The Truth about the Dog Meat Trade: Racism, Speciesism, and Misplaced Horror

Catherine Besch
29 min readMar 1, 2021

My name is Catherine Besch and I am the founder and director of Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue-US in Hoi An, Vietnam. This is my story of how I began this organization in 2013 fighting against the dog meat trade in our region and over time learned how this cash cow of animal welfare and rescue organizations is fed by racism, xenophobia, and a total lack of moral consistency towards the animals we have vowed to protect.

Taking a dog from the dog catcher who I escorted to the police station

From the fanbase of animal-loving social media, I am often criticized for my stance on anti-dog meat campaigns. My frequent comments on our page and other organizations’ pages about this focus on the hypocrisy of the organizations who rely on these campaigns for funding yet cannot be bothered to speak of any other species who are suffering in much higher numbers around the world. I get a truckload of crap for this. I feel like most of my job is based on being disagreed with by the peanut gallery, most of whom are meat eaters but sometimes vegans as well. Being outspoken against this single-issue campaign has been responsible for my organization losing a huge amount of support, both financially from donors and from potential partnerships, but I refuse to hold back. This is something we need to talk about even if dissent, or introspection at all, for that matter, is so firmly discouraged within the animal advocacy field dominated by the well-marketed and funded welfare organizations. I cannot tow the party line on this and it is important to explain why. My experience living and working in Vietnam since 2013 in my own animal rescue organization has given me a close up view of how hypocrisy has become the most valuable marketing strategy for animal advocacy.

From Hero to Extremist

Those most critical of my stance against the anti-dog meat campaigns often do not know of my own background and how the organization started eight years ago with this battle in the forefront of our mission. Moving to Vietnam in 2012 and seeing dogs in cages on motorbikes or seeing their dead, hairless bodies alongside pig, chicken, and cow corpses was emotionally overwhelming. It was so difficult to see abuse being carried out in plain sight every day and without locals being outraged. Being the confrontational and, some would say, aggressive woman I am naturally, I acted out strongly against this injustice to dogs and cats. In addition to starting the organization with a friend in town a year after moving to Vietnam, I also engaged more head on with the perpetrators of the violence against pets.

I am ashamed to say that in those first years in Vietnam, I did some violent and illegal acts in addressing my rage against the dog and cat meat trade. I chased down dog catchers on my motorbike with a knife waved in their faces. I stopped dog and cat catchers on the road and stole their keys to throw into the forest or stuff down my bra before taking their animals. I vandalized dog catchers’ motorbikes and stole their tongs they use to pick up animals by the neck. I chased them down and threw heavy objects at their heads from my own motorbike. I badly damaged dog meat restaurants signage and even smashed a guy in the face with a chained link fence who was the owner of a restaurant. I have been physically violent to dog catchers and lived with constant rage against them just driving through my neighborhood.

The rage I have lived with against dog catchers and restaurants has been crippling but I kept going after them. I have been inside the restaurants and seen those in cages condemned to be a meal, looking in their eyes and allowing that image to be burned deeply into my brain. Every time I passed by the dog meat restaurants I flipped them the bird and screamed obscenities at them. In this process of being constantly enraged and even violent towards dog catchers, I have saved numerous dogs when I could and a few cats as well from a catcher, taking others into our shelter that locals had rescued.

Each time I attacked these people or saved an animal from the meat trade, I was hailed as some kind of hero. I was not called a violent psychopath as I would be called had those people I hurt been chicken farmers or if the animals I rescued were cows. If the people whose lives I threatened at knife point not been Vietnamese men, I have no doubt my actions would be questioned. I was the White Savior everyone needed in Facebookland. We needed some bad ass American bitch to fight for the dogs of Vietnam. I was told by someone working in film in LA at the time that I was “a reality television producer’s wet dream”. My life was marketing gold. That was never my purpose when just acting out of my typical impulsive and very hot temper against animals being harmed. I was just living my life while doing my work out on the streets in Vietnam. I have never gone looking for trouble, but just in day-to-day life, I run into these situations simply because they are all perfectly normal where we operate even if my rage-filled actions against them was not typical of someone on a long term tourist visa. Dog and cat catchers operate legal businesses no different from those who trade in chickens and they drive around on motorbikes during daylight hours and buy animals from dog owners. If you live anywhere in Vietnam, you will definitely have some contact with them.

