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Part Three: That time I flew to China for 18 hours to save 4 malinois from the meat trade

We're leaping ahead a year in the life of malinois ownership right now because this story has a need to be told and shared. I apologize if this is a long one. Set yourself down with a glass of wine. Or perhaps more appropriately a healthy serving of whiskey!

At 7 am on a cold and wet Tuesday morning I curl up on the couch sipping my beautiful home roasted coffee (yes that happens in our house when we don’t mess up our amateur roast) and begin answering the night’s array of SoCalBMR DMS that we’ve received on our Instagram account. I come across a message from someone in China who says they have two Malinois they’re looking to transport and rehome in America. The dogs had been saved from the meat trade and taken directly from the slaughterhouse to a shelter, and were now awaiting an American malinois-loving hero to say, “Yes, I'll adopt them!” I immediately reach out to our rescue department to see what our capacity level is and if we can help these pups out. With our SoCalBMR fosters full, and a waiting list of dogs set to come into the foster program, the next step for us is networking to see if we’re able to connect the young man in China with someone here in the US who can help him out. The whole interaction got me thinking and I furiously began researching the meat trade in China. What was it and what on earth are Malinois doing in China in the first place?

What I found was a country where dogs are captured, stolen or sold to a meat trade where they endure awful disease-ridden conditions, without food or water for days and are then inhumanely (beaten, boiled or torched alive) and often illegally slaughtered and sold to restaurants around the country.

I was appalled. Appalled, disgusted and sickened at the human race and the cruelty of what was happening. And this isn’t just happening in China, but throughout the whole of Asia. I immediately felt compelled to help. And thought if I could help just one dog have a better life, I knew it would be worthwhile. I took all this information to my partner and began literally bombarding him with information and graphic content videos of what was happening in China. I remember one night around 11 pm as we lay in bed looking at Instagram (no judging!), I saw some graphic videos that had been taken earlier that day in China and almost vomited. My partner was ready to murder the man in the video, a feeling I’m sure most people would share should you view the same footage.

Before we knew it we were hashing a plan together for how we could foster, rehabilitate and find a new home for one of these beautiful dogs. That’s right, we the traveling nomadic and homeless couple with one Belgian Malinois were figuring out a way to take on another.

I called our trainer and after a lengthy discussion, he said it really wasn’t a good idea. We also bounced the idea off our friends and family who said they didn’t think it was a good idea either. Finally, after discussing it together once more we confirmed that yes, it probably wasn’t a good idea. But, screw it. We’re that couple that figure things out and just make the craziest situations work. So I filled out an application form and arranged a phone interview with the amazing Aloha McBride, a woman who has been heading up this solo rescue mission and pursuing it tenaciously with her whole heart. She conveyed that we were an exception to her normal adoption policy, and that she would be happy for us to provide a foster and rehabilitation home to a young female malinois that she was bringing to the states in a month’s time. So there we were, reference checked, home checked, mentally checked? Hell no! We were not ready for what was coming.

Just under two weeks before the dogs were due to arrive in the US, some problems cropped up with customs and the initial arrival of the dogs into the USA through the LAX port of entry. For those of you who don’t know about the logistics of importing a dog into the US, there is an insane amount of work involved. Some of the factors to be considered include the type of plane and whether the cargo is air-conditioned, the weather forecast; is it a suitable temperature for the dogs to travel? And that’s just the beginning! There’s customs regulations, health checks, vaccinations, crates, bedding, equipment, transport, etc.

It seemed that the port of entry in LAX had changed their policy and were no longer allowing four dogs per person to arrive into the country. But we had four dogs ready to fly. All of a sudden Aloha needed an extra person to help her transport the dogs from China and I immediately raised my hand. After a quick visa investigation and a few trips to the Chinese Consulate in New York, I was on a plane with a carry-on bag full of dog treats headed for China.

We landed in Beijing and there was no time to relax. Think you’d like a shower? We had about 30 seconds to don our superhero capes and headed straight to the pet resort to prepare these gorgeous mals for their freedom flight. Crates needed to be prepped, water bottles attached, transport arrangements finalized and a download of information updates about each dog’s personality and behaviors needed to take place. The information I received about Soleil was that she didn’t like being on a leash and she would ‘show her teeth’. What did that even mean? Naturally, I was worried. I really hoped it wasn’t broken English for ‘she’s aggressive’. (No chance to rethink now anyway as I’d already put my superhero cape on!) Next stop was the vets to pay bills and check on two female malinois who were going to be on the next group of freedom flights out of China. The vet was an interesting experience, to say the least. But despite my preconceptions, I was surprised to find a group of people who seemed to love animals.

10:30 pm caught us by surprise and we headed to our hotel for some food and sleep. In just a few short hours we were flying out of the country with four malinois after all! The next morning saw us anxiously awaiting the transport van at the airport. Aloha had warned to expect things to go wrong and it seemed so far we had escaped relatively unscathed. As if on cue, our paperwork agent in China texted to say she wasn’t going to make it to the airport. We found the transporters and gruffly bossed them around in our foreign language as they carelessly tipped the crates off the edge of their trolleys and they hit the ground. The lack of sensitivity to the living animals inside the crates was evident and we were forced to micromanage the maneuvering of the crates. We waved goodbye to the pups in the oversized baggage section and I hoped we weren’t loading them on a conveyor belt to hell.

Almost as quickly as we’d landed, our 18 hours on Chinese soil were over and we were taking off, US-bound. Once landed in LAX we transported the dogs straight to the pet resort where they would stay the night, stretch their legs and have a bite to eat. We cleaned out the crates and replaced all the bedding and water in preparation for their final freedom flight to their new homes the next morning. It’s a long and frightening journey for these dogs, but the payoff is the amazing life they get when they’re here vs. a short and torturous life in China, followed by a very inhumane death.

Early the next morning I was headed out to Boston with Soleil (our Chinese Malinois Foster Pup) so Aloha and I were once more at the airport anxiously waiting for the transport van to arrive. Everything happened very quickly and all of a sudden we were saying our goodbyes and wishing each other good luck. Three days had passed since we departed for China and we were operating on autopilot. It was all about the dogs and we had just succeeded in giving them a chance at life. It felt incredibly satisfying and is one of the most worthwhile and selfless things I’ve done in my life.

What happened after China? Watch this space! My first obstacle was figuring out exactly what ‘showing her teeth’ would mean when I would attempt to put a leash on Soleil for the first time….

Lots of Love,

Virgin Malinois Owner


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