Chinese animal lovers fight illegal cat meat trade.

When Han Jiali’s beloved cat Dabai was taken from her home in Shanghai last year, she embarked on a hunt for her pet, leading her deep into the bowels of China’s underground beef trade.

Most people in China do not eat cat meat, but each year an estimated four million furry friends are slaughtered for food in an illegal market that includes Guangdong province, neighboring Guangxi and other areas, according to Humane Society International.

Han, who spent thousands of dollars and weeks tracking down cat meat traders across China, uncovered a supply chain of domesticated pets and domestic animals in the region around Shanghai.

Her quest to find Dabai leads her to gruesome processing plants in Guangdong, where she sees skinned cat carcasses piled in boxes and fur sacks.

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She found village restaurants that openly advertised cat meat and unscrupulous vendors passing off mutton or rabbit.

“Then I had to accept that my cat was gone,” an emotional Han told AFP.

“She was eaten.”

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Now she is determined to save other cats from the same fate and has spent the past year filing police reports, tracking down thieves and sending petitions to the Guangdong government.

Death threats against cat meat dealers and an incident in December in which a man deliberately drove into her car at a highway break is a dangerous mission, she says.

“I was scared and thought to turn around and pretend I didn’t see all this,” she said.

“But if I disappear and keep quiet, who will save them (the cats) from this terrible situation?”

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Han, 33, is one of a small but dedicated group of people fighting the abuse of pet cats and dogs in China, where there is no widespread institutional protection for pets.

Possessing a family pet that roams freely outside the home is not considered theft in China.

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And while the law prohibits eating cats, offenders are fined for food safety rather than animal cruelty.

Activists and state media commentators are calling on lawmakers to enact animal cruelty laws to close loopholes not covered by existing wildlife and livestock laws.

“I’m an ordinary person, my abilities are limited,” Han said.

Last month, she and other animal rescuers, with the help of local police, seized a truck carrying hundreds of cats as it left Zhangjiagang, near Shanghai.

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“They were collecting cats in the cemetery,” she told AFP.

“When we looked at them, we quickly realized that they were planning to sell the captured kitties illegally.”

Han said she and other activists spent sleepless days scouring the cemetery before a truck showed up in the morning to pick up dozens of tiny bamboo crates crammed with about 800 cats.

Police and animal rescuers stopped the car and the cats were taken to a shelter in Taikang, an hour away from Shanghai.

There, the animals were taken to a swampy area run by a small family called Mengtaiki Cat and Dog Manor.

Gu Ming, a 45-year-old former pharmaceutical industry professional who lives in a shelter with his wife, told Agence France-Presse that many of the cats rescued in Zhangjiagang had their arms and legs crushed by the weight of the hundreds of animals.

Dozens of people have died from injuries and viral infections that spread quickly among closely packed and stressed animals, he said.

Volunteers at the shelter isolate sick animals in temporary quarantine cages, call vets to vaccinate and euthanize healthy cats.

Eventually, after weeks of treatment and isolation, the first rescue team was moved to a large outdoor enclosure covered with trees and rows of blankets.

Gua covers the cost of the shelter out of his own pocket and only accepts non-monetary donations such as equipment and kibble.

He plans to move all the cats to a small island near a local temple.

The four-legged inhabitants of the island flock to greet Goo as he crosses the portico bridge that lets the cats inside.

By midday, the animals are rolling on the grass and snoozing under trees — a rare existence far removed from the cramped meat truck crates.

Gu said he was touched by the many animal lovers who offered help after seeing state media reports about Zhangjiagang’s cats.

But still, “we have to push for a national law, because it is not realistic to base it on an individual or a few groups,” he said.

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