Jeffrey Beri arrived in Guangzhou near the end of April and spent two weeks quarantined in a hotel. A few times a day, officials in hazmat suits came to check on him. He watched television news and stewed over what he perceived to be Communist Party propaganda and a crackdown that China was launching on pet dogs.
“You just want to throat-punch everyone on TV,” he told me by phone, half whispering, certain that the room was bugged. “You feel like a caged animal, watching your kids get slaughtered.”
By kids, he meant dogs, the ones he couldn’t save from the Chinese meat market while he languished in quarantine. Beri, a fifty-six-year-old former jewelry designer, is a co-founder of an organization called No Dogs Left Behind, which rescues dogs in East Asia and arranges for their adoption in North America. In 2014, after watching an anti-animal-agriculture documentary called “Cowspiracy,” he sold his jewelry company and dedicated his life to animal welfare. In the spring of 2016, he went to China and had his first encounters with the dog-meat trade and the rescue game.
Each year, in the city of Yulin, in Guangxi, scores of dogs are killed for food, in what Westerners call the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. This spectacle, which lasts ten days, around the summer solstice, is no longer sanctioned by the local government, but it hasn’t been shut down. In recent years, the festival has attracted a migration of animal-rights activists, among them Beri and N.D.L.B., who identify slaughterhouses and, with or without the help of the authorities, attempt to take the dogs. They also intercept trucks loaded with dogs, which are often crammed, several at a time, into chicken cages. Filthy, malnourished, traumatized, and diseased, the dogs have been picked up on the street or bought or stolen from their owners. As a result, the traffickers usually lack the required paperwork and are obliged to surrender the dogs to the police, who have nowhere to place them, and often would just as soon not deal with them. The situation gives the activists the pretext to take the dogs and transfer them to shelters they have established around the country, where they can, at least in theory, treat, vaccinate, and sterilize them, before seeking new homes for them in China or overseas.
The dog rescuers, in their promotional videos, depict their operations as commando raids. Beri deploys a security detail, burner phones, and decoy trucks, and owing to his intensity both of feeling and of activity—climbing a tree to jury-rig tarps, ignoring bite wounds and scratches, directing a clandestine nighttime truck-stop transfer of confiscated cargo—he has come to be known, by his Chinese counterparts, as the General; other activists call him Dog Rambo Jesus.