Rescuing three cats from the cat catcher whose keys I stole and whose life I threatened with his own set of metal tongs for grabbing animals.

The logic begins to crumble

My mission in those first years of the organization was to bring awareness to people around the world about the dog meat trade, to save animals from it, and to get a legal ban on it in Vietnam. It is what all the anti-dog meat organizations have been saying all along, none of whom have made any real headway in all this time. Slowly, the flawed rationale behind this began to break down for me even if it was not happening for others I worked with or any of our supporters.

No one wanted to question what would happen to all the dogs who will not be killed if a dog meat ban goes into effect. No discussion arose of who would do the sterilizations to prevent a population explosion and eventual cull because international organizations had no clue that 95% of Vietnamese veterinarians could not perform a safe sterilization surgery. There was no talk of what other animals people would eat if they did not have dog meat restaurants to go to once in a while, but no one seemed to care since most people against the dog meat trade were also meat eaters. The pig farmers would rejoice if a dog meat ban when into place, but no one was bothered by the fact that shifting suffering from one species to the next was by no means a victory. The topic of enforcement was for some reason not even a whisper in spite of the fact that the Vietnamese police do not even enforce helmet laws for children, something that covers the most basic human safety issue. The idea that you could get one of the most deeply corrupt police forces in the world to enforce a dog meat ban when they don’t even protect children is about as batshit insane as it gets.

The dog meat campaigns and all of their logic rested squarely on the fact that doggies were cute and they are our friends, so to hell with everyone else. People should not eat their friends. Funny thing with that logic: people should not eat those who are not our friends either. The idea that we should not eat an animal because we can potentially be buddies with it is deeply flawed. We should not have to like someone to recognize that we have no right to harm them. Not harming others should never be based on intelligence, beauty, loyalty, or usefulness to us personally, but this was the argument of most people who were against the dog meat trade. The fact that an animal is a pet does not mean that it values its own life more than an animal who was bred to be killed for meat. That entire premise totally ignores the most basic science on animal sentience in addition to common sense. The moral status of animals is a completely human premise and has no bearing on whether animal should be killed or not for a product we do not even need. Out of a trillion species on the planet, it is fair to say that judgement of our own destructive and violent species over another species’ value should have little relevance.

Another false narrative to condemn the dog meat trade is that the animals are stolen pets. It begs the question whether the concern is that property was stolen or the animals’ suffering is the problem. The reliance on the glorification of animals as property and the injustice to the pet owners is missing the point of view of the victim. The animal is actually the one who is being killed and thus they are the victim, not their owners. This applies to every single living being who has faced death for the purpose of being consumed by humans, whether they were stolen from a home or taken from a farm by the owner to be killed for profit. If we were to look at slaughter of any kind from the victim’s point of view, we would see that there is no justification for any animal’s murder. This would quickly turn off the mass of their donor base, however, so let’s all keep that logic buried so as not to offend anyone…

I can say in all the years I have lived in Vietnam since 2012 and traveled around it in that time, I have seen with my own eyes only one large dog meat truck. Social media will have you believe they are everywhere. I have seen dozens of dog and cat catcher baskets full of animals in Hoi An and around Vietnam, but most are going to the local dog restaurants numbering around thirty or so small places within the Da Nang area. In the same amount of time, I have seen thousands of chicken, duck, pig, and cow trucks and you can’t spit without hitting a seafood restaurant. There are animals raised for slaughter up and down my shelter’s street behind every family’s home. Local cafes have animals on large, open grills at the street to entice customers with the smells of burning corpses. Every time we go to the market to buy food, we see the corpses of animals scattered over nearly a hundred stalls. In the bigger markets we see baskets full of live chickens and ducks waiting to be picked up for a customer to take home to kill. In all the years I spent in the beginning fighting against dog and cat meat trade, even as a vegan, it took me ages to understand that the vast majority of murdered animals in Vietnam who needed a voice were not dogs and cats. They were just the only ones getting public attention and donations from abroad.

