By Gopi Krishnan
Having painfully learned the lesson back in 2015, that the subject of the World Dog Show in Shanghai was a very highly charged emotional one; one that was not worth arguing about on social media or anywhere else, as there seemed to be only two points of views and never a moderate in between one, I then personally decided to take a different road in this matter of how I could contribute and promised to remain silent in public on this issue, to not argue my case, which only seemed to fall on deaf ears and cause further aggravation.
There was no convincing an angry mob. Recently I watched the attacks on colleagues and the temptation to write something was strong, but I resisted. I resisted until a good dog friend in the UK, Steve Williams, who I’ve known for a very long time, wrote to me privately asking me why I personally supported the World Dog Show in Shanghai and was proud to be judging there. His diplomatic approach prompted this reply.
“As a dog lover, I do not condone or support the practice of eating dogs and I abhor the violent way in which dogs are murdered for the cooking pot. But it didn’t make me hate an entire nation or vow to never have anything to do with them, for a practice they have done for centuries and thought no ill of. Hate the practice, not the people. Or else how will we bring about meaningful change?
I applaud the efforts of the many who attempt to rescue dogs from the cooking pot and re-home them. The valiant few who are on the ground, in the thick of the action, doing their part to rescue these dogs. But for every one that is saved, there are more being bred or caught, headed for the same fate. To me it’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken in a different way, not just through rescue and changing government legislation.
Education is the key to bringing about change. Education to change mindsets. I’m not saying that people don’t have a right to be angered by this practice of eating dogs, but most of these people have never stepped foot in China, many citing the barbaric practices as the reason for not wanting to, yet feel that a boycott is the way to bring an end to this practice.
So how is that going to happen from behind their keyboards? If you don’t engage with the people, there is little chance of making an impact.
Too many do not realize that this ancient culture has in the last 30 years been brought screaming into the 21stcentury. Whilst the traditional ways of thinking have drastically changed, it is still going to take a little more time for them to see things in a different light, after centuries of only knowing one way.
Communism locked their hearts and minds and kept them in the dark ages in many ways you cannot imagine, especially in their way of thinking and their attitude to the value of life itself. One can never know what that feels like unless you’ve experienced it. The older generations are struggling to find their feet in this new dawn, with a new found value about life itself.
This is what have I observed about China in the last 5 years that I have been going there. I see the younger generation assimilating to our way of thinking a lot faster than their parents and grandparents.
I see the vast majority of young children now speaking English, which means they are exposed to western culture and ways of thinking through their exposure to the world wide web and their ability to read and comprehend English as they spend hours on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Please don’t be fooled to think they don’t have access to these social media platforms because it is banned in their country.
This younger generation are having a much faster cultural paradigm shift, due to exposure to western culture via the internet. So I am quietly hopeful that this younger generation will see things differently due to this exposure and crucially because they are also being EDUCATED. Many of their parents and grandparents were never given the opportunity of education. A huge contributory factor in how any society will behave and think.
In my short life on planet earth thus far, I have the hard way, realized that the way to win someone over to my way of thinking, is to respect their views, remain clear and firm in mine, but never appear to be superior or to judge their beliefs or practices. Positive engagement brings more meaningful results. This approach of dealing with the officials at the Chinese Kennel Union has given me a platform to engage with them and propose a few projects to start making a difference through education. They have readily opened up and given me time of day, because I have not judged them or tarred genuine dog lovers as grotesque dog eating fiends, but like them want to find a way to help change this cultural practice which all dog lovers find hard to accept.
I had heard that the CKU runs its own animal shelter housing well over 1000 stray dogs and cats (90% dogs) on the outskirts of Beijing and wanted to see it for myself. What I saw moved me immensely. Firstly I have never seen such well-fed shelter animals (I am involved with the second largest animal shelter in Malaysia, so I have personal experience with shelter animals and is not something I read on the internet). The animals were extremely well cared for. There is zero intention to re-home them, as they were all abandoned or saved from the cooking pot, many had been injured or have temperament issues, making them unlikely to be wanted and so the idea is for them to live out their days here, as the shelter practices a no kill policy!
Run at a yearly cost of well over Great Britain Pounds 200,000 and entirely funded by the CKU. How many kennel clubs can boast running an animal shelter? Yet they are constantly accused of not doing enough or of doing nothing in the effort to end the dog meat trade.
The Chinese Kennel Union runs a no kill shelter at a yearly cost of well over £200,000 GBP (approximately $350,000 CAD or $260,000 USD).
The truth is that the CKU have a very poorly run publicity machinery and never make known the many things they quietly do behind the scenes, to end the dog meat trade and to do their part in lobbying their government to bring about palpable changes that will be acceptable to genuine Chinese dog lovers. I’ve said this to them over and over again. Let’s not forget that they are one small organization dealing with a hard line “communist” government, with the world’s largest population, in a country that is larger than Europe itself.
Being realistic – if it was so easy for Kennel Clubs to influence and control their governments, we wouldn’t have faced issues like the tail docking ban or other newer issues that seems to plague genuine dog breeders, where governments, not kennel clubs have mandated changes.
Having seen how well kept the animals were at the CKU shelter and how some had good temperaments, I came back and wrote a proposal which they have modified and implemented.
I suggested a project called Friend not Food. I encouraged them to take advantage of the initiative by the Chinese government to take learning outside the classroom, to invite young school children on a regular basis to this shelter and allow them to see the dogs and cats and importantly interact with them. Many have never known the love of a dog, having never had an opportunity to even pat a dog. To have their faces licked, to romp and play with these dogs would totally change their mind set on the role of dogs in our lives.
This coupled with talks about how to treat animals responsibly and what an important role they play in modern society as search & rescue dogs, guide dogs for the blind, disability dogs, etc. Importantly that they are our friends, not food.
Due to logistical issues, the project had to be modified in the first phase to take the teaching and learning to the schools themselves and the LIFE CARE Project was launched. The CKU have successfully run regular talks in major kindergartens, primary schools and other learning centres to educate children about respecting and loving other life forms, especially dogs and cats.
The plan is to take this project out of Beijing nationally and is entirely funded and run by the CKU. Little embryonic steps you may say, but steps in the right direction to influence and educate the next generation, who will be the ones to bring about the changes.
When there is no longer demand, there will not be any supply. This is just one example of the sort of projects we can help the CKU with, to bring about meaningful change through positive engagement and not to treat them like lepers. I believe in positive engagement, not shunning and shaming from afar, as that brings about a wall of resistance. There are a few more similar projects by CKU in the pipeline, including one of using influencers and public TV and Music personalities to run a campaign along the same vein of LIFE CARE/Friend not Food.
By shunning them, abusing them, name calling, how have we helped to end this practice of eating dog meat. By not going to a dog show or even if you refused them the opportunity to host the World Dog Show, how would it have helped improve the plight of those dogs being killed or of ending this practice.
The irony is that due to the very fact that the World Dog Show has been awarded to China has brought about so much attention to the plight of the dogs in the dog meat trade, that things have started to be done.
The justified mass hysteria due to the graphic images and videos flooding our time-lines, has caused people to lose sight of one key thing, the dog loving people of China, love and care of their dogs in the very same way that you and I love and care for our dogs.
Please remember that up until 30 years ago, it was rare for any Chinese family to have a dog as their pet. Why? Because under communism they struggled to feed themselves, let alone an extra mouth and an animal at that!
But things have changed drastically. The new found personal freedom and affluence has led to dogs becoming much loved and cherished members of their household. In fact on many visits to China, I came away feeling they have gone way overboard. The explosion of doggy spas, swimming pools and other activity centres for dogs all across China, is proof that the place of dogs in Chinese society is changing.
So WHY are we tarring everyone of them with the same brush? Why it is assumed that the dog lovers of China condone the practice of eating dog meat? Why are we not banding together with fellow like minded people to change the mind set of their countrymen?
Isn’t that how wars are won by finding and working alongside allies with common beliefs?
How many advanced kennel clubs in the ‘civilized’ world reached out in support to the CKU, offering them help to jointly work with them to end the dog meat trade. Why didn’t those with more experience offer their valuable expertise? Instead, the vast majority opted to boycott, condemn and vilify them. Did it help?
Will the World Dog Show be the sole contributory factor in ending the dog meat trade in China? No it won’t. Will it have any effect. Yes.
Will it make people start to see dogs in a totally different light. Most certainly it will start to. Why? Because the CKU are making every effort to ensure that as many of their countrymen know that the Olympics of dog shows will be proudly hosted in their nation for the very first time and in Asia for only the second time in the 100+ year history of the FCI. No big deal to you. But a huge one to a nation that takes pride in showing they are part of the modern global stage.
Every news network and press syndicate is being asked to provide coverage of the event. To see these dogs from a different light will surely, if at least in a small way make the Chinese people sit up see things differently with regards to dogs. That is my prayer. But my hope is in Education. Over and over again through the history of man, education has always been the way forward. Why any different with this issue? It will take time, yes it’s embryonic, but it will have a more profound and lasting effect to change history and end this practice.
Am I delusional? Deluded? Or just ever the optimist? Who knows! But I have yet to hear a convincing argument in favour of a boycott getting to the crux of the matter or resolving the issue at hand in this instance.
If we really care about the dogs, shouldn’t we be going all out, to be the light? Let’s not even get started on the hypocrisy that exists in the rest of the ‘civilized’ dog world, which is conveniently side stepped. NO. I don’t want to get sucked into that negative vortex. I choose to focus on the positive and work towards being an agent of change. This is why I hold my head up high and proudly head to China this May. I have and will always support organizations that walk the talk and my motto will always be ‘HOW CAN I HELP?’”
By Gopi Krishnan