More than 500 dogs destined for the slaughterhouse -- and the dinner plate -- were saved when the truck that was transporting them was intercepted by about 200 animal lovers in China last week, China Daily reports.
The rescue effort began on the night of April 19th, when a message went viral on Weibo -- a social media platform akin to Twitter -- urging people to stop a dog-filled truck that was driving along the the Fumin-Kunming Highway in Yunnan Province.
Within 30 minutes, hundreds of Chinese activists and local police had gathered at the highway's toll station where the truck was due to pass through, Chinese newspaper Yunnan News reports.
When the truck finally arrived, those gathered were horrified at the sight of 505 dogs trapped in 156 small cages.
"They were crammed together. A cage could be stuffed with seven to eight. Our hearts were broken in seeing that," said one activist.
Unable to free the dogs immediately due to police protocol, volunteers spent the night feeding and treating the animals, the Daily Mail reports.
According to China Daily, many of the animals were discovered to be sick or injured and more than 20 of them were found dead.
The following day, the police stunned the volunteers when they announced that the truck driver had legitimate documents and that the transportation of the dogs had not been illegal, Yunnan News reports.
China is one of nine countries were eating dogs is legal.
Many animal lovers, however, have remained unconvinced and believe that the dogs were being trafficked illegally.
"More than 100 dogs are family pets, like a golden retriever. Why would a factory raise such pets for food? They are obviously stolen," said an organizer of an animal shelter named Yao, who declined to give his full name.
Refusing to let them go, a local businessman and animal lover who wanted to remain anonymous, then bought the dogs for $9,500. Volunteers have since also raised almost $8,000 to provide food and shelter for the animals until homes can be found for them.
"Many of them are suffering from dehydration, malnutrition or infectious diseases and they are very weak," said Zhao Yue, a veterinarian at the shelter and an associate professor, adding that he hopes the dogs will all soon be healthy and ready for adoption.
Last year, the Associated Press reported a similar dog rescue on a Beijing highway, when about 200 volunteers saved 580 dogs from death.
These two rescues are examples of successful social activism in a country where animal rights are an almost unrecognized issue and animal welfare legislation is practically non-existent.
However, with celebrities like basketball star Yao Ming helping to energize China's animal rights movement, it is hoped that positive changes are in the near future for China -- and its animals.