Saved from the Chinese meat trade, dogs given homes in Northern Ireland
Three animal lovers have returned to Northern Ireland after rescuing nine dogs from China destined for the meat trade or medical testing.
David Foster from Co Antrim, Caolan Maguire from Co Fermanagh and Co Down woman Sharon Warnock spent two weeks in Harbin in north-eastern China, helping to rehabilitate dogs in a rescue centre and saving them from a horrific fate.
All three worked in partnership with voluntary group Harbin Slaughterhouse Survivors (SHS) to free animals living in horrendous conditions.
Two of the nine dogs, toy poodle Scoop and shepherd-cross Sebastian, were brought back and have since been rehomed.
The remainder were transported to rescue centres across the UK for rehoming.
Group leader David (38) has a Facebook page 'Play for Strays', created to donate toys and boredom relief to rescue animals all over the world.
Last year he transported an abused dog 5,000 miles from the Amazon after finding it on a remote uninhabited island.
When Caolan (26), who runs Pets Lost and Found Fermanagh on social media, shared David's story on his own Facebook page, the two struck up a friendship.
David invited Caolan to join him on his mission to China, where it is estimated 10 million dogs are slaughtered annually for the meat trade.
The Enniskillen man described the trip as "the biggest and most spontaneous adventure" of his life.
He said many of the rescued animals are living in squalor and suffer from a range of disabilities.
He added: "Working alongside such amazing people was absolutely humbling.
"The dedication they put into not only rehabilitating so many different dogs, and the sacrifices they make along the way, was the most eye-opening and heart-warming thing I've ever seen and will remain with me forever."
David had originally rescued Scoop on a visit to China last August, and brought him and Sebastian back to their new owner in Co Armagh.
He said: "When I first saw Scoop he had no hair but now it has grown back and he's like a little teddy bear.
"I literally 'scooped' him off the floor when we saved some puppies after their mums were killed.
"Sebastian had canine distemper virus when he was found on the back of a meat truck bound for the infamous Yulin Dog Meat Festival. This condition usually kills dogs outright and gives them very severe tremors.
"Luckily he has recovered very well and is living a full life now with only very slight tremors."
It is estimated that up to 15,000 dogs are eaten at the annual 10-day festival in Yulin, which has been slammed by animal rights organisations.
Sharon (54) was also on the trip for the first time.
The Magheralin woman, who previously adopted a disabled poodle called Henry from a Chinese animal sanctuary, said: "If you saw the horrific way dogs bound for the slaughterhouses and meat trade are treated in China, your heart would break.
"You can't physically or mentally comprehend the level of cruelty, so to do something small like flying animals out of there to a new and better life was amazing."