From Chinese Meat Truck to Service Dog Prospect

pasted-imageIn March 2015, my life hit a pretty rough spot.  It was that type of rough spot that completely rocks the very foundation of your world; you know, the kind that makes you wonder if it’s really worth getting up the next morning.  For some time after, I wandered around my house feeling, alternately, dramatically emotional or depressingly apathetic.  I couldn’t focus on anything, it felt like any purpose I had had was now loose in the wind.  We all go through these phases, when life changes without our permission, and eventually we come out on the other side.  Sometimes it’s just through time and patience, and sometimes with the help of another, larger and in my case, furrier type of life-line.


Not long after the worst day of my life, I was tagged on FaceBook in yet another plea for funds to help some poor animals half-way around the world suffering from neglect and torture.  I usually scroll past these, not because I don’t care, but because I care so much and it breaks my heart not being able to help them all.  On this day, absorbed in my own pain and confusion, something about the disheartening picture of dogs stuffed onto an open truck tugged at my conscious.  So I clicked on the link… And was swept up into a world of horror and hope far beyond my own inner turmoil.

Below is the picture I couldn’t scroll past that day.  150 large breed dogs, piled together onto a Chinese meat truck, destined for the slaughterhouse.  I have since learned that this is a surprisngly common scene in China, where animal shelters are largely forbidden, and dogs are more likely to become someone’s next meal then be welcomed into a home as a pet. These dogs were lucky. A group of dedicated animal rights activists threw themselves in front of the truck, refusing to move until the animals had been unloaded and taken in by local rescues for a second chance at life.


Of the 150 dogs on board the truck that day, 20 of them were the easily recognizable Tibetan Mastiffs, enormous, fluffy animals who had become something of a craze with the Chinese elite in recent years.  You may remember the articles that were splashed all over the internet last year, about the world’s most expensive dog:

That was a Tibetan Mastiff.  What you probably haven’t seen or read, was a more recent New York Times Article published just one month after I clicked on that link, the one sharing the story of these very 20 Tibetan Mastiffs, once sold for millions, now barely escaping the slaughterhouse:

I remembered the article about the world’s most expensive dog, but I knew nothing about the fad coming to an end, and even less about the plight of these beauitful animals all across China.  My first exposure to their story was purely by chance, when someone thought to tag me in a fundraising campaign on Facebook.  I read the Mastiffs’ story.  I learned about Camilla Larsson, the Swedish woman living in China, who was determined to help them find safe new homes.  I was both disgusted and touched; in a part of the world where animals rate so little, here were people from around the world, proving that goodness still exists.

For days after visiting that webpage, I found my thoughts returning to the plight of those dogs. Tibetan Mastiffs are an uncommon breed in most parts of the world, and their sheer size and temperment make them a poor fit for inexperienced dog owners.  Camilla was hoping to find homes for the dogs outside of China, to minimize their risk of ending up on another slaughter truck somewhere down the road.  With no children, a comfortable life, and as the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization serving animals, how could I not step in and offer one of these dogs a home?  I approached my husband, Will, with the idea, who promptly laughed and tuned me out, no doubt thinking I was on yet another rescue mission to try to ease the unrest in my own world. Telling myself he was right, I sent the email I had prepared for Camilla to my trash bin, telling myself there was nothing I could do from England for a dog in China.

It took me about three weeks of begging, and a great deal of negotiating before Will finally gave in enough to agree to “maybe” consider helping out “somehow.”  I took that as a show of support and agreement, and dashed off to write a new email to Camilla, expressing our interest in adopting a dog, explaining my educational background in animal care, my experience as a dog trainer and pet owner, and pointing her towards the Pets Enriching Troops’ website, which I was sure would secure us at least a response.  I left out the part about Will giving in only to a Maybe, and focused on convincing this woman I had never met that we would be a great new home to one of those giant fluffy dogs!
87ca6f_b3f06915155a4e64828cbd7babbbca0e.jpg_srb_p_684_456_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srbThere were three dogs still waiting for forever homes when Camilla recieved my email. Two were females, which I knew would be difficult to integrate into our pack of five dogs with our two females already fighting for the top spot.  The other dog was a male named Elvis, a young “neutered male, very playful and social, most active of all of them, loves to dig!”  Playful and social sounded promising, digging, not so much.  I took a look at the photos she attached, and fell promptly in love with a tri-colored, slobbery, muddy beast of a… bear?  Oh, no, that’s actually a dog. The King of dogs supposedly, if his name was anything to go by.

It’s now been over six months since I returned Camilla’s email saying, yes, yes we want Elvis.  Will has continued to spout off his “maybes” and “are you serious'” and “what are we going to do with ANOTHER dog?!?” fairly routinely.  In the meantime, we’ve been through a whole lot of breath holding while waiting for approval from the Chinese govenment to export him from the country.  On top of that, he failed his first Rabies titre test back in June (indicating he had not been vaccinated as he should have been as a puppy).  The failed test meant he needed to be re-vaccinated, we had to wait another month, then he would be retested for passing levels.  The dog once scheduled to arrive at his new home by the end of August, was now looking at a three month delay.

Elvis passed his second Rabies titre, a huge relief to everyone but Will, who was sticking stubbornly to his “maybe” decision.  But now we had a tangible timeline, one we could count down the days on till his arrival.  My husband is a good man, really a great man, and his heart is bigger than a thousand oceans.  He may have been able to say no to just the dog, but he folded as he watched me come back to life through being a part of Elvis’ story, being a part of his second chance, of his new world.  When I mention his arrival now, he still mutters maybe, but I just smile: I’ve renamed Elvis, Moomkin, Arabic for “maybe” in honour of Will’s stubborn refrain.

87ca6f_3704b98c2575494e9b8da19801bf0946.jpg_srb_p_295_442_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srbIn exactly two weeks, on 2 Nov, 2015, Moomkin will land at the Frankfurt Airport in Germany, where my friend Olivia and I will be waiting to pick him up and bring him home. Camilla sends regular photos and updates of our boy; it’s hard to tell who is more excited, her or me!  Over the past six months, we have been told enough about Moomkin to consider the possibility of training him for work as my Service Dog.  My current boy, Nefsi, is a large GSD, whose hips will continue to grow sore with age and work; he could use a partner to give him a break now and then.  Moomkin will be evaluated as a prospective Service Dog during our week in Germany, in order to assess him without bias and in his cleaniest state, before my dogs and their bad habits get ahold of him.  If all goes as hoped, he’ll enter training after a few weeks of rest and adjustment.  He’ll have come a long way over the last year: from a Chinese meat truck to a service dog prospect. We hope his story will bring the plight of dogs in China to light, and inspire others to step in and do the seemingly impossible.

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