Barks echoed off white walls and tails blurred into color as dogs pawed at the floors seeking attention from the people standing just out of reach beyond cage walls.
Outside volunteers unloaded the oversea arrivals off the back of a van as employees inside frantically made space for the nine new dogs on Sept. 21 – one of many deliveries to arrive over the next few weeks.
The Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation (AHWF), a non-profit organization, is dedicated to rehabilitating abused animals rescued from slaughterhouses and dog farms in various Asian countries and finding “fur-ever” homes for these animals around the Los Angeles area.
“AHWF means everything to me. It has become my whole world,” Valarie Ianniello, director of operations at the AHWF, said. “I’m happier than I have ever been in my life knowing that I’m part of something that really matters.”
Marc Ching, an animal nutritionist/specialist and founder of AHWF, has dedicated his time and effort over the past couple of years to saving the lives of dogs and some cats. These dogs have been brutally tortured in preparation for consumption during festivals and events, like the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in southern China.
The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is a 10-day long event that begins every year around June 21, the traditional start of the summer solstice. The festival has only been around since 2010 because dog meat traders needed a way to increase business, according to the Humane Society International, an animal protection agency operating in different countries.
Patrons of the festival flock to the epicenter in Yulin to try different combinations of lychee, a type of fruit, and various dog meats. During the festival this year, approximately 10,000 dogs were to be slaughtered, according to Associated Press.
“That is cruel what they’re doing to the dogs,” Taleen Gharibian, a marine biology major, said. “I think it’s disgusting that they’re consuming dog meat…but then I think that people don’t know that this is going on.”
Throughout Asia, it is believed that dog meat has nutritional health benefits for those who consume it, for example, the belief that dog bone has anti-inflammatory properties, according to Change For Animals Foundation, an animal welfare protection organization.
Consuming dog meat is unusual, unnecessary and provides little to no scientific evidence for medical benefits; as is consuming other types of meat such as beef and pork, said Liz Amirkhanian, a veterinarian assistant at Animal Medical Center.
“I don’t eat meat in general, so I might be more biased, but I don’t think any type of meat festival should be held in any country,” Amirkhanian said.
AHWF is not only a safe haven for rescued dogs and cats but also an advocate for animal rights.
Ching and Ianniello flew out to Capitol Hill, Washington D.C., on Sept. 13 and met with Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-Florida) to discuss ending the Dog Meat Trade.
Earlier this year in May, Hastings introduced a bill condemning the Yulin Dog Meat Festival and urging China to end the dog meat trade.
According to the bill, the resolution “affirms the United States’ commitment to the protection of animals and to the progress of animal protection around the world” and urges the Yulin authorities and the Government of China to “impose a ban on the killing and eating of dogs.”
However, some local residents complained that outsiders were ruining what they consider a local tradition, according to Associated Press.
Although the road to banning the dog meat trade is far from over, AHWF is able to help the cause at home.
The AHWF rehabilitates rescued animals by utilizing programs set up within the foundation. Programs like a fostering to adoption program and a victim adoption program, allow human victims of brutal crimes to connect with a rescued dog because they share a mutual understanding of the things they have endured.
“People should come to the foundation to see how amazing these animals are. And to see the strength they possess to overcome such atrocities and yet still love the way they do,” Ianniello said. “I hope that being part of AHWF makes people feel like they are part of a community – a community of like-minded people that are after the same goal. Hopefully, they walk away and feel inspired to go out and share the dogs’ stories and to help fight on their behalf.”
The AHWF can be found sharing a building with The PetStaurant, a holistic and organic pet food store focused solely on dog and cat nutrition and wellness, which is also owned and operated by Ching.