Blood Money: How Animal Abusers Fund Animal Rescue

Catherine Besch
9 min readFeb 11, 2024

Over 11 years of our rescue, sanctuary, and vet work in Vietnam, we have run on hundreds of thousands of dollars, a number that sounds high, but given the volume of cases and the fact that we used to run a clinic, it’s tiny by comparison to other internationally run organizations in Vietnam. For at least the first half of this period, we were predominantly funded by overseas animal lovers who were concerned about the welfare of animals in Vietnam based on videos they saw on the internet of a country most had never been in or near, often not even to any developing countries at all. In general, we based our funding then and now on people who have very little practical understanding of the situation on the ground where we work.

What has been brought to light more recently is how our marketing and our messaging against speciesism in rescue have been by far our biggest threat to the sustainability of our work here and to our ability to carry out the mission. When we started the organization, we were loud and proud anti-dog meat campaigners and as a result, were quickly gaining a good amount of attention, especially considering we were one of three official small animal rescues in the country at the time, the only one in central Vietnam. Even wildlife rescues were rare at the time we started in 2013 and now they are becoming massive complexes. As a brand new vegan at the time, my partner in the organization was not vegan, and thus not only was I not well versed in vegan messaging, but was not really allowed to say much about it to keep the peace between us which was fragile on a good day anyway. We were welfare-based, not rights-based, and frankly, I didn’t even know the difference at the time because everyone I had ever known in animal work just never stopped talking about welfare. The entire idea that there was a difference between being an animal rights activist and an advocate for animal welfare was foreign. Now I know that the former works for the best interest of the animal regardless of any human’s whims, greed, or habits while the latter works for trying to make an animal’s life marginally better while it is being exploited for human whims, greed, and habits. The difference is night and day and once I woke up to that I flipped a switch on our marketing messaging that became extremely controversial.

In addition to becoming an animal rights activist in my journey into running central Vietnam’s first rescue shelter and then non-profit clinic, I worked out that advocating for animal rights meant advocating for the equality of care of every species, regardless of their perceived utility to humans. This meant we should provide a chicken and a dog with the same level of veterinary care, the same access to appropriate housing and natural and safe life, and the same access to funds needed to maintain quality of life and longevity. All of this seemed like a logical ask and at the time our farm sanctuary started, having had so much support for dogs, I just didn’t get why that ask would involve so much pushback or help us to lose so many followers. However, it remains extremely controversial, even amongst the animal rescue community. More often than not, when volunteering at your local shelter or visiting your veterinary clinic, you will not find a single person who does not help a couple of species yet consumes every other one commonly found on a plate or whose skin is used for their wallet and shoes.

We spread a message of outliers. To love animals while not harming any at all for food, clothing, research, or entertainment is a message animal lovers totally reject. Those same people who would take a bullet for a dog would have a chicken corpse on their salad and think nothing of it. The equine vets I used to work with were all fox hunters. None of the 35 vet nurses or vets we had volunteer over the 3 years of the clinic were even vegetarian except the head vet who was my fiance who I veganized when we met. We told them no animal products in the vet clinic because we do not support animal suffering in any manner and for some it was like asking them to live without water for a couple of weeks.

I have been an outlier for so long that I no longer remember what it is like to be able to walk into a conversation with a stranger and not have to defend the organization’s outspoken message against harming animals of any species. We wouldn’t harm a snake, a gibbon, a bear, a pangolin, a cat, a pig, or a chicken, and that ruffles feathers. It upset people so much when we had the clinic and I would point out to people that the dogs and cats who we had rescued from the dog meat trade were no different from the pigs and chickens at our sanctuary. It became such an issue that our biggest donors, two Australian vegans whose ultimate goal was to end the dog meat trade rather than talk about other species, said we had to stop talking about veganism. When I said no, they withdrew not only their funding but the funding of their anti-dog meat organization followers who were predominantly holding up the clinic financially. Vegans were telling us to shut the fuck up about veganism so we could make money to help dogs. That is inexcusable and in no way in line with animal rights activism. In a job in which we get no personal reward of any kind and in which I have lived a subsistence existence for over a decade, the one thing I am allowed to hold on to that no one can take from this organization is its integrity. To be morally bankrupt and sell out 2.8 trillion animals in our messaging- a message that takes into account not only those animal lives but the public health, environmental, and food security implications- to save a few thousand here of one or two species is not an effective policy. We lost our clinic, lost our support, and not only did I nearly starve to death, but we lived on the edge so much that we lived day to day. This is what being outspoken vegans fighting for all species got us. Our pioneering work in veterinary care in Vietnam was finished.

