shanghai china | lezzie’s story


i never intended to help lezzie. actually, i didn’t know she existed. what drew my animal-lover’s attention was a large-sized-gorgeous-white-chow-chow stuffed in a small cage on my commute back and forth to work. from the moment i saw her, the drive left a pit in my stomach every time i passed by. the type that doesn’t go away but grows and grows and grows and grows. and grows. and grows.

my initial thoughts:

ahhh, poor little love in that small cage…

maybe she has a bigger cage than i can see from here…

my thoughts as the weeks passed and the heat set in:

it’s getting hotter. they better have air condition over there.

maybe i should stop by to see if its cooler over there….

i’m running behind maybe next time i will stop..

she is in the direct sunlight! what the hell!

my thoughts the week of the rescue where the temperature had reached 34 celsius:

okay, that dog is going to die in this heat with that hair…

i am going to stop on my way home…maybe..

my thoughts while passing on my way home:

nah, i can tomorrow. tk and i are going to that new restaurant…NO bethany GOOOOOOO! 

i hopped off the bus and ran across the scooter congested road. as i approached, the eyes of all gathered in and around the store turned to the laowai [mandarin for alien or foreigner….i may be both in their eyes] approaching. immediately the chow chow started to growl and bark at me setting off an alarm of canines. except one.

next to the cage hidden from plain sight was a small rusted cage with a pathetic scrawny dog. i bent down by the cage and put my hand for her to smell. once i knew she wasn’t afraid, i reached my hand into the cage and let her lick my hand. she had a bird water feeder with an empty water bottle attached to it. it was evident there hadn’t been water in that bottle for a long time.

her ears were red and hairless. her skin infected everywhere. her paws tried to gain balance on the cage bars she was laying on – her paws slipping through the rusted bars. feces and urine lay beneath the cage. it was clear that she had to sleep, barely eat, barely drink and go to the bathroom in this small cage. she couldnt even stand up to walk in a circle. as others pointed out after the rescue, her feet looked really strange. i noticed it too. but after assessing her situation, i realized that it is just what the feet of a sick, dehydrated, hairless animal would look like: raw, infected, pink and white.

in extremely-broken chinese, i asked the shopkeeper if they were for sale (knowing perfectly well that they were indeed illegally selling them). she wouldn’t answer me and spoke to a nearby friend. as luck would have it, a woman waiting for her dog to be groomed spoke english and helped translate on our behalf. the two dogs outside were for sale for food.

i asked why they didn’t have water or food and if they could move inside away from the heat. she said they already ate. perhaps it was the two dog’s disposition and condition or my instincts, but i didn’t believe her. nor would i believe much of what i was going to be told over the next 24 hours. over the next two hours, i would hangout with the dogs and use the translator to help explain why she had two sick dogs stuffed in small cages in the dead heat of summer with no water, shade or food. at one point tried to tell me that lezzie’s skin condition was because other dog bit her when they were in the same cage together. at that point, actually at many points, i was quite insulted by her lies.

this is something i have slowlyyyy become accustomed to. my chinese coworker explained that culturally people will tell you 美丽的谎言 to make you feel better about a situation. this is translated to “beautiful lie” or what americans would call a “white lie”. it’s culturally acceptable here because it is intended for the receiver to be comforted by the lie…as though they are doing you a favor by saving you from the truth. so when she told me that lezzie gets walked three times a day, i so wanted to believe her – it would indeed comfort me. but i knew better. and once i requested to take lezzie for a walk myself, my suspicions were confirmed. why would a dog who is walked three times a day not be able to barely balance on her four paws? why was her back concave? why did the veterinarian later tell us that her bones haven’t grown properly?

i took her to a nearby patch of grass. the local shop owners recognized her and stared/laughed/stared again at us passing by.

this laowai wants this dog?!?!?

i knew i had to do something. this woman was not even legally allowed to sell these animals. and yet she captured these two and treated them as goods. my heart went out to her. i am not sure why but i had this unsettling feeling deep inside that i needed to be patient and calm. i needed to try to understand why she would let these dogs get to the state they were in. my memory flashed back to a conversation i had when I first moved to china.

i had asked my chinese friend if it is common for people to sell animals by the metro station stuffed in cages, crawling over one another. She said it was very sad but people who are desperate for money will breed feral animals and sell them as goods or food by the train. i was grateful she explained this to me. it is because of poverty. it is because they don’t have many options allotted to them. it is because you need to feed your family first. i don’t ever want to condemn anyone for trying to survive. especially in a country that is still developing.  but i cannot understand why someone who has water and food (who sells it for that matter!) to refuse it to a living being right in front of them. unfortunately, living in china for two years made these experiences all too common. the treatment of a quality life is only allotted to men. women, children and animals fall beneath the standard for men.

i knew i only had one option: call tk.

this is a short interlude as to why i love this person. with each rescue, he has never said no. he has never blamed me when he is up at 1am, 3am, 5am feeding colostrum to a one day old kitten. he never has blamed me for the early times in our marriage when buying pet food took priority over what we were going to eat that night. he hasn’t blamed me that lezzie joyfully wakes him for her morning bathroom trip down 12 floors at 6am (it was 445am but she is getting better!). with each animal, my nerves are quickly quenched when he tells me, “yes, get her/him out of there. we will figure the rest out..”