One of the most common forms of animal abuse in Vietnam. 80% of animals eaten are pigs, not dogs.

It is estimated that there are around 30 million dogs killed globally for meat every year out of 900 million dogs living at any given moment. In Vietnam, there are five million killed for food. While every death is a tragedy, compared to other species, this is hardly even of any consequence. Every year 70 billion chickens are killed worldwide, all of whom were bred and raised specifically to be murdered, often within months of birth. Seven billion of those are day old male chicks in the egg industry who are merely waste products. In the UK alone, 13 million sheep are killed every year, which is more than double the number of dogs killed in Vietnam for around two-thirds the population size. The rage against the sheep industry is nowhere near what the rage against the dog meat trade is coming from the British. The disproportionate rage coming from people doing absolutely no less horrific things on a similar or greater scale is absurd.

What is missed in dog meat trade discussions is the fact that the dog meat trade is also an effective population control method given that the local veterinarians are so poorly trained that often sterilization is dangerous. Most Vietnamese vets do not even recommend sterilization because they feel that it is unnatural to prevent an animal from making babies. Surgeries are filthy and cause infection and most animals are not even sedated properly for the procedure, something I have seen hundreds of times over in my years in Vietnam. If you do not have veterinarians who can safely sterilize and vaccinate these dogs, there will be much bigger problems than dog meat. The treatment I have seen in local vet clinics and veterinary universities is out of a horror movie so adding more animals to this equation in a population explosion is even more trouble.

Neighboring countries have horrible issues with stray dogs which include dog bites, rabies transmission, and locals being violent to these animals they consider a nuisance. It is not that the dog meat trade is not horrible and involves a great deal of suffering, but so does rampant infectious disease, neglect, starvation, and violence against strays. Like other countries in the region, if the stray population were to get out of control, the government wouldn’t think twice about a cull to manage it. If we talk about banning the dog meat trade, and skip a discussion about mass sterilization and vaccination, something only possible with a massive investment in veterinary training starting at the university level, then we are pissing up a rope. If you ban a trade that has been eliminating five million dogs from roaming the streets and do nothing to prevent those animals from breeding and spreading diseases, then you are just waiting for the culls and then more outcry over Vietnamese treatment of animals. The dog meat trade solves a problem and without it, that problem still exists unless you invest in solving that same problem.

The anti-dog meat campaigns have focused on the human health threat from rabies in the dog meat trade. While rabies kills around 60,000 people in the world every year, almost all of them are a result of bites, not consumption of an animal or handling an animal meant for consumption. If you want to stop rabies by ending dog meat, you need to address where those same animals would be in contact with the general public transmitting rabies to other animals and humans if they are not being killed. Again, if you end the dog meat trade, millions of animals are out on the streets, most unvaccinated and all at risk of disease transmission. Then if zoonosis is truly a concern, the 2.2 million people killed every year from diseases transferred from livestock to humans should be a major concern. They can cry about dogs in animal markets and even make a connection with the current pandemic, but none have made the step to acknowledge the trillions of animals going to food who are the source of the most zoonoses. Anti-dog meat trade campaigners conveniently skip this part of the conversation because they refuse to admit the truth that non-pet species-based animal products are the number one cause of virus, bacteria, fungi, and parasite zoonoses. This would put the mirror up for the dog-loving, animal eaters of the world unable to acknowledge that their own consumption habits are to blame for millions of human deaths (not to mention trillions of animal deaths that don’t seem to concern them).

