(Warning: there are short sections of this video which are extremely graphic.)

The Yulin dog meat festival. When I first heard about it a few years ago, I thought it was a myth, some apocryphal story being circulated around the online dog welfare groups to paint "the other" as barbaric while at the same time generating funds for various rescue groups. I knew certain cultures ate dogs as a matter of course but I was under the impression it was a practice largely confined to small groups of people with limited access to food, mostly out of desperation. To my core, I feel it is a repugnant, despicable practice and I get physically ill thinking about it even for a moment (writing this piece isn't helping) but I tried to put it down to cultural differences and hardship. Looking back on that thinking now, I realize I was in denial. I didn't want to know. But now, there have been too many horrific stories, too many photos and too many first hand accounts.

So, maybe you don't want to know either but this is important. This is important because you need to know what people are capable of doing. I'm just writing the broad strokes to hopefully pass on an understanding of what the dogs go through before they get to their slaughter. Although, even the broad strokes - I'm sorry - it won't be easy. This knowledge is painful. It may change you, especially if you've never heard about this before, and maybe that's important too.

It was this guy, Marc Ching, from The Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation in California, who finally made me look. He went on a crazy mission to rescue dogs from the dog meat trade in China. He made some video recordings; he wrote about it; and now, right now, he's back there again and he's posting Facebook updates on what he's seeing and experiencing. He writes like he's going mad because I think he is.

The people who eat dogs are under the impression dog meat tastes better and supplies more vital energy - whatever that is - if the dogs are made to suffer extreme pain first. This is horrific and stupid but these people are horrific and stupid. So, that is what they do. These canine slaughterhouses aren't just for killing. They're also for torturing.

Dogs are beaten to death; they get limbs chopped off while still alive; they get boiled alive; they get skinned alive. Someone you know, might even be wearing the results of that if the hood on their parka has a fur trim especially if the clothing was made in China: http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/381117/Animals-electrocuted-strangled-and-skinned-alive-The-true-face-of-China-s-fur-farms, http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/1530831-dogs-and-cats-skinned-alive-for-their-fur-in-china/.

When I was in China teaching English for a year, the American teachers at the neighbouring university one day told me they saw two men tie a live dog spread eagle between two trees and slice into the dog until it eventually died. It screamed the whole time. I couldn't fathom the behaviour back then. What kind of sick minds would do something like that and why? Now I know.

It's no exaggeration to say these dogs are put through a human created hell all so dog eaters can get a supposedly tastier morsel of meat. The dog eaters would defend their actions as being culturally significant. Culture is just human behaviour on a larger scale and retrograde, abhorrent human behaviour needs to be snuffed out whether or not the "culture" card is played. If we know about these barbaric practices, politely pretend they don't exist and don't call them out for what they are, we are a truly damned and impotent species. I realize few of us have the capacity to become involved in direct action the way Marc and his volunteers are doing but for now, maybe it's enough to be aware, to let the sadistic dog eaters know the world is watching them and we are sickened. The practices of these dog eaters are evil. If there is an iota of compassionate humanity within us, we need to speak out and let others know.

This is Marc's website (there are some graphic videos on the website but there are warnings before you click on them): http://www.animalhopeandwellness.org/

This is Marc's Facebook page which is more up to date. He is in China right now as I write this and he gives constant updates. They are harrowing and very difficult to read, let alone watch: https://www.facebook.com/animalhopeandwellness

I've been trying to decide what to do with this blog and its Facebook page, whether or not to shutter the whole thing. It wasn't until I came across a post from Marc Ching who runs the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation in California that I decided to keep this thing going at least for a while longer. Marc is doing something unimaginable and brave. I figured I could at least do a small part in helping Marc, and the many others who are out there daily saving lives, by spreading the word.

So, Pound Dogs continues with some changes. It'll focus more on advocacy which means more words, fewer pictures. While I'll continue to post dogs up for adoption, in the past, I only ever listed dogs I met personally, the majority being from Toronto Animal Services South, but this obviously won't be the case anymore. New listings will mostly be cross posts from people and organizations I trust.

I hope you'll bear with me through these changes. I'm not exactly sure what Pound Dogs will look like coming out the other end, hopefully something which manages to add to the conversation around the rescue of homeless dogs.

This is harder to write than I thought it was going to be - hence, I've been stalling. The south shelter of Toronto Animal Services is no longer adopting out dogs, leaving that service to the other three TAS locations (North, West, East).

Some of you have commented that there have been less dogs in adoption recently compared to a few years ago. Gone are those days when there were a dozen or more listed on the TAS adoption pages. It's a good problem to have, I suppose: a big city shelter not overflowing with homeless dogs.

Still, with fewer dogs available at TAS, fewer people will see the agency as a place to find their next canine companion. I'm sure dog adoptions will never completely be reorganized out of TAS but it's been a long while since they last took in big shipments of dogs from other jurisdictions. No more trucks of anxious and expectant pups from Quebec or Ohio. No more northern dogs from reserves. No more dogs from Serbia or Iran. These days, it seems to be local dogs only and many of those are transferred to rescues for them to rehome.

