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The New York Times reported on our concerns with witness testimonies from many activists here.
The Charity Commission have supported our decision not to fund an animal abuser. Donations were used to help a genuine rescuer and set up a new shelter which all supporters can visit.
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Warning: some of the pictures and videos in this post contain images of dogs which have died and may be distressing – viewer discretion is advised
NoToDogMeat decided to visit Mrs Yang in China on advice from the UK Charity Commission and as part of our duty to be diligent in making sure the funds of close to £77,000 raised on the platform Total Giving (which was started in June this year) were used for the publicly stated purpose of the fundraiser and in line with our charity objects – to rescue dogs and cats from being butchered as part of the Yulin dog meat festival and to provide ongoing care for these rescued animals.
From the outset our concern was raised as a result of unexplained difficulties in safe collection of funds sent by Western Union, lack of communication from Mrs Yang and reports which trickled through of her activities at Yulin 2015, just before and shortly afterwards, which conflicted with other statements she had made to our volunteer (a lady with highly responsible position within a multinational company and experienced in conducting business across Asia) face to face and with an accredited Chinese translator in May, a month or so earlier.
Mrs Yang had stated:
- She ran a shelter with over 3,000 dogs and cats in and around Tianjin
- She had totally exhausted all her funds and these animals were currently starving to death
- No international organisation had ever stepped in to help her
- She was completely self-funded
- She wished to return to Yulin in 2015 and rescue as many dogs and cats as she could
- She proposed to buy the dogs and indicated the “price per head” was $50
- Mrs Yang described her shelter as a “cluster of basic sheds” in the Dongli District of Tianjin.
During this visit Mrs Yang had asked for funds and at that time we sent $500, and it was in response to this that we agreed to work with her and the fundraiser was set up.
The charity sought advice from the Charity Commission, as well as discussing other matters relating to the legal administration of the Total Giving fundraiser, the charity also agreed that, once a first on-site visit had taken place, findings would be reported back to the Commission.
The Commission acknowledged the issues and challenges surrounding the fundraiser and commended the charity on it meeting its objectives.
Site Visit August 24th-30th 2015
The visit to China was made by trustees Robert Donkers and Julia de Cadenet (CEO) for the purpose of addressing the previously stated concerns and ensuring that the funds raised and sent to Mrs Yang had been used to rescue and care of around 500 dogs and 100 cats which Mrs Yang had reportedly rescued from Yulin and that any future funds given to the recipient would be used for that same purpose and in the best interests of the animals rescued.
To help this process Chinese representatives were in attendance including translators – it was the charity’s intention to deliver food and attend to any emergency need. All representatives attending as volunteers had extensive experience in rescuing dogs from the meat trade and in shelter management. Attempts to telephone and email Mrs Yang to inform her of the visit had remained without response.
The trustees were braced to find a dire situation given the well-publicised reports that Mrs Yang had 3,000 dogs (even before the Yulin rescues) and also to find Mrs Yang making cornbread each day for them as she had previously described to us. We were not prepared for what we found – the situation and condition of the dogs and cats, and the animals she had left to suffer and die without regard to their basic needs.
Visit ‘Shelter 1’ Dongli District of Tianjin
We arrived at the first shelter on the morning of Thursday 27th 2015. The volunteers who were accompanying us from Tianjin had brought food, basic medical supplies and vehicles to transport the sickest dogs and cats to the local animal welfare hospital – which we had visited the day before and agreed discounted rates for treatment.
‘Shelter 1’ was in a fact a large, uninhabited tenement building. The smell from the building was overpowering from 500 meters away. What struck us was how there was a lack of security – meaning that some of the dogs and the cats we saw could wander out of the shelter on to the road very easily and indeed anyone could enter at will. We were surprised to see that this was not a cluster of sheds as Mrs Yang had described but a derelict tenement building in an unsanitary and dangerous state.
We entered the building from the rear and passed through darkened rooms covered in urine and faeces, past dogs that had been tied up by the neck without any access to clean water. We entered the central open yard. This place was covered with bags and bags of rotting waste and on examination of the waste, we found a dead dog. A couple of cats were present limping and in obvious pain. There was a bag of food split open on the ground and some dirty metal bowls with no water which the animals tied up had no access to.