Those Who Flourished

In the meantime, as my organization failed and I tried to pick up the pieces and move to Hanoi where at least we could access international vets and potentially a new donor base, the other expat-managed rescues here flourished. Their message was clear: the dog and cat meat trade is the worst crime of humanity. No mention of 2.8 trillion land and sea animals. Just cats and dogs. Let’s remember to love “pets” and say nothing of any other species because those people who hurt them pay the bills. Dog and cat organizations are not only not saying anything about farm animals and sea animals who make up the mass of human-induced suffering in the world, but they are often part of it themselves. These same organizations serve animal products as part of their events. Their staff and volunteers consume animals and save companion species and their donor base is the same. As a result of not asking anyone to change their perspective on animals or to change their consumer habits by going vegan to end all animal suffering and protect the environment, food security, and public health, asking for donations from 99% of the human population which is nonvegan is easy peasy. It’s like taking candy from a baby. They take the money from people who we rescue animals from. In fact, we rescue animal species from those rescue organizations because they all kill animals while we are dismissed by the donors as extremists.

Those rescues are funded by blood money. That money comes from lies, hidden truths at the very least, and willful ignorance at the worst. Their dog/cat saving work is based on supporting the exploitation and suffering of the largest number of animals on the planet. They help a few animals by outright lying to the public by omitting the fact that dogs and cats make up under 1% of land animals killed in Vietnam all while their donors are the ones who are intentionally paying for the suffering and deaths of the 99%. The hypocrisy is hard to take, but it certainly pays well because these organizations have expanded by buying vehicles, getting new staff, enlarging properties, and adding companion animal rescues all as they serve corpses to their supporters and support animal exploitation of all other kinds.

We, too, have benefitted from this bloody money I speak of. Many of our donors are not vegan. They are people we rescue animals from as they are the perpetrators of violence to species we vow to protect. None of our largest donors have been vegan. Most say they support us, but won’t stop eating animals. That is up to them and I cannot make them change, but they will not ever change our message. You can’t buy our silence for the animals who need it most and we are grateful for those donors who understand that.

It’s hard to get anyone to say they are not against animal cruelty, mostly because they think we are talking about kicking dogs or beating horses rather than the standard practices of animal agriculture. But when I bring up farmed animals or sea life, I am reminded that no one considers these animals anything more than a meal, just a commodity like rice with no feelings or will to live. Despite our hard work here, despite the thousands of lives I have been lucky to help here in many ways in the community, through our vet clinic, and by supporting other rescues in the country, we are a joke to many. We are the extremists and I am the moron leading this circus. When I help a dog I am a hero and when I help a chicken I should be in a padded cell. After eleven years, my skin has grown thick, but not that thick. It is lonely as an outlier. As an organization, we are incredibly isolated. I expected to be part of a huge community of animal lovers when I started an animal shelter and what I found was that I was a freak because I didn’t want to harm animals at all.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Over time, support for our work has decreased to the point that within the year it is likely that without a revenue source totally separate from individual donations, all our animals will starve, we’ll be kicked off the property we’ve had for a decade, and we will have to cease all community operations that are the lifeblood of our work. Adoptions in this country are so rare due to the lack of adopting homes that keep animals indoors, one of our main requirements, so most have to be exported for a much higher price that includes a ton more coordination. The situation is bleak, but if we took more blood money, we could turn it all around. If we stopped talking about our pig and chickens, maybe we could just go back to being part of a community, albeit a community in which half the species at our shelter look like a meal to them and nothing more.

But that won’t happen. Losing Vietnam’s only farm sanctuary, only vegan rescue shelter, and the only anti-speciesists providing lifelong care for animals most rescues still eat will be devastating. The pioneering work of the organization will end. Our older animals will die off, the younger ones will be adopted overseas, and the remainders will come with me somewhere on the planet where I hope to have allies in this field. If to be successful as a rescue means to stay silent for the suffering of trillions of sentient beings, I’d rather lose it all and start a venture that provides a higher impact in the dismantling of an animal-based food system rather than by rescue alone. We have had to give up on the hope of ever starting a clinic again. We have had to stop all intakes. Everything I worked for and slaved away for is being overshadowed by the work of rescues who have grown massively on the blood money they receive by being single-issue campaigners and catering to the sensitivities of meat eaters rather than the lives of murdered animals. Let them have it then. A vegan world cannot be won on this battlefield. But we will win it elsewhere.

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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.