When TAS South first started taking on an expanded role in dog rescue about ten years ago, the Toronto Humane Society was a mess and there were no other comparable large scale organizations in the city. Now, the THS is more stable and rescues like Dog Tales are doing an admirable job of saving homeless dogs both local and from abroad. So, the rescue environment in Toronto has evolved and maybe the vacuum left by the closing of dog adoptions at TAS South and the decrease in TAS dog adoptions in general won't be greatly missed by the public.

I'll miss it, though, as will the other volunteers I'm sure. TAS South had a good run. These last nine years, spending time with the dogs, taking their photos, writing about them, maintaining this blog and the Facebook page - these were things which anchored me. It was a commitment I always looked forward to no matter how hectic life got. I never found anything more grounding than spending time with the dogs. They always chased away any weariness from the day and enriched me with an emotional authenticity hard to find in our selfie dominated culture. A million likes means nothing to a dog who licks your hand in exchange for some simple human affection.

I always smiled seeing the elation in their faces before every walk. I was swept up in wonder witnessing dogs touch grass for the first time after living their whole lives in puppy mill cages. My sense of hope was renewed when a tail would start to wag after years of abuse, so resilient and still trusting. And there was sadness too in holding the sick ones or the old ones for the last time before they were delivered from their suffering.

I think I must've photographed over a thousand dogs in my years at TAS South and I'm sure there were hundreds more I missed and all but some very few found homes. A huge thanks to all the staff, especially the ones who cared beyond what was mandated by work, the volunteers who shared their time and made the days the dogs spent at the shelter more bearable, and especially to James Maclean who worked tirelessly, and still does, to save lives.

All good things come to an end. Dog adoptions at Toronto Animal Services South is now closed.


XO (Esso) and Remy are a brother and sister who have spent all eleven years of their lives together and it would only be right to keep them together at this point. They both have the energy of dogs half their age and like their peoples very much. With other dogs, they are barky and can come across as a rather ferocious pair. Luckily, their size makes them not so much.

They like their outside time well enough but would be just as happy on the couch, sitting on either side or on top of their person, getting bellies rubs and ears scratches.

The best way to check on the adoption status of XO and Remy (and other dogs and cats and other small domestic animals) is to visit the Toronto Animal Services adoption website or call 416 338 6668 for the Toronto Animal Services South shelter. If the dog is no longer on the TAS adoption website, it's probably because it's been adopted already.

As soon as I let Pico out of his kennel, he tries to jump up into my arms. Almost makes it too but I wasn't ready to catch him. Some lucky person will be taking Pico home soon, I'm sure. He's such a playful dog and how do you not love a face with a snaggle-toothed underbite?

The best way to check on the adoption status of this dog (and other dogs and cats and other small domestic animals) is to visit the Toronto Animal Services adoption website or call 416 338 6668 for the Toronto Animal Services South shelter. If the dog is no longer on the TAS adoption website, it's probably because it's been adopted already.

Betty was one of two dogs who accompanied me back from Serbia. Even with a broken leg which was improperly set when she was younger, she is such a joyous little thing.

In Serbia, right after she was rescued, with broken leg:

Now, home in Toronto:

I left for Serbia on April 29. While there, I encountered many strays.  Some were shy; most were curious and friendly.  None of them posed any kind of threat which is how they are often maligned.  I arrived back in Toronto a week later with two dogs, Betty and Oscar.  Here are some photos of the trip.

Betty, whose leg was broken and never set properly.  This girl came back with me to Canada.

For the first few days, I stayed with Snezana and her family along with their nine rescued dogs.

Leia, a Staffordshire Terrier, matriarch of Snezana's rescues.  A lovely dog.

The bear dog, one of several stray dogs encountered a few blocks from Snezana's home.  This one followed us back but turned away when the dogs in her backyard started barking at him.  A few days later, after I'd returned to Canada, he would return to wait for Snezana in front of her house.

This beautiful Pointer was too scared to let us get close.  He ran away from us in a frenzy, probably still looking for the owner who had recently abandoned him.

Playing, not fighting.  The strays didn't look starved and they seemed to have a pretty good life, free and easy on the streets of the Becman, at least until they get hit by a car or disease takes them or winter arrives or the dog hunters show up

Snezana goes out and feeds the stray dogs in her town and the next at least once a day.  Everyone else watches and stares.  "Many people here have backyards and can take a dog but they won't take a dog," she says.  "I send dogs to adoption everywhere else, Austria, U.K., Germany but not here."

Dog dreaming of life

Stray dog along the Sava River

And another

Riley, the Beagle, steps forward straight away for pets and muzzle rubs. Sidney, the Shetland Sheepdog, hangs back, sees if things are okay then comes close, leaning against Riley first before pushing her nose into my hand. These two have been close companions for most of their eight years and need a home where they can spend the rest of their days together. They walk on leash well, like other dogs and make an excellent duo.

The best way to check on the adoption status of Sidney and Riley (and other dogs and cats and other small domestic animals) is to visit the Toronto Animal Services adoption website or call 416 338 6668 for the Toronto Animal Services South shelter. If they are no longer on the TAS adoption website, it's probably because they've been adopted already.


A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.