Racism rears its ugly head

As the one doing all the social media for the organization, I also could see the types of responses I was getting from people about the dog meat trade posts. The comments were a combination of calling us heroes and of calling the Vietnamese and Asians in general savages, monsters, psychopaths, and other horrible epithets. These posts against the Vietnamese were often full of violent ideas about what we should do to them. They talked about boycotting Asia/China/Vietnam. They frequently discussed bombing or nuking them. They wanted us to hang them and beat them and burn them alive- all kinds of really sick shit. For standing up for these dogs and cats and bringing awareness to all the racist and xenophobic people out there, we were true heroes, angels, and saviors. Being hailed as a hero by racists telling me to nuke the country I lived in was always an awkward interaction.

Among the MANY comments you can find with the hashtag #dogmeattrade

As the work of the organization got bigger and we added a vet clinic to the project, the rise of the American dog meat “hero” Marc Ching brought in a new breed of cult fans. The suburban housewives and celebrities of Los Angeles rallied for this crying American man boo-hooing over doggies being killed in Asia while he “saved” them very publicly on social media, videoing gruesome footage of dog slaughter. The amount of press for this nonvegan narcissist who so expertly played those heart strings was absurd, but he had some expert marketing behind him. He with the best marketing wins in animal advocacy, and his team played this well. The misinformation he spread about how all dogs were being tortured to death by beating or burning alive spread like wildfire. He got the middle-aged soccer moms out in droves to protest at embassies, lobby in Congress, and send out useless online petitions based purely on fantasy and never on the real political, legal, and cultural situation in any country he visited. While my team and I sat sweating our tits off in Vietnam day-in and day-out as we were underfunded, understaffed, and overwhelmed with cases coming out of our eyeballs, needing vets and vet training, needing thousands of animals to be sterilized, the dog meat cult followers were having galas and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to fly Americans around to pick up doggies in Asia. Subsequent investigations into his organization, Hope and Wellness Foundation, discovered financial mishandling of these funds among other deceptive practices, but at the time he was a god who could not be criticised.

The mass export of Chinese and Korean dog meat trade survivors got a massive promotion during these first years of the #dogmeattrade hero worship lunacy, with money being shelled out in truckloads to send dogs from Asia to suburban white people in countries where there were already plenty of animals needing homes. The idea that Asians themselves, including the thousands of animal welfare organizations already in existence in these countries, were not capable of caring for these animals was solidified in the minds of animal advocates across the globe. No plans were put into place to even begin to address the demand from consumers of dog meat, much less spay and neuter the incoming supply of dogs going to the trade. Marc Ching and his cult elevated this investigative reporter/hero doggie savior nonsense far beyond reason and before long, anti-dog meat campaigns, organizations, and hashtags were coming out of the ying yang.

The Great American Hero coming to save doggies from savage Asians was one of the worst things to ever happen to animal rescuers and activists in Asia. The damage done in deepening the racism and xenophobia from the dog meat trade activists is beyond repair. When I spoke out against this “work” and the comments I was receiving from people attacking Asians, I was attacked viciously by the dog meat cult. Hero worship was solidified as the baseline for animal rescuers and for all the small organizations in Asia that do not have offices abroad, it was assumed that they were not capable of taking care of the dog meat problem on their own and needed assistance from the Almighty Whitey to handle it. Because surely a white woman in Orange County, California whose only passport stamp is from Aruba is fully capable of understanding the complexity of the Vietnamese lobbying process in addition to enforcement in a country lacking the rule of law. Sure, Karen, give it a go. Throw some money at this one and see how far you get.

