White People Snuggling Puppies and Other Non-Solutions to Animal Suffering in the Global South

Catherine Besch
9 min readFeb 3, 2022
White lady (the author) snuggling pig piggy son, Julian

If you follow animal rescues in the Asia, Latin America, and Africa, you know what this looks like. Below is a list of some of the common, well-marketed, and media-friendly non-solutions to ending animal suffering in poor countries:

— Puppy snuggling

— Doggie walking on beaches

— Instagram-able kitten kissing

— Education programs by pretty, young white people to classes of non-white children to learn about aforementioned puppy snuggling and kitten kissing

— Volun-tourism at animal rescues for twenty-something Westerners coming to Asia to “find themselves” while trying to drunkenly catch chlamydia in a beach bar under the full moon.

I only attack these points because I am guilty of all of these and more in a vain attempt to “save animals” in Vietnam, going so far as to open my own rescue organization in 2013 which continues to run my life to this day while reminding me of the futility of White Saviorism. I am not ashamed to say that I was a raging moron at the age of 33 when I opened the shelter. Life lesson learned. Now in my middle-aged wisdom, I get to call out people doing the same dumb shit. Adulting at its finest.

These above examples are all part of the asinine idea that the West has come to the East to civilize it through pet rescues while savage Vietnamese eat dogs. The backpacking, English-teaching world of twenty-somethings that fly to Southeast Asia to find themselves and escape the rat race is not going to “civilize” Vietnam. It sure as hell is not going to make lasting changes to the lives of hundreds of millions of animals here. Vietnam has, in fact, civilized me when I moved there in 2012, not the other way around, and in the time I have lived here, I have seen atrocities towards animals done by every color, gender, and creed of human possible.

The idea that stoned backpackers spending their nights diddling strangers in tiki bars and their days teaching kids English online are some kind of bright light of humanity fails to hold much logic. While I very much once was that table-dancing, bar-fly with the asinine idea that I had the power to shift the consciousness of the Vietnamese people towards loving all animals, middle-age and a decade of dealing with youthful naivity just like my own changed my views on what is possible when snuggling puppies abroad.

The White Savior (author) saving 3 cats from the cat meat trade

There is nothing better than being handed my ass and seeing the limitations of what I now know to be serious impediments to the impact I had hoped to make in Vietnam. I know how easy it is to fall prey to the White Man’s Burden mentality. We so easily can feel like there is some way to change an entire nation of total strangers speaking another language based on the fact that our country of origin has dogs that wear sweaters and one can easily spend $50 on a tiny bag of gourmet, organic, grain-free dog food. We forget that the more “developed” a country, the higher the number of animals per capita are murdered annually. The 25 million animals killed every single day in the US should be a more important indicator of our incompetence as animal caretakers than the variety of designer dog sweaters at our local pet shop.

When we judge the way that animals are treated in a country, we always ignore 95% of animals there. We ignore the feed lots, battery cages, and the oceans being raped for a meal easily replaced by plants. We avoid adding in the slaughterhouses scattered throughout the countryside hidden from the people who pick up a corpse wrapped in plastic at the supermarket without a thought for the screams that came from their meal. The Vietnamese consume less than one-third of the animals than the average American does. This means a lot fewer murders per capita, yet none of these are counted when we uphold the belief that West knows Best in regards to caring for animals.

We only know best how to produce murdered animals at an industrial scale, to legally condone the horrors of the production of animals used for profit, to effectively hide this process from the general public, and to sell hypocrisy at the highest levels of animal advocacy. Nearly all animal organizations promote saving dogs and cats and using all others for food, clothing, entertainment, and research on a mass scale with the stamp of approval from the veterinary industry at large and the government agencies meant to protect animals. Yes, the West is Best. We are the best at selling comfortable lies to the public in exchange for profiting off the torture and murder of animals, the destruction of the environment, and the degradation of public health and global food security.

While it is always nice to have animals cared for and walked and snuggled, the Vietnamese do this, too, believe it or not. Do many also kick them, throw rocks at them, breed them, and eat them? Sure. Does that not happen in your country? I’ll bet it does. Where I went to high school in Alabama, they get their rocks off on shooting them, too. There they bond over ripping animals out of the sea by their faces, picking them off with shotguns from tree stands, and barbequing their corpses among friends and family while petting their sweater-clad poodles. Humans are awful to animals on every corner of this planet.

Vietnam is a pretty awful place to be an animal of any kind in many ways, but so is most of the world. I fail to understand how an American, Brit, or German is going to have any ground to stand on in Vietnam when pointing fingers at the locals and then, as usual, still going out and stuffing corpses in their faces. This is indicative of the welfarist ideology that has made all arguments against the Vietnamese dog meat-eating savagery invalid. When we perpetuate the nonsense that young, white people snuggling dogs in Vietnam is an answer to the problems animals face here, we are selling lies to other young white people that these non-solutions are the standard for progress for animals that they can be a part of.

So what CAN be done for animals in Vietnam?

The answer is the same in every country but must be interpreted through the cultural and political lens of the people who live there, not those who pop in and want to save puppies between hangovers and not-so-satisfying one-night stands. The answer is a cultural shift to consider the lives of ALL animals valuable rather than picking and choosing which are cute enough to care about. The solution is to stand up for animals in both day-to-day life and in a legal framework by promoting an end to animal use in general. This means working towards veganic agriculture systems and away from animal agriculture. It includes shifting away from destroying the seas and towards farming them with seaweed. It means promoting vegan food and products so that these are accessible nationwide to all income levels. It means building up the capacity of the veterinary industry to provide adequate care for animals of ALL species while ensuring that safe sterilization procedures are accessible to all pet owners. It means ending the promotion of purebred animals and the production of farmed animals. It means ending the legal subsidies for animal agriculture and implementing enforceable legislation that actually protects every single species of animal from the inevitable cruelty that comes from human interaction. The reality is that societal values do not have to shift prior to legislative change, but in a country like Vietnam with such a weak rule of law, the normative culture takes the place of law in regard to animals and we must consider this balance when seeking sustainable, systemic change.

Among the puppies that needed snuggling

The idea that these projects are best done solely by foreigners is as arrogantly ignorant as it gets. In fact, the idea that any of these changes can come from foreigners is a bit unrealistic. The projects that we are able to do as a foreign organization are limited to what the Vietnamese are willing to participate in and carry on through their own projects. We have generally greater access to funding as an American nonprofit with primarily American donors and that allows us to focus on more veterinary-based projects which can be far too expensive for locals to invest in. Our media platforms are all in English, so we have no real chance at social change and even if I did write everything in Vietnamese, my words are useless in Vietnam as an American. While Vietnam is my home for over a decade, I am still an outsider here to the Vietnamese and always will be, both legally and socially. Government subsidies, legislation of any kind, and the enforcement of existing legislation is not ever going to be among the things we can affect. We see Vietnam as part of a global movement, but it is the Vietnamese who have the greatest impact on everything we hope to achieve.

The one thing we can achieve as foreigners is to stand up against the virulent racism that comes with being a foreigner in a dog meat eating country and working in rescue here. We can dispel the insanity that West knows Best and we can put an end to the baseless idea that dog meat is somehow much worse than what goes on in our own countries oceans away. Virulent xenophobia has yet to be a problem against the French for their 37 million ducks killed annually in the violent foix gras industry or against the Italians for the 16,000 tons of horse meat eaten every year, yet the Vietnamese eat 5 million dogs and they are called savages. What we as a foreign organization can do is to put ourselves out there in the global movement for animal rights and stand up for ALL species and remind people that it is humanity we are fighting against, not one specific group of humans.

There is no doubt we are limited in the reach that we would otherwise have in the country in which we were born. I have fought against that for years but have finally grown to accept our place in all this because I have made my home and work based here in Vietnam. While we do have white people snuggling puppies at our shelter, we know it is not solving anything for the wider picture in Vietnam while it keeps our rescues happy and loved. The shelter itself solves almost nothing other than saving the few dozen animals onsite while working towards a return of our vet work, but there we are and will continue to be because once upon a time when I started this organization, I was among the young white people who came to snuggle puppies and save them from the horrible dog meat trade.

I don’t miss the idealistic, and ethnocentric White Savior moron I used to be, but am grateful for ten long years of hard wake-up calls that taught me what a naive ass I was. I sure am enjoying my forties and becoming outspoken in my diminishing faith in the long-held, yet misguided beliefs of what international development means in animal advocacy. I have gone from following the leaders in the international welfare world with every move when we first started the organization, to being completely ostracized by the animal advocacy community in the region for being outspoken against their outdated and ineffective strategies which are deeply racist and leave out every non-pet or endangered wildlife species. I am proud to be on the other end of it rather than continuing to believe in tactless and ineffective non-solutions. Hopefully, we can move on in the coming years with practical work with concrete impact that addresses the big picture and the use of grassroots initiatives.



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.