Blame it all on Facebook. There I was, innocently scrolling through my morning news feed, sipping coffee and catching up with what my “friends” were doing, when I stumbled upon a photograph that changed my life.
The image depicted several German Shepherds on the back of a rickety-looking truck, packed in cages far too small for their large, long-legged bodies. In fact, the dogs were crammed in so tightly, their paws stuck out between the metal bars in awkward, seemingly painful positions. Languishing beneath a thin tarp that barely shielded them from the hot sun, they were clearly suffering, their mouths hanging open as they panted, their faces the epitome of stress and exhaustion. And there, leaning against the truck’s passenger-side door, stood the driver, a skinny Asian man smoking a cigarette with a blasé expression on his face, seemingly oblivious to the anguish of the animals in his care.
The scene hit me square in the heart. These poor canines could have been my Shepherds, who at the time were dozing contentedly in their respective spots on my home-office floor, their bellies full of breakfast. And as I read the photo caption, my blood turned to ice. These beautiful, intelligent, emotional creatures weren’t headed to a shelter or anyplace where their suffering would be ended and eventually forgotten. These unfortunate dogs were headed to the live-meat markets of Vietnam, where they would be slaughtered and eaten.
I felt as if my brain was about to explode. Did people in Asia really eat dog meat? Wasn’t that just an old joke? Maybe they had in the past, during times of desperation, of famine, but not now, not in the 21st century! I simply couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had to know more. I did a Google search and began to read and read and then read some more. And with every article, every website, every image, graphic or otherwise, my heart began to break into more and more pieces.
Yes, I discovered, people in Asia and even Africa eat dog (and cat) meat. In fact, pet meat is a multi-billion dollar, unregulated trade, especially in parts of China, South Korea, and Vietnam, where the flesh of companion animals is considered a delicacy and purported to have (unproven) health benefits. Approximately 10 million dogs and cats are eaten each year in China alone. But the worst part? These “humans” involved in this trade weren’t just killing these animals, they were torturing them first, due to the false belief that the adrenaline stimulated by intense fear and suffering makes a dog or cat’s meat more flavorful and beneficial to human health.
Suddenly my reality was no longer the same. I felt like Alice after she’d fallen down the rabbit hole, or Neo in The Matrix after he swallowed the red pill. I knew I couldn’t go back to being happily oblivious that this level of cruelty existed – those days were over. I would have to do something, and at that very moment I decided that I would do what I did best – write. I would use my writing skills to let the world know that this horrible trade existed and must be stopped.
Mind you, my objective wasn’t to condemn any culture for its food choices, but to stop this egregious cruelty. Because to “humanely” kill and then eat an animal is one thing, but to intentionally put it through prolonged, agonizing pain is another. That is simply barbaric and wrong.
I felt like I was on fire. I contacted the animal welfare organization that had posted the photo and volunteered my writing and editing services to them. I learned everything I could about the trade: its history, its economic impact, its players, and the propaganda and fake medicine dealers tout to perpetuate the demand and thus, line their pockets. I forced myself to watch videos I now wish I hadn’t seen and cried out loud in horror and despair. What I was witnessing was raw barbarity. How could any human being do such things to another living creature?
My brain haunted with images I couldn’t shake, I lie awake at night, staring into the darkness and sobbing at the thought of all those innocent animals that were probably suffering right at that very moment, while I was powerless to stop it. Unable to halt my tears, I often awakened my poor husband, who wasn’t sure what to do but hold me until I cried myself to sleep.
I knew it was wrong to blame an entire culture, that there were many wonderful animal lovers and activists in these countries who cared about animals, despised this trade, and were fighting to stop it, but I struggled with hateful, judgmental, and racist thoughts nonetheless. Though I tried to remind myself that people involved in the dog and cat meat trade were most likely ignorant and desensitized individuals who were the product of an environment bereft of compassion and empathy, I hated them nonetheless.
It seemed that the more I learned, the angrier I became. I went through a very bitter, cynical period. I got irritated when someone would ask me what I was writing about, and when I would try to tell them they’d make a face and cut me off with, “Ugh, okay, stop, I don’t want to know!” I didn’t understand why people would rather be ostriches, choosing to remain ignorant rather than become enlightened so they could either do something to stop this suffering or simply help to spread awareness, too.
Then I realized I was being a bit of a hypocrite – with my own eating habits. Here I was, consuming the meat of farm animals while at the same time judging other cultures for eating the meat of companion animals. What made the lives of pigs, chickens, cows, lambs, and turkeys any less important than those of dogs and cats? No creature, be it human or non-human, wants to suffer and die. I knew I had to walk the walk if I was going to talk the talk, so I started reading everything I could about the evils of factory farming to help lose my taste for animal flesh, something I had always consumed in moderation but still enjoyed from time to time. It’s been two years since I last tasted animal flesh, and I’ve never looked back.
But while I had stopped being violent in my eating habits, I was still being violent in my thoughts – toward people who either didn’t seem to care or “didn’t want to know.” I realized that harboring such anger and resentment was only hurting my psyche and not solving anything, so I shifted my thinking and attitude. After all, did I really want to be one of those self-righteous vegans?
Sure, anyone with a compassionate heart cares about animals, but I do believe there is such a thing as “compassion fatigue” in our society. Our world is riddled with so many problems, so much cruelty and pain, that I think most people feel helpless, overwhelmed, and not sure what to do or where to even begin. So they shut down. I’ve certainly been there. And just because my eyes were open didn’t mean that everyone, even members of my own family, were interested in opening theirs.
I knew I had to try to understand where most people were coming from so I could let go of my frustration. I would find my “tribe” of fellow animal activists eventually, but meanwhile, it was time to find other platforms for my animal-centric writing and awareness efforts. And that’s when I began writing for Dogster and soon after, started my own blog, Care Like I Do. Since then, my writing career has never been more fulfilling.
Non-human species don’t have the ability to fight for their rights, tell their own stories, or change the systems that are harming and enslaving. So I will tell their stories and be their voice, and maybe, just maybe, I will get through to someone and they will feel inspired to help animals, too.
Just imagine if all of us did one thing, big or small, to make a difference – what a safer, happier, and more compassionate world we could co-create together!
Read more about the dog-meat trade by Lisa Plummer Savas:
About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom, and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, she is especially focused on using her writing to spread awareness about animal welfare and cruelty issues. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work by visiting her blog and website.