You can bet that there were many Western narcissists that picked up on this new hero worshipping cash cow of the dog meat trade who did not have good intentions. This did no good at all for those of us who were working on the ground doing the best we could to manage the cases in our own communities with very few resources. On top of our daily struggle to stay afloat while Marc Ching’s and his cult raked in chunks of cash we’d never see, we were being accused of not being a legitimate organization while taking money from innocent animal lovers around the world, a common accusation even years later. No one questioned the individuals or organizations who did not live in or know diddly shit about Asia who would pop over periodically to make gory dog torture porn videos before coming home to milk the California soccer mom market for their support. We got attacks from hoards of people who seemed to think we were thieves or just those saying we weren’t doing enough. I can’t count the number of times we were told to partner with these American, Australian, and British organizations composed of English speakers with no connection to anywhere in Asia, but were adamantly opposed to the dog meat trade and had the cash to back them up in their fantasy campaigns.

It was the lunacy of this level of hero worship that began to clue me in on just how sick this whole field really was. The layers had begun to peel away and reveal an ultimately fruitless campaign funded by people who could not find China on a map, much less be able to tell you who won the Vietnam War, but would throw money at anyone promising to save doggies across oceans they would never cross.

Chinese eat dogs because Americans eat pigs

Over time, I began to understand that Vietnamese eat dog for the same reason they eat chickens, the French eat rabbit because they also eat beef, and Japanese eat horse because they also eat fish. Humans consume different species around the world and in no country can we say that the animals that died did so willing to be consumed. Whether a cow has his throat slit after a captive bolt shot in the head in Texas, a pig is gassed in a heavily regulated slaughterhouse in Germany, or a dog is hit on the head then has its throat slit in Indonesia, not a single one of those animals needed or wanted to die. There are 80,000 edible plants and a vegan diet has been approved by all of the world’s major dietetic associations for all stages of life. Every country on the planet is killing for no reason and there just is no right way to do the wrong thing. The argument against the dog meat trade often focuses on the method of killing, a favorite argument in welfare circles. The cruel killing method should equal an outright ban (unless you’re not a dog or cat). The idea that changing the method of suffering makes it OK has long been promoted by “animal lovers” who can’t stand the idea of giving up their eggs for breakfast so they fight for a few more inches for chickens living as slaves for 18 months before they end up being murdered no differently than a broiler chicken. Happy exploitation seems to fit every species except for dogs and cats though. It’s funny how a ban based on cruel slaughter methods has managed to ignore standard practice slaughter of the entire animal agriculture industry.

As the picture became clearer, I began to speak out more openly for all animals. It became obvious that the dog meat trade was not the worst thing humans are doing to animals. While it is disgusting and brutal, it was responsible for only a tiny fraction of the 2.8 trillion other sea and land animals humans are eating every single year without batting an eye. I very quickly found out that this was clearly not a popular stand to take and the backlash very quickly got heated.

In the confrontations from animal-eating “animal lovers”, I was told that Westerners have animal welfare laws, so even if we kill animals we do it “nicely”. This was a favorite of mine because when I asked if they would be cool with regulated dog meat if animals were stunned first with bolt guns like cows, I usually lost them. Showing the anti-dog meat crew that any meat trade was wrong was the root of the most absurd conversations I have ever had. People would use all caps frequently, sending me these unpunctuated rants with angry face emojis. Then they would fill my inbox with dozens of videos they got online with a random Asian harming a dog in some gruesome way to prove that I was a crazy person for saying that Asians were not inherently sick and cruel to animals (meaning dogs and cats specifically though). These claims that Asians were savage beasts were in spite of the fact that I worked alongside dozens of Vietnamese organizations helping animals and we had local volunteers and staff at my rescue. It broke their little brains to hear that it was not just me and my army of White Saviors doing the dirty work. How shocking, after all, that a non-white, non-English speaking person could be kind to animals. Heaven forbid I point out how “animal loving” English speakers are given that four of the top ten meat consumption countries are Australia, the US, New Zealand, and Canada. Meat is meat. A corpse is a corpse, unless, that is, the corpse is a dog and you have brown skin. Then it is a poor, tortured soul that did not deserve to die at the hands of savages.

Mirrors are particularly uncomfortable for meat eaters. No one likes to be reminded that their “developed” country with its volumes of welfare legislation is also among the biggest consumers of animal products. They also do not like to remember that those laws they think protect animals do not apply to any poultry or sea life which are the majority of animals killed. They also do not protect any farmed animals from being killed which one would think is implied in the phrase “animal protection laws”. You can go to jail in the US for doing to a dog what is done to a pig as standard operating procedure on a farm. These dog lovers who eat other animals would never think that regulating the dog meat industry is good enough. They want to abolish the dog meat trade for the same reason vegans want to abolish every other animal product industry, yet they still will tell you how great their welfare legislation is at protecting animals and how we need to work for this same legislation in Asia with the exception of an outright ban on dog meat. These laws have not stopped the murder of billions in the US, mostly by people who call themselves animal lovers, so it is difficult to assume it would change anything for the animals in Asia.

Chickens at the market in Hoi An suffering from heat and stress no different than any dog going to the same fate, though ignored because of their species

Veganism is bad for your (financial) health

As my vegan voice got louder and my anti-dog meat voice faded, friends and supporters approached me frequently to tell me to lay off the vegan talk because “people don’t like it”. It is remarkable that the fragile feelings of the animal eaters in Facebookland were assumed to be more valuable than the lives of the animals that they were eating several times a day. I got messages telling me that veganism is bad marketing and if I wanted to save animals, I needed to be quiet about it in spite of the fact that being vegan is all about saving animals (just not the ones they care much about). Speciesism was the way to go if I wanted to make money, they said so frequently. Sell the people what they are already buying and you will be rich, they said. I could do anything I wanted with the money which I lied to people and sold out trillions of animals for. Those who think I work in animal rights for the money need a sound beating. I could make more money selling plastic bottles for recycling in Bangladesh than I do working for animals, so clearly this was not my motivation. I did, however, desperately need the organization to be able to keep the rescued animals alive, the clinic rolling, and our mobile clinics out on the roads doing the long-term and high-impact projects that stood to make a real difference.

I should be able to care for these animals and our programs at the same time I am being honest about the vast majority of animal suffering on the planet and fighting against it. Being morally consistent by not wanting harm to come to any animals in the way I did not want harm to come to dogs was the only choice. I am never going to get rich off this experience, and in fact, I barely even survive from it, so I need to at least have some integrity at the end of the day by standing up for all animals, not just the donor-friendly ones. Too bad it ended up being the worst financial decision I made for the organization. This should say an awful lot about the animal rescue sector. We lost money by loving all animals in the way that most people say they love dogs. Donors slowly dropped off, losing the need to support an organization that was against animal abuse, something they were still doing in their daily lives as nonvegans. We lost the vet clinic, I lost all my staff, and our support from within the community and among other rescues completely disappeared.

Beware of the attacking vegans!

The issue with discussing animal rights with nonvegans is that no matter how fluffy and adorable you make your posts, nonvegans feel attacked. If we post cute piggy pictures from the farm sanctuary and mention the suffering of two billion pigs murdered every year for food, everyone’s panties twist tightly in a wad. Using the words for animal products like corpses, flesh, and secretions, all of which are true, turn people off immediately. Use the word “murder” in place of “slaughter” if it is not in relation to a dog, and the heckles come up. The way to offend a nonvegan is basically to just tell them the truth in any way about what/who they eat.

From being an impolite nonvegan myself once upon a time, I do get it. I was not nice to vegans for much of my nonvegan 33 years and everything they said got my knickers in a twist. No one likes to be faced with their own hypocrisy. Animal eaters are a very emotionally fragile bunch when confronted with their own participation in animal cruelty and dancing around this emotional response requires running a gauntlet. It blows my mind that vegans get attacked for being delicate flowers when it is the meat eaters who are very obviously the sensitive ones. Heaven forbid we remind you that your barbeque ribs were once part of someone’s torso. The clue is in the name: ribs. Take a fucking hint. I am not an extremist for pointing it out, but you are a moron for not caring.

The bulk of our funding, while we had our vet clinic,was coming from people who were fans of the page Fight Dog Meat, an Australian-run page spreading wild and well-marketed stories of dog meat trade cruelty by Asians. Having gotten very tired of being bombarded with the racists who were followers of that page, I became more and more honest about the dangers of speciesism in animal advocacy. This did not sit well with any of them. People said I was rude, aggressive, combative, and whatever else activists of all kinds get called by the opposition. It is odd how much they loved that when I was fighting against dog meat specifically. Then I was a hero. I was an angel. I was “blessed by God” more times than I can count and sent all sorts of sparkling and dancing emojis thanking me for my service. Now that I apply that same logic to every other species, particularly the ones those dog lovers consume, I am apparently a psychopath. It is amazing how quickly the same person and the same arguments against the exact same kind of cruelty can go from being heroic to insane. All I had to do was call out animal-eating “animal lovers” on their bullshit and the tables turned quickly.

Around the time our clinic had to close when funding and staffing it became impossible, I wrote a letter mentioning to the head of a large welfare organization that it was irresponsible to talk of taking a dog meat truck off the highway when rescue organizations in Vietnam still have no vets, no competent care staff, and no facilities here to manage the rescue of 1000 animals as they cannot even manage twenty dogs safely. I said the hundreds of thousands of dollars for such a project would better be spent on prevention programs, veterinary training, mass sterilization, and vegan education. I was immediately uninvited from a national conference and was never asked back to any workshops. These meetings were funded and organized by the big international organizations and their foreign staff trying to stick their noses into someone else’s country without a shred of understanding of the situation on the ground. They knew that the dog meat trade was their marketing gold, even if the reality of them being unable to make any significant or lasting difference on it was glaringly obvious with their strategy based on total fantasy. Being honest to their overseas donors was never an option. It still isn’t. I simply could not be a part of that and sticking my nose out to say something about it got me excommunicated from their Church of Bullshit, Racism, and Speciesist Lies. From hero to extremist in five short years. What a fall it was.

Rock bottom and hanging onto integrity by a thread

Losing everything I had built over those five years, including our clinic, my staff, my fiancé/vet, and most of our financial support was a daily torture. I was nearly starving alone in the shelter for months on my own without help while caring for almost sixty animals; it was a nightmare I would not wish on my worst enemy. I shaved my head ala Britney Spears and cracked on the best I could while physically and emotionally breaking myself in total isolation. The decline of our standing as an organization due to the loss of the clinic and my inability to shut the fuck up about veganism and against dog meat racism and speciesism nearly killed me. Had the animals not needed to eat, I have no doubt I would have killed myself.

Going from hero to psychopath in the public’s eyes is an interesting journey and it has affected me deeply, particularly within the field I work in and in our region specifically. When I had the clinic and was offering free vet care to other rescues, doing sterilization projects, and being on call for whoever needed vet help, they could put up with my vegan rants and anti-speciesism messages. The moment that clinic was gone, not a soul from those same organizations came to my aid in spite of dozens of emails asking for help from organizations I once was welcomed at. Not one in any part of the region was willing to speak with “that crazy vegan rescuer” once she no longer had any free services for them and was not a hero against the dog meat trade. What it taught me was that my experience in Vietnam watching the most horrific animal cruelty be directed towards animals we eat rather than those we love in our homes meant nothing to people who continued to eat animals who were not dogs. My time watching these horrific things meant nothing to anyone but me and there was no way I could get my voice heard through the paid ads of the welfare organizations telling the public Asians were bad to the poor doggies. The logic of the anti-dog meat campaigners applied only to pets and the moment you changed species, they flipped out on you. They were willing to pay for the suffering of anyone else and put their heads in the sand.

Then why did I care what these hypocrites thought? When those you love most (the rescues in our shelter) rely on the donations of those who dislike your anti-speciesist message, being disliked means those you love are in danger. The organization relies entirely on private donations to keep the mission going and to feed our resident animals, those rescues who I live with in the shelter and whose happiness is all that matters to me. This has been my full-time job and only income for the past eight years, the first three of which I took no salary and lived only on my student loans for graduate school. Without savings or any other money coming in, not only would the animals starve but I would as well as the $500 a month salary from the organization was my only way to eat. My survival was entirely dependent on public opinion and if the animal-eating peanut gallery did not like what I had to say or how I said it, I was going to starve. You can chalk it up to poor management on my part and putting all my (vegan) eggs in a basket that was full of holes and relying on people who eat animals and can’t stand to be told otherwise. But when you are riding that high of getting things done and saving animals, it is impossible to see how that work built on a passion for animal rights would ever crumble.

I love animals and do not eat them and I have thrown all I have into protecting them with an organization that opposes animal use and exploitation. Am I a public relations expert or customer service representative whose job it is to agree with everyone who contacts me? Fuck no. I am vulgar, I am aggressive, and I have an unbounded energy and passion to keep this project going, but I was not born to kiss the asses of people who lack the most basic moral consistency in animal advocacy. Being adorable and agreeing with idiots was never in my job description. I help animals and get shit done with limited financial and human resources for all the species who need us. I care for those animals who need me and I stand up for all species because that is the least we can do for them. I use my experience and knowledge of animal rights mixed with a solid base understanding of politics, economics, international development, and veterinary science to make educated decisions regarding effective strategy to save more animals. It is too bad that the only thing people know about me now is that I am the extremist bitch who just could not shut her damn mouth and tow the party line. They remember how poorly I lived up to their hero image once I added too many species to my list of animals to protect. They cannot let go of how I failed to drop to my knees for the welfare organizations funded by animal eaters to get the partnerships we needed. To grow and gain popularity amongst the herds of doggie-loving white people dropping their cash to save animals from Asians, I was duty-bound to stick to my lane and never talk about the other species people eat.

The Insane Bitch label stuck and it remains to this day. It used to bother me. Now I revel in it. It only makes me dig in harder and speak up louder. I may not be a hero anymore, but I am far more determined and experienced than that White Savior I was eight years ago saving dogs from brown people. My son is a pig, my best friend is a chicken, and my soulmate is a cat and no one can stop me from standing up for any of them with the same mama bear ferocity.

I should have given up. It is emotionally devastating work with no rewards and it physically breaks you if the trauma doesn’t do it first. If this was a retail clothing shop I would have closed my doors and hopped on a plane far, far away about 5 years ago. These animals we rescued continue to need care though and while I did all I could to get work abroad and move/adopt out most of the animals, we are stuck because the farmed animals cannot fly abroad. Being the only farm sanctuary in the country means that we have a duty to dig in and work hard to grow the farmed animal rights project. If the pigs and chickens stay, I stay and the organization stays, and if we are all staying, we are going to do so as a vegan organization standing up for all species no matter what. It is an ugly ride we are on trying to make headway against speciesism and all the challenges we started with have never left.

The most popular organizations in the country are those who continue to cash in on the anti-dog meat hysteria and stand up for no other animals. They partner with large welfare organizations doing the same and they are able to expand with their help built on the speciesist lies and racism of the anti-dog meat campaigns. No other rescues even say the word “vegan” anywhere in their media. This has paid off extremely well for them. It has done absolutely nothing for any non-pet animals though when those are the animals most in need of help. When animal rescues and animal advocates as individuals and organizations can finally say that if something is too cruel to be done to a dog or a bear, it should not be done to other animals, then and only then will we see progress. The overwhelming terror of animal advocates to just say the damn truth is what is killing animals, not the dog eaters. I hope over time, as we work to end exploitation globally and for all species, that others will join us and stand for those species who need us most rather than protecting only the ones who get the most donations.



Catherine Besch

Cat Besch is a ferocious animal activist and pig, chicken, dog, and cat mom who is the founder and director of Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue-US.