In The Bond, I argue that there’s a connection between people and animals that’s built into every one of us. We’re born with it. It may be expressed more fully in some of us than in others, and it also can be negated or nurtured by culture—which means that there’s wide variance in how animals are treated from community to community and nation to nation. The bond sends us in the right direction, but it’s up to us to make the right choices in life and to call upon other actors in society to do the decent thing for our fellow creatures.
That means that people everywhere are concerned about animals, even in places where it seems there are customs and economic activities at odds with our modern animal welfare sensibilities. Ever since The HSUS conducted an investigation in the late 1990s in China to expose the killing of dogs and cats for their fur, I’ve had deep concerns about the treatment of animals in the most populous nation in the world. More recently, though, I’ve been encouraged by the growing influence of civil society in China, as evidenced by many things, including the growing network of animal protection organizations there. These groups are working to defend animals against the many powerful forces in the economy that pull people and businesses in the wrong direction and put enormous numbers of animals at risk.
This weekend’s Washington Post had a story about the emerging social and class conflicts in China over the killing of dogs for meat. It’s still a major industry, with perhaps 10 million dogs bred for meat or gathered up in the streets and killed and eaten each year.
While that’s deeply disturbing, it’s encouraging to see the influence of an emerging animal protection movement, led by Chinese, that is challenging this practice. Pet-keeping is emerging in a powerful way in the country, and with it comes a greater connection and bond with other creatures. In April, more than 400 dogs were rescued from the trade, and the plan is to place them in homes to live as family pets.
Just a few months ago, Chinese advocates stood together to oppose the import of seal products from Canada to China, and the National People’s Congress accepted two legislative proposals on the topic. And in October 2010, the Chinese government put an end to inappropriate animal performances within zoos and other captive settings. Chinese activists have also rallied for sharks and against shark finning over the last few years.
A story in another paper mentioned the proliferation of vegetarian restaurants in Beijing, and how many Chinese are starting to question the industrial production of farm animals for food. Only three years ago, Humane Society International organized a major conference on animal welfare and agriculture, with special emphasis on the threat of concentrated animal feeding operations.
These are hopeful signs. But it’s not going to be easy in China—for many reasons, but above all because of the limited resources of struggling animal welfare organizations. That said, the presence of these organizations is tremendous, as is their determination to show the way and remind people of their responsibilities. The theme of kindness to animals has deep roots within Chinese culture and philosophy, and Chinese people and groups are the standard-bearers for those values.
Through the work of Humane Society International, we hope to strengthen the capacity of these organizations in the years ahead to lead the way. HSI has supported Chinese NGOs, participated in disaster rescue efforts, encouraged Chinese officials to re-evaluate their existing dog management policies, made a start on mercy release work in the People’s Republic of China, and initiated collaborative projects to improve the welfare of animals within a number of institutions. We’re also sponsors of the Asia for Animals conference, to be held at Chengdu from June 10 to 14, with 400 speakers and delegates from all throughout Asia. It’s one more expression of our commitment to work to spread humane values in every field, and everywhere.