Paw Prints in China
Prior to arriving in China, I did conservation advocacy and hands-on wildlife rescue and rehabilitation in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with multiple organizations. I had a BA from The University of Calgary, but no formal scientific animal training, only practical experience. I arrived in China in January 2011, as a volunteer for Animals Asia Foundation. Through a series of events or what I would call life mistakes, I found a job after my volunteer term and stayed in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. In my situation, like many others, what we perceive to be our greatest mistakes in life turn into our greatest victories when we do not give up.
In Chengdu I taught English as a job, but felt empty, without any purpose in my life, until I rescued my first cat who, as often happens, rescued me. I taught her how to walk on a leash, fetch and many cues. I started to volunteer at her veterinary clinic, mostly doing in-house care and cuddles. One day the vets took me and a dog that was rescued from being beaten by a mob to a local shelter. The conditions at that shelter were so deplorable that I cried for days. I knew I had to do something to help but felt highly overwhelmed of what to do and how to start.
I began to do more rescue work and attempted foster and adoption but did not succeed as animal welfare is a relatively new concept in China. (Animal welfare has been in the UK since 1822 when the first law was passed to protect cattle, but only started in China in the 1990s as a concept, there are currently no companion animal laws here.)
I started to do what I was and still am highly passionate about; helping at Chinese animal shelters and teaching Chinese humane education. I did this for 4 years, going all across China to help how I could at shelters, especially after large-scale dog meat trade rescues. But I knew that my work was not making a large impact and to make real change I had to get into people’s homes. To make a concrete change in human behaviour towards animals in China, I had to first transform myself, so I did.
At the same time as I was doing my shelter work, I started to take a few animal behaviour courses and international training courses, a lifelong dream of mine. In 2015, I changed from a charity into a business. I became a dog trainer, gaining certifiable qualifications first, then made the leap into this profession. I felt so very alone my first 2 years as a trainer as I had no equals or support here to help guide me. Yet, I am incredibly grateful for this as it installed in me an insatiable thirst for knowledge and independence to succeed regardless of the challenges. I often, with my parent’s loving help, traveled overseas to the UK to learn or took online courses like Low Stress Handling by Dr. Sophia Yin. Without such help from my parents, I wouldn’t now be considered one of the best positive reinforcement force-free and Fear Free trainers in China.
Currently, my work consists of veterinary training, behaviour and training courses and workshops as well as dog training. I have trained over 300 veterinarians with my veterinary partner in Chongqing, trained an estimated 300-500 dogs, lectured to over 1,000+ Chinese animal professionals and still practice dog training 1 to 1 in Chengdu. I am also slowly working on doing international behaviour and training workshops for Asia. I am often found training dogs across China online, training dogs in homes or even on the streets of Chengdu, teaching animal professionals in Beijing and other cities or writing animal behaviour and enrichment articles for platforms across China.
The environment here is incredibly challenging and exhausting for owners as it is; high-density cities, dogs living in apartments, free-roaming semi-owned or street dogs, no litter laws, no companion animal laws, the dog meat trade and pet market trade, animal lovers with no qualifications operating animal shelters, charities or businesses, unsafe pet food, negative and punishment-based trainers, veterinarians with limited qualifications and limited supplies. It is like a quagmire of unknowns. What I do, can often be emotionally challenging as I have to overcome these environmental challenges which affects dogs and their behaviour as well as train many very difficult cases of abused dogs or dogs with very heart-breaking rescue histories. Each human and animal I train whether large or small scale, needs confidence to overcome these obstacles and it is my role to give them this and as many tools as I can on our training journey together.
Living in China, although it is incredibly difficult, has given me the opportunities to be a better professional and person. I am so lucky to work with inspiring Chinese partners and am a part of ISCP, INTO Dogs Association and also ICAN, where I now have international support from phenomenal trainers and behaviourists who guide me when I need it. I feel that with each step forwards, will be one step towards a better future for those who leave footprints and pawprints in China.