Bodie bounds onto the well-worn leather sofa and makes himself comfortable, furry head on a blue chenille pillow. The 75-pound German Shepherd with soulful brown eyes and gigantic feet is a long distance from China, where his journey began.
This handsome canine is one of the lucky ones. Found abandoned on the streets of Shanghai, he spent three years in a local shelter before making his way to the United States and his 4,000-square-foot home in Elk Grove with new owners Anna and Dave Kuhn and their other two rescue dogs.
“His feet are the biggest ever,” Anna says, noting how slight the dog’s stature is in comparison. “It’s our theory that he was in a cage for most of his life because his growth is so stunted. You can tell by his paws that he should be a much bigger dog.”
The Kuhns took Bodie in as a foster through a group of volunteers whose mission is to rescue dogs headed for the meat trade. One of those volunteers, Joanna Ging, who lives and works in San Francisco, posted Bodie’s photo and story on Facebook.
“Joanna is one of the main players getting dogs out of China,” says Anna, whose sister sent her the Facebook link. Ging prefers not to bring a dog to the U.S. until she has secured a foster or permanent home, so Anna had to act fast. She emailed Ging immediately. “I said, ‘I will foster this dog. Get him on a flight. He has a place to go.’”
All good intentions aside, it was not long before the Kuhns knew Bodie was there to stay. “It was always my attention to just foster Bodie,” Anna says. “I thought I’ll get him acclimated here, get him cleaned up and find a family.”
But finding a family proved difficult. When Anna shared Bodie’s hard-luck story, “a lot of people were hesitant because they didn’t know his background,” she says.
A woman found Bodie wandering the streets of Shanghai where, according to Ging, it is common for people to sell stray dogs to the meat trade or kill the dogs themselves for food. The woman got Bodie to a vet for desperately needed medical care. X-rays revealed plastic bags, toothpicks and other trash in his stomach from eating anything he could find.
“When we got him he could barely stand up straight and walk,” Anna says. “His back legs were bowed. His fur was thin and course. He was very timid. He was not used to long walks. He couldn’t run. But we worked with him and he’s doing much better. He’s just a love.”
An estimated 10 million dogs are killed each year for their meat in China, reports the Humane Society of the U.S.
“Dogs are confined to crowded cages without adequate food or water until they are brutally killed—beaten, hung or electrocuted in front of other dogs—and sold for their meat,” according to HSUS, which calls the dog meat trade “highly unregulated.”
“There is no law in China to protect them,” Ging says. “Anyone can take a dog off the street, torture it and kill it for food.” Cultural belief, according to animal-rights groups, is that the meat will be tender and taste better due to increased blood flow from pain.
“I learned about the dog and cat food trade in Asia—China, Korea, Cambodia, Indonesia—on Facebook and I wanted to get involved in helping dogs find homes in the United States,” says Ging who has been transporting dogs out of China for nearly a year. She networks with two other U.S.-based volunteers in Los Angeles and Arizona, and several in China who rescue canines “whether from slaughterhouses or abandoned by their owners,” she says.
The team in China ensures the dogs are vetted, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered. Once the dogs are ready to go, “they send me photos, videos and information that will help find them homes in the states,” Ging says. She networks through Facebook and other social media to find foster or permanent placement for the dogs.
Ging took two trips to China at the end of last year to bring back dogs, flying from Beijing to San Francisco International Airport, where Anna picked up Bodie in October. In the past year, Ging and her U.S. team have transferred more than 200 dogs from China to the states, finding homes across the country, including Seattle, Chicago, New York, Boston and now Elk Grove.
“We have dogs in Sacramento and all over our country that need help, but these dogs are being tortured,” Anna says. “Making people aware of what’s happening is really important. Joanna has done a great job connecting people with dogs and sharing their plight.”
To adopt or foster a dog from China, or help transport a dog to the U.S., search for Joanna Ging on Facebook.
Cathryn Rakich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.