We could not locate the water supply and there was no evidence of a storeroom to keep food/medical supplies or any cleaning products. No staff were present. Despite the early hour of our visit, it was extremely hot. As we approached the second main building we caught sight of a locked grilled gate. As we approached, a group of dogs of varying breeds tried to access us, whimpering. They were covered in sores and in obvious distress. They had no food or water and were standing deep in urine and faeces. Other rooms we looked into, through the open windows of the derelict building, were full of rubbish and we could see the corpses of dead dogs. On the roof were several small dogs barking and trying to jump down. There was no sign of any veterinary care.
The welfare groups who attended with us shared our distress – nevertheless they suggested we address the situation by offering to help clean up and take the dogs in the worst condition to the hospital. We agreed, seeking to make the best we could of this unfortunate situation. In total we counted around 100 dogs and cats – a far cry from the total 3,000 Mrs Yang claimed to care for.
Shortly after our arrival Mrs Yang arrived, followed by an older lady. Mrs Yang’s reaction to our visit was extremely hostile. She objected to the welfare groups photographing the shelter and started to make phone calls in an agitated way.
Robert and Julia approached Mrs Yang to introduce themselves and told her they were here to help. At this, she became calmer but insisted everyone left the shelter immediately. We were glad to comply and politely asked her if we could see the dogs and cats she had rescued from Yulin and find a positive way forward to help her.
We proposed getting veterinary care for the dogs locked behind the gate but she said she had lost the key.
She agreed to take us on a journey – about an hour away – to show us the dogs and cats she had rescued from Yulin. We then travelled to the second location where we saw three interlinking shelters.
Mrs Yang spent the journey to this shelter on her mobile phone and we were unable to interrupt her. Our translator was with us and sought to reassure her of our good intention.
Our Findings at ‘Shelters 2’
On arrival at the next shelter, which had a kind of garden centre feel to it, we were met by Mrs Yang’s daughter-in-law (who drove a brand new car) and a bald man holding an iron bar who was photographing us. The male and female dogs at this yard had not been separated and one female whose genitals were prolapsed was being mounted by several males in succession. Mrs Yang entered the caged area and struck the dogs to pull them off. She then suggested we photograph her feeding the dogs for the press. We asked if this was where she made the cornmeal each day and she just laughed and threw the bag of food on the ground leaving the dogs to fight over it.
Several men were present with building materials and we asked Mrs Yang if this was the shelter she was building with donors’ money to house the dogs and cats she rescued from Yulin. She did not answer. We felt slightly encouraged, hoping it was indeed the building, though noting at the same time it was very small.
The dogs in this shelter were all large in size and it was obvious to us they were breeding dogs (big unneutered dogs). We later learnt Mrs Yang runs a business to sell puppies and dogs for breeding.
There was no sign of a vet or any storage facilities for food but the dogs we encountered appeared to have been fed despite some still with open bleeding sores. At this site we were more limited in the evidence we could gather.
Concerns from Visit
There was no sign of the 500 dogs or 100 cats Mrs Yang had rescued from Yulin (which we had been advised of) or the 800 she confirmed she had rescued in an interview to the Daily Mail on July 2nd 2015.
As stated earlier, we had been had provided with photos and a video of various dogs Mrs Yang had rescued. The vet we were in contact with, and who was present at Yulin, had met Mrs Yang and taken photographs. Although accounts had conflicted including completely different dogs apparently arriving at the shelter than those which had departed Yulin, we remained hopeful Mrs Yang could provide an explanation which would at least in part show she had used some of the funds for the purpose intended and we could proceed lawfully with the dispersal of the fund.
Addressing Our Concerns with Mrs Yang and Discussions
Our discussions took place in front of the welfare group representatives, among whom was a former volunteer of Mrs Yang and a major donor of hers. We also had two translators.
The first issue we sought to address was why Mrs Yang had not used any of the funds we had sent her for rescuing dogs from Yulin as had been planned (since she had not collected any of the funds at the time) and clarification as to what she had spent donors’ money on. Neither she nor her daughter-in-law was able to respond.
We endeavoured to seek clarity on where the £32,000 Mrs Yang had spent in Yulin had come from and explained that our donors, all animal lovers, would feel disappointed that she had claimed poverty yet had not used their donation for the purpose described in the fundraiser. She provided no response. We also asked her why she had purchased more dogs on the 11th June and enquired where they were and as to their welfare. We sought to reassure her again that we were here to help and that transparency was key to good relations with donors.
The second issue we raised with Mrs Yang was to enquire the whereabouts of the dogs and cats she had rescued from Yulin. As Mrs Yang had specifically told us when we left the first shelter we would travel to see them we were keen to do that. Her daughter in law surprisingly told us the cats were in the first shelter and when we confirmed we had not seen more than three cats running free she said they must have run away. Neither party could provide any explanation as to where the dogs were or indeed as to how many had actually been rescued.
We explained our difficulty in that having set up a fundraiser specifically to facilitate the rescue of the dogs and cats from Yulin our donors were anxious to know about their welfare. She became agitated and demanded we give her another £16,000 immediately so that she could rent the adjacent shelter which currently housed large breeding dogs. We asked her if this is where she had intended to put the dogs and cats she had rescued from Yulin but she did not answer and just repeated to give her the money. The man with the iron bar had moved to stand behind us and we felt uneasy at this point. We noted that the space with these three shelters could not house more than 140 – 150 dogs with kenneling and voiced our concern not just for the animals she had claimed to rescue from Yulin but for the 3,000 dogs she had told Ms Ling she cared for. Robert, who practices in animal healing asked if he could handle some of the dogs but she refused.
At this point, Ms Feng the daughter in law of Mrs Yang informed us that Mrs Yang did not care for 3,000 dogs and when they spoke of 3,000 dogs they had meant the dogs in the municipal police pound several hours away which did not belong to them. We asked how many dogs and cats approximately Mrs Yang did care for but they declined to respond. We asked if we could visit the dogs in the public pound on another day and both declined.
We then moved on to the troubling issue of social media and false reports that we had not sent funding and that dogs and cats were starving. Mrs Yang and Ms Feng (the daughter-in-law) confirmed these reports had not originated from them. Facebook and Twitter are banned in China and therefore anyone claiming to be Mrs Yang’s official spokesperson writing on social media supposedly on her behalf could not be considered to be a reliable source of information.
We asked again why she had taken until August to access the £5,050 sent on the 5th July and she said she had been too busy to go to the bank. We informed her that to proceed we had the intention of opening a bank account in China from which we could transfer funds to her business bank account which was required by our bank HSBC in order to comply with UK law and regulations. She informed us she was not prepared to open a business bank account and wanted all the money to be transferred into her personal family bank account. We explained this would be problematic and showed her the requirements of HSBC.
We then moved on to the subject of truck rescue ‘#707’, July 7th. This rescue involved the sale of dogs from the police pound to the dog meat traders. Mrs Yang had informed Chinese media she had bought the dogs to save them. We asked her had she used donors’ money to do this and what had happened to these dogs. She offered no explanation.
We asked her about her views and plans on animal welfare, vaccination and shelter management but she said she was not interested and just wanted the money.
At this juncture, we decided it best to adjourn our meeting to the next day wishing to part amicably with Mrs Yang and reflect carefully on the next steps. Mrs Yang agreed.
Final Shelter Visit Secret Shelter August 27th
On leaving Mrs Yang we voiced our concerns with the animal welfare groups. They informed us that sadly our findings were consistent with four leading welfare groups who had been to visit Mrs Yang a week before. We are now in possession of this troubling report.
One female volunteer who had been present when Mrs Yang had brought dogs back from Yulin in 2014 asked if we could accompany her to Mrs Yang’s “secret shelter”. She informed us that this was the place Mrs Yang had left the dogs she had bought on June 11th and that she suspected it was a yard that Mrs Yang used to trade dogs. We were deeply concerned and agreed to travel there.
It is to be noted that Mrs Yang does not drive and does not appear to have any utility vehicles or staff although she does have help from her son and daughter-in-law – who drove a brand new vehicle as stated previously – and do not work in any other occupation. We wondered how – given the geographical distance between the locations of her shelters – she managed to visit them and care for the dogs on a regular basis. We wondered why she had chosen locations so far apart.
After about two hours of travel, we arrived at an area which was a deserted waste-ground with a single track road along which we drove for some 15 minutes until we arrive at a large red-gated property. A local man who appeared to have a warehouse nearby informed us that no-one, including Mrs Yang, had been to this place for weeks though he had seen on a regular basis over the years trucks arriving to deposit dogs and others arriving to pick them up. By this time it was late in the day.
As we approached the crack in the solid iron gate, the dogs heard us and started to scream and howl. It was deeply distressing for all of us. We were able to film inside through the walls and it was obvious they had been abandoned without food or water. Despite the late hour now it was still hot. We were unable to even throw food over the high wall.
The volunteer contacted Mrs Yang to communicate our concern and propose we arrange and pay to remove the dogs to a safer environment. She declined and made threats. As dusk was falling we were obliged to leave with heavy hearts. It is to be noted that three days later the welfare groups returned to this spot with a van and the gates were wide open. They filmed the bodies of dogs, most with collars, who had died there from neglect and starvation. We enclose a video link to demonstrate the absolute horror, neglect and abuse.
Mrs Yang declined to meet with us on Friday 28th August 2015 and to date has not responded to any of our proposals sent by email in English and Chinese.
Videos Shot by Chinese Activists on Subsequent Visits
Please be advised you may find these videos distressing
Here is a video on a subsequent visit to ‘Shelter 1’ the tenement building. The dog lying down has died – her pups try to suckle.
This video was shot at ‘secret Shelter 3’ just days after we had been there. The yard had been emptied and these are the bodies of the dogs left behind.
Another shot of empty ‘Shelter 3’
Issues of Concern After Fundraiser but Prior to August Site Visit
Our bank HSBC raised concerns at the amounts that were being sent to Mrs Yang and informed us in writing that as Mrs Yang only held a personal account it would not be lawful for us to continue sending funds. They confirmed Mrs Yang would need to set up a charity or business bank account so that funds could be traceable.
We were alerted to the fact that Mrs Yang had placed her bank details on some 50 different websites and due to our charity promotion of her activities donations were flooding in for her from many sources.
Solutions to Banking Issues
The Charity Commission advised us that they supported our own suggestion to open a bank account in China so that funds could be transferred in an appropriate manner and would be effectively monitored and the fund could be used for the purpose intended.
Issues of Concern with Respect to the Behaviour of Recipient Mrs Yang
As soon as initial funds were raised they were sent to Mrs Yang via bank transfer and Western Union to ensure she had funds in place to rescue as many dogs as possible. We were encouraged by having exceeded our target and wanted to fulfil our primary objective to its fullest extent. However, issues of concern arose which made us rethink our attitude to Mrs Yang as a beneficiary.
(a) Misuse of funds by Mrs Yang – was raised when it became apparent Mrs Yang had not collected the emergency funds for Yulin we had sent to her by Western Union on four separate occasions. Given her earlier insistence that she did not have any of her own money to buy dogs we wondered how her trip to Yulin and purchase of dogs had been financed, and
(b) Lack of regard to animal welfare – was raised when a report with photographic evidence had come into us via trusted local welfare groups who had visited Mrs Yang the week before we travelled to China that Mrs Yang had bought dogs to place in another shelter of hers (‘Shelter 4’) on June 11th. This seemed incongruous with her statements to our representative on May 29th – that her dogs were starving and she could not cope. We were particularly concerned given the remote location of ‘Shelter 4’ and the fact that the dogs were large and would require substantial amounts of food. We were concerned that Mrs Yang had left them apparently unattended to travel four days later to Yulin thousands of miles away.
Later it was reported that Mrs Yang had travelled to Yulin with £32,000 of private funding – confirmed in an interview she gave to the Daily Mail on July 2nd 2015 republished in the London Metro the same month.
She finally took receipt of the first four Western Union payments we had sent to her around 21st June on July 4th 2015 almost a fortnight later. We felt she was not being honest with us.
By not using any of the funds sent to her to rescue dogs from Yulin it became clear to us that Mrs Yang had gone outside the primary terms for the fundraiser as it had been described to donors online.
Our trustees raised these issues with the volunteer who had been communicating with Mrs Yang and word came back Mrs Yang had saved at least 500 dogs and 100 cats “with our money”. We were given to understand that when we travelled to China we would meet them. We then received photographs and a video of a collection of dogs and cats travelling back to Mrs Yang’s sheds in Tianjin and this was published on our fundraiser page.
We clearly informed the volunteer that had met Mrs Yang that if it was proven that Mrs Yang was not using funds for the purpose intended we would need hold the funds pending an investigation. We were also deeply concerned that there was a now a large surplus of funds and of our obligation to ensure distribution of the donations for the purpose intended – the rescue of dogs from the Yulin Festival.
The rumour was spread that we had not sent any money at all to Mrs Yang and that the dogs she had rescued and those already in her shelter were starving. As we had sent a grant to feed the dogs for a month on May 29th and Mrs Yang had further purchased dogs on June 11th we struggled to see how this could be the case. Having been informed that Mrs Yang had travelled to Yulin with £32,000 it was deeply concerning she would have left her own dogs to starve whilst purchasing more. Mrs Yang had not used the four Western Union payments we had sent her between 17-22 June to rescue dogs from Yulin because she did not collect that money until a fortnight later. So by our calculation, and according to what she had told our volunteer on May 29th 2015, Mrs Yang had received enough money from us to feed the dogs for at least a year.
Our response once again was to act in good faith and we immediately sent an additional payment to Mrs Yang on July 5th via direct bank transfer. So in total, this made it six payments we had given to Mrs Yang. This extra money around $8,000 would allow Mrs Yang to buy 65,000 kilos of decent quality dry dog food or pay for 1,600 vaccinations. Yet it is to be noted that neither Mrs Yang nor her son or daughter-in-law who have access to her account went to the bank to pick up these funds until August during which time she had claimed the funds had not arrived in the account – they were only ‘discovered’ by her when we suggested passing the matter to the international authorities to investigate this apparent loss of funds and possible fraud by the bank. When questioned as to why she had allowed such claims to be made Mrs Feng (Mrs Yang’s daughter-in-law) said they had been too busy to go to the bank.
Further addressing the issue of food, the London company Lily’s Kitchen had offered to donate large amounts of food and at least three supporters emailed us to say they wanted to send food pallets. From our own side, we had placed an order for £4,000 worth of food to be delivered to the shelter from a leading company we work who produce high-quality food. We encountered enormous difficulties arranging for this food to be delivered given the discrepancies as to where Mrs Yang’s shelter actually was and later due to the fact that Mrs Yang had communicated to our official Chinese representative that she did not want food she just wanted money. The Chinese food company also expressed their concerns that this food (which they were selling us at a discount) would be sold on by Mrs Yang.
Our charity works with a leading vet practise that has clinics throughout Asia. They meet international standards. They were instructed to visit Mrs Yang and take an inventory of the 500 dogs and 100 cats saved. This way we could:
(a) check if any were stolen pets and attempt to reunite them with their owners (part of our charity purpose);
(b) identify immediate health concerns and medical needs; and
(c) assess trauma and determine future suitability of the dogs for adoption.
We were prepared to fund this veterinary report out of our general charity funds. In addition, we instructed the vets that we would like the animals in need of urgent care to be isolated and treated. Our charity frequently runs vaccination programs for dogs rescued from the meat trade and we were concerned that the dogs be vaccinated to prevent distemper or other fatal disease outbreak.
To our dismay, Mrs Yang refused our offer point-blank. She informed us she had her own on-site vets. We communicated to her that our charity was anxious she use some of the funds we had sent to pay this vet. We did not at any time on our visit meet Mrs Yang’s vets and nor did other welfare groups who went there just the week before us. Most shelters hold a stock room of basic supplies and vaccinations. This was not in evidence at Mrs Yang’s facility.
1. Mrs Yang breached the trust of our charity and of donors and misled us as to her financial position and need.
2. She travelled to Yulin for the purpose of rescuing dogs and cats however did neither need nor use the emergency funding sent by us.
3. Mrs Yang to date can provide no explanation as to what happened to the dogs and cats she rescued from Yulin and our donors have been misled into believing funds sent and due to be sent could be used for their care. An adoption program will also not be practicable given the dogs and cats are missing.
4. Mrs Yang’s actions have and continue to allow the circulation of false rumours that she cares for 3,000 dogs and they are all starving. As noted earlier in our report – in total she has less than 500 dogs and our charity paid for food in May and ordered food that was refused.
5. The dogs are in a poor medical condition. As noted in our report, we as a charity acted in good faith to instruct vets to visit Mrs Yang, to take the suffering dogs to the animal hospital in Tianjin, to fund vaccinations, spay and neuter.
6. The dogs have no adequate place of shelter. Mrs Yang has a collection of shelters dotted around that she is unable or unwilling to access. It has recently been circulated that Mrs Yang has a brand new shelter (paid for by herself), with new dogs.
7. It is the opinion of the charity supported by leading animal welfare groups that Mrs Yang is not in a position to care for dogs and cats and that her actions in rescue only lead to them being abused further and falling back into the hands of the dog meat trade.
8. Mrs Yang is unable to be clear in her handling of funds and does not agree to banking arrangements that are lawful and compliant.
9. An additional troubling issue hangs in the balance that Mrs Yang attended the truck rescue #707 where she purchased more dogs. It is unclear what funds she used and what happened to these dogs.
This is to formally confirm that the Charity Commission support our position with regard to Mrs Yang and have legally declared she is not entitled to further funding. Surplus funds raised have been used to work with genuine rescuers.
Other videos of Mrs Yang’s sites can be viewed here:
For further information including eyewitness statements: