Love Recognizes No Barriers

Some of the bigger dogs at the shelter in China: the black one was
very sweet; they looked almost like border collie/lab mixes but were
street dogs at risk for being slaughtered for meat

Love Recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, and penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope-Maya Angelou

Another view of the big dogs. They are
in small groups in rooms around the courtyard

2011 turned out to be the “international” year as Home for Life welcomed new dogs and cats from Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Thailand and Japan. Currently in residence at the sanctuary are not only animals from these countries but also animals Home for Life has welcomed who came from Canada, Korea and Taiwan.

The obvious question is why Home for Life would take dogs or cats who live thousands of miles away, in another country. Are there not enough animals who need Home for Life’s services, right under our noses, right here in Minnesota and Wisconsin or at least the Midwest?

Everywhere there are many animals who deserve a chance and want to live but for whom adoption into a typical home is not an option.

A smaller mix breed dog on the steps of a bigger
enclosure at the head of the courtyard

While conventional shelters and animal rescues focus on “adoptable “ cats and dogs, until Home for Life, few opportunities were available for special needs animals. Home for Life, the third door in animal welfare, provides a life saving and innovative alternative for animals who may never find an adoptive home but for whom euthanasia is premature and inhumane.

If an animal needs help, does it really matter where they came from? Why disregard them just because of where they were born? We stretched to help indi, chok-dee, Kitchee, Leah and Nino because we could not turn away. When it becomes easy to dismiss suffering and desperate need, simply because of where it originates, Home for Life will have lost sight of what we stand for. No matter where the animals came from it was clear these dogs and cats had no other options and needed our help.

Part of Home for Life’s mission is showing what is possible, that animals like our 2011 international rescues can live a great life if given the opportunity. Though these are just a few animals out of the many we have helped, they are emblematic of the animals who need a refuge like Home for Life: these desperate cats and dogs have nowhere else to turn.

You can read the profiles of some of our other international rescues, from Canada, Japan and Korea, at these links:
Profile of Icy, from Canada
Profile of Nabi the dog , from South Korea
Animal Update of Momo the cat , from Okinawa Japan

The thought of visiting some of the shelters and rescues where our international rescues came from was not something I imagined would ever happen. I am so busy at Home for Life and hate to fly. However when in China this October for a trip, I had the opportunity to visit a shelter in China and to see first hand the dedication and hard work of the people who advocate for and rescue animals in other countries. I am sure Animal Rescue Beijing( is representative of many of the rescues found in the countries of birth of our international animals.

At the end of October, this year, my husband and I travelled to Beijing China with some friends who know the country well. I never thought I would travel to China; frankly it was not a part of the world I was dying to see. Africa, the Galapagos, Australia all had priority. I dread flying, and the 14 hour plane ride was daunting

Beijing was a wonderful place to visit but not a relaxing vacation destination. The culture was so different that it was hard to be at ease even though the Chinese people are very gracious, friendly and curious about Americans. They are very proud of their country. There were hundreds of them visiting the tourist destinations like the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City to learn about their heritage.

Irene Zhang, left, Teacher Wu and I at Animal Rescue Bejing
It required a lot of effort to get along: the language and even the alphabet was so different, and there are so many more people than even major American cities like Seattle or Boston. Watching the Chinese people drive and pedestrians survive walking in traffic is an amazing experience: the traffic and pedestrians flow like water to any place there is an opening, and I was astonished that no one ever got hit. It is as if the drivers have an intuitive sense of how to move without taking each other out. The Chinese people are definitely the bravest pedestrians I have ever seen. They have confidence that the drivers won’t hit them. One explanation that was offered by some people we met who were familiar with the culture is that China is a collective where in America we think and act as individuals. For instance there is no idea in China of standing in line one person behind the other like we do in the U.S; they all just converge together in a big although peaceful group. I never feel threatened, as if I was in a mob or a riot as you might if that same situation happened in this country. One great experience I had was coming upon a group of several hundred Chinese people dancing on the plaza in downtown Beijing. We were walking back to the hotel after dinner, and there they all were: young people, old people, boys, girls, men and women. It kind of looked kind of like line dancing, kind of like a flash mob and kind of like an aerobics class. They were all in lines, dancing away, with two young women dancing on the front steps of the plaza as the leaders . The music sort of sounded like techno: they played it from two boom boxes. Some of the younger dancers would add extra flourishes and steps, but pretty much everyone seemed to know the steps and the dance routines. I learned that every night at 8 pm, people gather spontaneously from all over to just dance on the plaza to get their exercise. Most people live in apartments with no yards of their own so this is their chance to get outside and have some fun and exercise.

Teacher Wu let the different dog groups out to play in the central courtyard so I got to meet each of them. They are all well loved and well socialized. Here I am greeting a sweet,small mix breed who is fluffy like a poodle mix: Irene Zhang on the left, playing with the small kennel-mate to the fluffy one and Teacher Wu, smiling is at right

The time difference was a challenge especially while trying to keep on top of what was happening back at Home for Life. Calls at 2 or 3 am China time from staff and the vets were a regular occurrence while I was gone. I was not able to access social media at all as China restricts Twitter and other outlets as well as search engines like Google( in that regard it may be impossible for you to see Animal Rescue Beijing's website.) It’s a fascinating country but communist and that was most evident while we were there when trying to use the internet, google, twitter, etc.

A great view of the central courtyard. the building facility is older but works really well for the dogs
China is advancing headlong into the future in many respects: their forward thinking behavior was most apparent to me in the architecture and infrastructure they are constructing. One well known example of the futuristic architecture is the famous "bird's nest" building, constructed for the track and field events of the Summer Olympics held in Beijing a few years ago, and another example is the high speed railways they are building which stand elevated on tall support structures: they are building these transportation systems far into the countryside. Alongside all these George Jetson like buildings and transportation systems are quaint little shops and restaurants everywhere-we saw nothing like Wal-Mart or Target. We did see a lot of luxury stores: for instance near our hotel were car dealerships for Maserati, Rolls Royce, Bentley and every high end fashion designer imaginable: Armani, Gucci, Chanel and many others. Then there are the “pearl” markets that sell knock offs as well as jewelry, watches: kiosk after kiosk located in huge buildings. It is an overwhelming experience to try to browse as the vendors are very forward and will not take no for an answer. “ No thank you- I’m just looking” is not accepted! For a person who hates to shop as I do, it was sheer hell. So if I end up in hell ( as some people hope I do: you know who you are!!) it would be in the pearl market being chased down by dozens of vendors with knock off watches and Louis Vuitton purses.

As fast as China seems to be embracing the future, animal welfare lags behind the United States. According to our friends and others we spoke with familiar with the country and the city of Beijing, dog meat restaurants still exist. The Chinese people prefer cats as pets because most live in apartments. We saw no stray animals at all anywhere in Beijing but did see some people who had small pet dogs. Again, the preference is for small dogs and purebreds because so few people have homes with yards. The Chinese people appeared to be so hard working, working long hours 7 days a week just to earn their daily bread that it didn’t seem they would have time for a pet.

I had no thought of visiting a shelter or rescue while in Beijing but when I mentioned to Merrit Clifton, editor of Animal People Magazine that I was in China, he insisted that I get in touch with Irene Zhang, an animal welfare volunteer and advocate who also works as a translator. Merrit met her while traveling in China on assignment for Animal People , and has stayed in touch. Irene was more than gracious to arrange for us to be picked up at our hotel in downtown Bejing and driven to the Animal Rescue Beijing facility almost an hour away. With traffic being what it was this was a generous and gracious overture that I was glad to accept. She and the driver refused to take any contributions from us for gas.

We travelled far out into the country and then down a narrow street with older buildings on either side. The shelter is in a typical older style Chinese building with a wall and an inner courtyard. Entering through a door in the wall reveals rooms for the dogs surrounding the inner courtyard where the dogs take their exercise. The facility was humble but very clean. The dogs all looked healthy and well fed, and many were very social and friendly. The dogs lived in compatible groups of varying sizes from two dogs to about 6 or 7.

Animal Rescue Beijing had no cats at their facility because in China it’s the dogs that need help. Dogs are not sought after as pets, almost the opposite from the United State where the majority of euthanized animals each year are cats and kittens. At the shelter were many small dogs. Many looked to be Pekinese or peke mixes, but they had some bigger mixed breed dogs including a German Shepard and a golden retriever. Any of the small dogs and most of the big dogs which were loving and very cute, would have quickly found a home in the United States at most shelters. But in China, no one was interested in adopting them. “Teacher” Wu, the founder of Animal Rescue Beijing explained that to the extent anyone in China wants a dog, they want a purebred and a small purebred at that. She pointed out many of her dogs that had been in her care for over 6 years. Many had been rescued from dog meat vendors ( many of the larger dogs) or were abandoned and found running on the city streets starving.

“Teacher” Wu ( teacher is used as a term of respect by her volunteers) is a veterinarian by profession. In addition to the conventional treatments and care provided by a typical veterinarian, she also utilizes Chinese herbal treatments that she makes herself with great results for conditions like wounds and skin infections. Teacher Wu is a pioneer and visionary in her country, helping not only unwanted and forgotten companion animals but also striving to educate others about appropriate care of ALL animals in China. In addition to helping forgotten dogs, and advocating for spaying and neutering of companion animals to reduce the number of unwanted dogs and cats, Teacher Wu and ARB work with the local education departments to develop instructional materials for middle and elementary school age kids about kindness to animals and rabies prevention and control. Another area ARB has focused on is the education of farmers regarding the appropriate and humane care of production animals: China tops the world in the numbers of animals raised for meat and fur. Animal husbandry accounts for 33 % of the total agricultural production in China and 48.7% of the world animal husbandry industry. However, most of the farm owners in China are individuals who have little scientific knowledge and skills. The animals live in dirty environments with poor sanitation and quarrantine and inhumane treatment of the animals and the lack of professional veterinary services cause severe impact to the animals'welfare and the farmer's ability to make a living.

Animal Rescue Bejing also works to expose the cruelties involved in harvesting dogs for their meat, sun bears for bile, and has rescued and freed over 4000 wild birds and animals protected by Chinese law. They have investigated bear farms in northeastern China, fur animal markets in Hebei and the living conditions of other wild animals in Beijing, Qinling, Ninxia,Sichuan and Xinjiang. Based on their investigations, Teacher Wu and her supporters have advised the Chinese Ministry of Forestry on needed amendments to the country's Wild Animal Protection Law. It is tireless work as the concept of animal welfare is not well understood or widely appreciated in China, and everything must be done with the cooperation of the goverment- remember this is a communist country. It is not so much that the Chinese people don’t care as that they have not been exposed to some of the ideas those of us who are involved in animal welfare work here in the U.S. take for granted. Animal Rescue Beijing was founded in 1987 and is a branch organization of Beijing Haidian Senior Forest Scientists and Technicians Assoication which is affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Forestry Science. ARB is a non profit animal welfare organziation officially recognized by the goverment. Over the past several years ARB has devoted much energy to the lobbying for legislation to protect animals and to education and campaigning to acquaint the Chinese people, especially the youth and univesity students, with animal welfare concepts.

Inside the shelter building I greet some of the smaller dogs:
they were a great looking group of small mix breeds
very unique looking and all beautiful and well cared for

Teacher Wu spoke Chinese of course, and I spoke English but with Irene translating, it was very easy to communicate back and forth. That I shared her interest in animal welfare and rescue also made it somehow easier to communicate, and I felt that we had a natural rapport and understanding that transcended the language barrier.

a little small breed mix at Animal Rescue Bejing
I asked Teacher Wu whether she would ever consider sending some of her wards to the U.S. for adoption, remarking that many of these dogs could easily find a home in the States. I raised our experience with in Phuket, Thailand, who has sent HFL two dogs (our paraplegics indi and chok-dee) and who routinely finds homes for their rescued street dogs in Great Britain and Europe, Australia, New Zealand as well as in this country. She and Irene were polite, and sort of acknowledged the idea, but were not enthused. I could tell I had somehow put my foot in my mouth. They didn’t want to send their dogs away. They were proud, and proud of the care they were getting at the shelter, and loved their dogs. If they could find a new home for their charges they were determined that that home would be in China. They would not be sending them away half way across the world. It seemed that if a solution could be found, they would make that opportunity for themselves, where they were, instead of looking for the answer somewhere far away .

Click Here to Read More about the Animal Rescue Beijing Shelter in an article which appeared in Animal People magazine.

Animal Rescue Beijing's website: