Asia is known for much beauty and culture, but a Los Angeles gem dealer recently learned about a horrifying underbelly of Asian society involving the slaughter of companion animals for profit
The worlds of high-end jewelry and the Asian dog-meat trade could not possibly be more different; one aims to drive pure joy through beauty, rarity, and love while the other exists solely for sadistic torturers to turn meager profits in backward areas of the world.
As a longtime jewelry industry salesman and present-day sales professional for OMI Gems, Manos Phoundoulakis (pictured) knows a lot about luxury in terms of rare gemstones such as alexandrite and sapphire, but he and his wife, Kelle, recently got an education they could never forget about the plight of many dogs and cats in poor rural areas of China and other Asian countries where this meat trade exists. I wish I were making this up but I’m not: I’m talking about the dog and cat meat trade for human consumption in Asia.
Manos and Kelle’s education started several years ago when their first fur child, Jack the beagle, was diagnosed with cancer. Like many pet parents, the two scrambled to find the best treatment they could. That desire led them to a holistic healer and purveyor of natural food supplements as well as an animal acupuncturist and dog-cancer specialist in the LA area. The individual is Marc Ching, the owner of The PetStaurant, and a now increasingly visible advocate and activist for dog rescue abroad through his Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation.
Ching instructed the Phoundoulakises to change Jack’s diet, which ultimately lengthened his life more than they thought possible, but he also educated them about the Asian dog-meat trade. Ching was just starting to take trips to Asia to rescue dogs from slaughter, and the more the couple learned, the more they wanted to help. (At press time, Ching had just returned from a highly publicized rescue mission in China, and his friends the Phoundoulakises advised me not to contact him because he returns in such an—understandably—emotional state.)
Phoundoulakis learned that Ching, with the help of an interpreter, was seeking out slaughterhouses outside of Beijing. Once found, Ching donned a Go Pro camera and worked tirelessly to persuade many of the owners to close up shop and even helped them start other new businesses, like noodle shops. His goal was to break down those taboo walls surrounding the frowned-upon but not yet completely illegal dog-meat trade across Asia. Thus far, he’s had his life threatened with a machete and has had to buy numerous dogs in order to save them from a butcher’s blade. Who eats dog meat? Enough people that the Yulin Dog Meat Festival—sadly, this is real—takes place each June in China. However, a rising force of activists continue to pressure the government to ban it, and countless demonstrators brave persecution and harm in order to educate a population that lacks a will to shut down one of the most twisted industries on earth.
Eventually, Ching and the Phoundoulakises met Shannon Keith, founder of 12-year-old Animal Rescue Media and Education (ARME) and the nearly 6-year-old Beagle Freedom Project (BFP). ARME assisted in the rescue and transfer of one of the first shipments of dogs from the meat trade to fly to LA last year. On that flight was Boots, a 4-month-old German shepherd that Ching rescued. Boots’ feet were bound with rope by butchers to weaken him and make his feet easier to chop off. What does one do with baby shepherd’s feet? Adhere them to keychains— à la lucky rabbits’ feet—for the superstitious to collect. Ching nabbed Boots just in the nick of time, bringing him and others stateside in December 2015.
“When Marc rescued Boots, he could barely stand or walk and was just 16 pounds,” explains Phoundoulakis. (In comparison, a healthy 4-month-old German shepherd weighs about 42 pounds, according to breeders.) Manos and Kelle were present when Boots and other rescued dogs landed in LAX as a group of potential adopters and camera crews got their first look at the dogs—all skin and bones and with various ailments, like Boots.
Boots the 4-month-old German shepherd pup from China upon rescue from the dog-meat trade
Boots, whose legs were bound in order to weaken him, gets some TLC from rescuers
Manos Phoundoulakis with Boots upon arrival at LAX
“He was stimulated from the journey, but I got him to fall asleep on my lap,” recollects Phoundoulakis.
At home, Boots—given the name by Ching because of his near loss of limbs—initially struggled with hardwood floors and leg strength, but that was nothing that carpet runners and acupuncture (again, courtesy of Ching) couldn’t fix. “Within five days you saw such a difference,” says Phoundoulakis. “And to look at him now you can’t tell he had any issues.”
Baby Boots masters the stairs (it’s a video, click on it for unbelievable cuteness)
Today, a 75-pound Boots bounces happily around the Phoundoulakises’ home, completely unaware that his life was nearly exterminated just seven months earlier. Boots also has a friend named Bogart, a beagle saved from an animal lab testing facility in San Diego at age three and a half through Keith’s BFP. Bogart is now eight years old.
“Bogart hasn’t had any major issues yet, but you know he was a lab dog because he has a federal tattoo on his right ear,” says Phoundoulakis.
Bogart (left) meets Boots. Bogart was saved from an animal testing lab in San Diego by Beagle Freedom Project.
Boots today, 75 pounds of spoiled dog! From one dog owner to another: How long does that white comforter actually stay white?
In animal labs, dogs and other animals are used to test cosmetics, though no national law mandates this occur, according to Keith, an attorney who went into practice specifically to fight for animal rights. An exception: National law does mandate the use of animal testing for pharmaceuticals—“Even though the National Institutes of Health says that animal testing is a failed predictor for how drugs and devices are going to be handled in the human body,” says Keith in a phone interview with JCK. “Many drugs proven safe on animals have killed people, but the pharmaceutical industry is still required by law to test this way unless they have a valid alternative.”
Keith’s ARME works to protect animals of all types from exploitation—from animals in shelters on death row to ending cruel circus practices involving animals to exposing the fur trade through documentaries such as Skin Trade.
BFP is one of ARME’s projects and works exclusively on donations to save beagles and other animals from labs. Keith aims to end animal testing and negotiates with labs across the globe for the release of their animals in testing facilities and with lobbyists to change the laws surrounding animal welfare. She even successfully worked with the state of California to get it to force labs to release test dogs and cats.
“We don’t want to them to be sold off to another lab or killed because they are being tortured on a daily basis for makeup and laundry detergent.”
A better—albeit more expensive—means of testing household products? Synthetic skin, although it’s not legally required. On average, Keith saves about one to two dogs a week, though about 70,000 dogs are currently in labs across the U.S. To date, BFP has saved 632 animals since its inception on Dec. 23, 2010.
Download the Cruelty Cutter app from ARME to make informed purchasing decisions in stores so as not to support companies that employ animal testing methods.
To help or learn more about any of these efforts, log onto the websites of ARME, BFP, and Ching’s Petstaurant. Also helping theses causes: a Cruelty Cutter app for smartphones that was developed by ARME.
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