so after two hours of trying to get information from the shopkeeper as well as beg her to give the dogs proper nutrients, tk arrived.

recently, i asked him to recall the moment he first saw lezzie. he remembers, “when i met lezzie i had no idea what type of dog she was or what i was really looking at. she seemed so small and frail. i didn’t know what to make of her”.

tk got down to brass tacks and asked if they would give her to us. they refused and asked us to pay a high price. we negotiated as much as we could convincing her that the medical bills would cost us twice as much since she hasn’t cared for her properly. she still refused to admit that the dogs were sick. it was then she told us that she would not go any lower on lezzie since she planned on breeding her so she can sell the babies.

although i didn’t need much more convincing, it was then that i knew that we could not allow lezzie to become impregnated in her condition nor let her offsprings face the same fate. we asked the woman to promise that when we returned the next day that she would give her to us. she promised.

but she refused to give us the chow chow although she was clearly near death. [i went by the next week to see the chow chow but the dog i had seen for weeks was no longer there].

we stepped out to look for a taxi. i lost it. i know injustice happens all over the world everyday to humans and animals. but when you see it in your face over and over, it’s hard to digest. it was too much…these dogs had been through hell. and I was equally angry at myself for waiting so long to take action. apathy is such a powerful weapon against doing what’s right.

the following day, tk went with his boss to rescue lezzie. they immediately drove her to our veterinarian. soon a group of doctors and assistants gathered around her to interpret her condition(s). first, what breed is she? second, how old is she? three, how extensive is her condition?

after being at the vet’s for four hours while they ran tests and properly diagnosed her, these are the answers we discovered: first, she is a full-breed german shepherd (more on this significant detail in a bit). second, she is approximately seven months old. thirdly, she was malnourished, dehydrated with a skin infection based on her cage condition, mites, multiple-compounded ear infections and a deformed spine. [luckily, being a puppy she still had time to allow her spine to grow correctly as she got stronger via nutrients, medicine and exercise.]

this began a month of high-medication doses, vet visits/bills, medical treatment baths (three times a week), and exercise that did not take place in public sectors since she did not have any puppy shots yet. so, we made it work. with our 18th floor apartment rooftop, she was able to awkardly run laps to strengthen her muscles while also learning how to go potty on command.

during this time, we reached out to animal rescue groups and adoption agencies in the area. we worked with multiple rescue groups as foster parents and animal transporters (to US/UK). after speaking to our different groups, we were told that indeed, german shepherds, despite their insane intellect and beauty, are illegal in china. in a society where you must register where you live and what dogs you own, german shepherd breeds are considered to be government property only. thus making it illegal for the public to own such sacred breeds. this is true for other large breed animals.

good news: lezzie was accepted into a training/boarding school that will take place for four weeks. this is run by loving-and-rescuing-professional-dog-trainers here in shanghai. she will have four intense weeks of learning commands, social interaction, and exercise so that she is ready to be the best family dog she can be. and believe me, she already has the love part down.

there are times when i am overwhelmed with her vivaciousness and her joy. even when she is eating my food when i turn my back for a moment, i cannot do anything but smile. this precious beautiful animal was once so miserable in a cage..not even able to walk properly. now, she prances all over our small apartment as if she literally died and went to doggie heaven. she has hope in her eyes again.

now the difficult job of finding her a home has arrived.

update (2017): we have successfully transported lezzie along with her foster Great Pyrenees sister, fern, to the usa. it was a very expensive endeavor but were told that if they did not leave with us (or any other rescue group) they would be detained by the government. it was worth the cost to get them out!

this is how you can help:

  1. it cost a bit shy of five thousand dollars to get her back to the u.s.a. tk and i covered the cost of this. however, the amazing rescue groups donated her crate, an animal activist travel agent to help with the paperwork, etc to help us. we intend to cover all costs until she is in her forever home. if you feel inclined, please buy a print of my work here to help support financially: if you have already had a photo session done by me, you can buy prints from your online gallery and that money will also go towards lezzie!
  2. adopt her. foster her. be a home for her in the usa. we can relocate her to any part in the domestic united states.  however, we are particular in the home she ends up in. we want her to go to a home with someone who admires and treasures the German shepherd breed as well as has the time and patience to train her.
  3. we will be moving back abroad soon and will not be taking her. it is unfair to her to have to travel internationally again as well as live in a small apartment or flat. she deserves to live in the land of the free!
  4. please don’t post china-bashing comments. the country is still developing and has a lot of social justice obstacles to overcome still. not just with animal rights. please understand that this is a very different country and culture – and there’s a lot to appreciate about this country! such as the handfuls of amazing animal-loving-and-rescuing people i have met here who are trying to make a difference!

with all of that said, thank you for reading this long story. thank you for those who have texted asking how she is doing, for my friend who sent doggie toys, for those who love animals in general.




iphone pics of the day we rescued her | at the hospital

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the first night at our home

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Adopt Lezzie (12 of 24)