Last week, Sarah took us to the “pet market” in Chengdu. The pet market was more like a pet mall, if you can imagine. The first place we went was the fish market which consisted of hundreds of fish tanks full of fish, bags (yes actual mesh bags) full of different kinds of snakes, frogs, and turtles, as well as buckets full of more turtles, crabs, shrimp, mussels, etc. One would not think that a fish market would be so depressing. I had been to fish markets before, but not like this. Aside from the terrible smells, I was saddened to see the frogs and turtles trapped and struggling to move on top of each other in these bags and containers. Most people would not consider this type of market to be animal abuse. However, researchers have recently found that even fish, in fact, have emotions and can experience pain. It is also important to consider the alarming truth that 77% of our oceans are overfished. The enormous amount of fish and aquatic animals depleted from our oceans will not be able to be restored even if our conservation efforts are increased. However, we must do whatever we can to save the aquatic life that remains.
After the fish market came the pet market. As we walked around the shops that lined the streets with cages full of birds, cats, dogs, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, hamsters, and more, I came to realize the gravity of the pet trade. There were countless cages filled to the brim with kittens piled on top of each other. One cage had at least 15 puppies–I couldn’t look at them long enough to count because I was afraid I would have an emotional break down. Some of the squirrels in the cages looked as though they were dead, but were slightly alive, sweltering in the hot and humid weather. Other squirrels and chipmunks were frantically jumping around the cages, showing clear signs of distress and anxiety. The rabbits were each trapped in tiny cages, probably the biggest cage they would ever know during their lifetimes. Sarah told us that the lifespan of these animals here usually ranges from just days to a week. Parents often get their children these pets but do not know how to take care of them or the proper food they should feed them. I imagine that pet stores do not tell them this information so that they will come back and buy more animals. Most Chinese consider these pets to be “disposable.”
Next came the indoor stores in the mall. This is where most of the “fancy” cats and dogs were kept. We also came across a cage with a raccoon and cat sleeping together in a cage, an interesting (and disturbing) combination. They have started breeding exotic looking dogs and cats in order to fill the pet trends in China. Despite the overwhelming population of stray dogs and cats here, many prefer to have a specific breed of dog (a notion many Americans also have) because mixed breeds are looked down upon. I have no idea what kind of cats they have been breeding, but some looked almost like leopards while others were beautiful, giant gray-spotted cats with tiny folded ears. We walked in to one store, and to our horror, discovered a cat with stub legs. Although we thought this was strange, I thought about dogs such as miniature dachshunds, and how we breed them to look a certain way. I also learned that they have found semi-trucks packed with hundreds dogs, on their way to be killed and skinned for their fur. In fact, many of these dogs are stolen and sold to Americans to make clothing items. The fur coats sold in stores might not be as exotic as one thinks, because it could actually be someone’s pet.
Another huge violation of animal welfare that recently happened was the “Dog-eating Festival” held here in China. While it is a tradition here for some, mostly those from the villages, to eat dogs, this festival is new. It involves the torture of animals, which I’m sure you may have heard about considering the various Facebook petitions being spread. While this is atrocious and must be stopped, it has also made me think about the animal welfare in the United States. Growing up, I always believed I was providing loving homes to the many parakeets and hamsters I bought from the pet stores. As I am becoming more aware of certain facts about the pet industry, for example, the millions of animals that die every year due to the pet trade, I have started to realize how detrimental this type of trade is to animals. Another major issue is the food industry and the method in which we obtain most of our food in the U.S. Pigs, cows, and other livestock are tortured on a daily basis the appalling and inhumane factory farms. Yet, we continue to eat McDonald’s. I think that America is better at hiding the gruesome details of the pet trade and food industry and that is why many people do not realize that they are promoting the unhealthy treatment of animals. Now, more than ever, I am realizing the importance of adopting pets and decreasing my meat consumption. Although it is difficult to think of these dreadful and often hidden details, it is a reminder of what we need to do everywhere to advocate for animals.