Wayne Hsiung reaches out to pet a dog in slaughterhouse

Animal rights campaigner Wayne Hsiung reaches out to pet a dog in a Chinese slaughterhouse in 2016.

(Photo: Courtesy of Direct Action Everywhere/DxE)

Hero for Rescuing a Dog, But Facing Prison for Rescuing Birds

It's simply not right that Wayne Hsiung faces 3.5 years in prison for nonviolent animal rescues that should be celebrated.

My best friend and I co-parent a dog together who he rescued from the infamous Yulin, China dog meat trade.

Since Oliver was rescued from a dog meat farm, he has experienced a lot of trauma. Loud noises, new people, and unpredictable situations give him anxiety. For that reason, Oliver only has a handful of people who he trusts with his life. Wayne Hsiung, his rescuer, is number one on that small list. Wayne is his papa. But in a cruel twist of fate, for the same reason Oliver has Wayne in his life, he’s lost him. Wayne is in jail and facing prison time for rescuing animals. Not in China, but here in the United States, in Sonoma County, California.

Wayne Hsiung and I co-founded the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), with the belief that all animals deserve to be rescued from harm, just like Oliver. One of the forms of direct action we use is called “open rescue.” That’s where activists go into a place where animals are being harmed, give them care, and remove them to safety, with complete transparency.

That’s what happened at two factory farms in Sonoma County when, after years of the authorities failing to act on evidence of criminal animal cruelty documented by investigators, activists did what the authorities were unwilling to do: expose the abuses and take the animals out.

Oliver isn’t just Wayne’s best friend, he’s Wayne’s hope for a better world where all animals can be safe, happy, and free.

Activists with DxE rescued 37 chickens at Sunrise Farms, and 32 ducks at Reichardt Duck Farm in 2018 and 2019. All in broad daylight, live-streamed by the activists themselves, including me. Hundreds of activists took part. Many of them bravely faced arrest in acts of civil disobedience. But Sonoma County authorities chose to target those they viewed as DxE leadership in an attempt to “cut the head off the snake,” as a member of the District Attorney’s office put it while speaking at a Sonoma County Farm Bureau event.

Some of the activists had their charges dropped. Others, myself included, were faced with few alternatives but to take plea deals. In the end, Wayne alone faced four charges: two counts of trespass, and two felony counts of conspiracy to trespass. After a trial in which evidence of criminal animal cruelty was hidden from the jury, and after six days of deliberation, he was convicted of the two trespass charges and one felony conspiracy charge. He was immediately taken into custody with bail denied, and awaits sentencing on November 30.

Oliver, Yulin dog saved from meat trade, dancing in circlesyoutu.be

Wayne isn’t new to this. He’s faced similar charges for rescuing animals in North Carolina and Utah in just the last few years. He was convicted for rescuing a goat named Rain from a farm in North Carolina. He was acquitted in Utah for rescuing two dying piglets from Smithfield Foods. This is the first time an animal rescue associated with DxE has been incarcerated for open rescue.

I remember when Wayne got back from doing investigations at China’s dog meat farms, including gathering hidden camera footage from the slaughterhouses where dogs are beaten to death. He would have nightmares where he’d wake up screaming with night sweats about all the things he saw. Wayne was suffering from PTSD. But the horror he has witnessed is what propels him forward. Wayne won’t give up on the animals. It’s why he proudly stood for the chickens and ducks in Sonoma County in 2018 and 2019, and why he was proud to be their voice in a Santa Rosa courtroom.

I wish the Sonoma County authorities would look into Oliver’s eyes. They’d see right into the soul of someone who is alive today because of Wayne Hsiung.

And despite District Attorney Bob Waner and Judge Laura Passaglia’s attempts to hide the evidence of animal cruelty from the jury in this trial, the public will see it, and their interest will only grow with the news that an animal rescuer is behind bars.

I hate seeing Wayne go through this. I’m tired of the legal maneuverings by those with power to maintain a world that hurts the most vulnerable. My heart breaks seeing Oliver waiting by the door, wondering where Wayne is. Oliver needs his papa. Oliver needs Wayne just as Wayne needs Oliver. Oliver is his solace and hope in a world where so many animals are being brutalized… animals they’ve both seen being terrorized with their own eyes.

Coming home to Oliver was a reminder that miracles can and do happen. Oliver isn’t just Wayne’s best friend, he’s Wayne’s hope for a better world where all animals can be safe, happy, and free. I look into Oliver’s eyes. They are pure and clear. They’re confused and stressed. I wish the Sonoma County authorities would look into Oliver’s eyes. They’d see right into the soul of someone who is alive today because of Wayne Hsiung. They’d probably have to avert their eyes in shame.

You can learn more about the Sonoma rescue trial at righttorescue.com.

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