-hairing machine to remove fur, and then blowtorched for sale to markets.
“I went to many slaughterhouses where we saw collars,” says Peter Li, Associate Professor of East Asian Politics at the University of Houston-Downtown. “Some dogs even had a jacket on.
“I witnessed the dogs waiting to be slaughtered, they were trembling and huddling with each other.
"They slaughtered all the dogs in the morning but they’d left 12 dogs for the next day. All these twelve dogs stood in a pool of blood."
I witnessed the dogs waiting to be slaughtered, they were trembling and huddling with each other
In December 2017, Chinese police in Anhui province arrested a gang that sold nearly 200,000 poisonous syringes to dog thieves.
In the same month, a court in Fujian province sentenced a dog thief in a rural village to death for trying to shoot a dog with a poisoned dart but accidentally killing a pregnant woman.
Meanwhile, last May a gang of 16 people in Jiangsu province were sentenced to between one and six years in prison for poisoning and stealing dogs, then selling more than 40,000kg of dog meat worth 400,000 yuan (£44,000).
Food safety laws are often broken by the dog traders, who smuggle the animals across borders without legitimate paperwork.
But this gives activists a chance to intervene, by stopping cramped trucks in quiet country lanes and reporting them.
“They’ll call the local authorities because they know these dogs shouldn’t be on the trucks – they’re being illegally transported,” says Emily.
“There are so many local activists, they’ll actually try to barricade the trucks to allow them to have that time for the local authorities [to arrive].
“Then the dogs get handed over to organisations such as ourselves.”
'It was a massive eye-opener'
After being checked for disease, and given vaccination jabs, the dogs are taken into the Harbin shelter before being re-homed around the world.
“With a lot of them, we need to spend a lot of time behaviourally just to build up trust,” says Emily.
Emily – who founded the Harbin SHS centre with fellow dog lovers Aimee Clark and Hayley Hayes – originally went to China to travel and teach but, missing her family dog, she volunteered at a the only dog home in the area.
"I didn't know anything about the dog meat trade and it was a massive eye opener," she said.
"I didn't know that anything like that existed over there. You can't really close your eyes once you know that that's going on. Then I met the other two girls, and they were very similar in their mindset."
Hayley initially found five dogs that needed help and the three girls decided to set up a rescue home.
"We started with these five dogs. And then it went from five dogs to 10, then 15 and 20, and it just built from there."
Chinese pet lovers in revolt
Despite the booming trade, there are an increasing number of pet lovers in China as well as growing opposition to the slaughter of dogs.
“Animal lovers are winning the debate,” says Peter Li. “The other side are absolutely on the defensive.”
In 2018, the Humane Society International (HSI) handed over a letter signed by 1.5million people calling for an end to the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival, supported by 87 Chinese animal protection groups.
Clare Bass, UK Director of HSI, said: “Contrary to the assumptions by many in the West, most people in China don’t eat dogs and in fact they are horrified at the thought of a trade that takes their canine companions away from them.”
As the coronavirus outbreak saw the Chinese government introducing laws banning the sale and consumption of wild animals, one South China city, Shenzhen, also drafted legislation which explicitly bans eating dog meat.
It is still not illegal to kill and eat dogs in the UK and campaign groups, like the World Dog Alliance, claim the lack of a ban sets a bad example to other countries where the practice is more common.
Giles Watling, MP for Clacton, agrees the law should change here.
“Because we’re a world leader in animal welfare, we need to wave the flag to the rest of the world,” he says.
“What we can do is pass a law that outlaws the consumption of dog and cat meat. It’s not for us to dictate to other cultures what they should or should not eat, but it’s for us to say: ‘this is what we do, if you like it, follow us’.”
For Emily, the hard work continues but it does have its rewards.
The yearly bill, supported by donations, is more than £600,000 and Emily estimates she’s spent around £30,000 of her own money on the rescue effort.
“I wouldn’t change it for a thing, at all, they’re worth everything," she says.
"When see the happy ever afters, the dogs with the final families and living the lives that they deserve to live, that feels feels pretty good."
You can follow Slaughterhouse Survivors on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/slaughterhouse_survivors
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