Donors ignored years of warnings about convict turned “rescue” celebrity
LOS ANGELES––Marc Ching, who in November 2018 offered to sell the city of Los Angeles vegan food for impounded dogs at a substantial discount, is reportedly to be arraigned in December 2020 on one misdemeanor count each of practicing veterinary medicine without a license, false advertising, and packing horsemeat or other meat as pet food without a license.
Ching was charged, wrote Alene Tchekmedyian and Paul Pringle of the Los Angeles Times, based on “a referral from the California Veterinary Medical Board, and “after a Times investigation earlier this year uncovered years of complaints by veterinarians,” some dating to 2014, “that Ching persuaded pet owners to abandon prescribed treatment regimens and instead give their ailing dogs and cats products he sells at his business, the Petstaurant.”
Criminal charges may be the least of allegations
The Petstaurant operates from locations in Sherman Oaks and on the west side of Los Angeles.
The charges facing Ching could bring him, if convicted, up to 30 months in the Los Angeles County jail and a maximum fine of $9,500.
But the criminal charges are perhaps the least of the allegations against Ching brought forward by the Los Angeles Times investigative team.
On May 24, 2020, Tchekmedyian, Pringle, and a third reporter, David Pierson, detailed what Tchekmedyian and Pringle summarized as “evidence contradicting claims about the authenticity of some of the gruesome videos he [Ching] shot of animals being tortured and killed in horrifying ways, including by blowtorch, at slaughterhouses in Asia.”
Videos helped to raise $5.2 million
The Ching videos, extensively aired on social media, boosted donations to Ching’s Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation from just $30,130 in 2014 to more than $1.9 million in 2016 and again in 2017.
Even after questions arose about the veracity of Ching’s claims about what his videos actually showed, his Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation raised nearly $1.3 million in 2018, according to IRS Form 990 filings.
Having personally documented conditions and practices at Asian dog meat slaughterhouses more than 15 years before Ching claimed to, and having collected eyewitness accounts of dog slaughter in specific locations at specific times for more than 30 years before that, ANIMALS 24-7 found Ching’s footage suspect as soon as it surfaced.
Anticipating that the Ching material would soon be exposed as manufactured, but lacking the resources to do the sort of on site investigation that Daily Mail reporter George Knowles and the Los Angeles Times team later did, ANIMALS 24-7 never quoted or cited any information either from Ching, or from several other individuals and upstart nonprofit organizations who began circulating comparably suspect visual material in connection with fundraising at about the same time.
Ignored advice from Chinese animal advocates
The questionable aspects of Ching’s videos were scarcely his only missteps in Asia.
More than eighty Chinese animal advocacy organizations in 2016 endorsed an open letter asking fellow animal lovers to refrain from bidding on dogs at that year’s Yulin dog meat festival, to avoid making the slaughter traffic more profitable, attracting more people to steal and transport dogs.
Ching ignored the Chinese activists. Several hundred dogs purchased by Ching and others apparently taking their cues from him were reportedly then abandoned soon after the 2016 Yulin dog meat festival at hastily set up “sanctuaries” that were ill-prepared to look after them.
George Knowles, Daily Mail correspondent in Nanning, China, published the details on November 26, 2016.
“Cult-like status among U.S. animal lovers”
Ching “achieved cult-like status among U.S. animal lovers,” Knowles narrated, “after claiming to have been shot at, beaten by thugs and to have had the barrel of a machine-gun put in his mouth in a series of dog rescues in countries including China, South Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
“After nine months of solo missions in which he claimed to have almost been killed a number of times, and to have rescued 300 dogs, he was ready for something more ambitious,” Knowles wrote. “Volunteers responded to Ching’s Facebook appeal for help in what he told them would be a ‘historic’ mission to shut down slaughterhouses by paying owners and then rescuing 1,000 dogs from certain death.
“Some of Hollywood’s biggest names”
Despite discrepancies already surfacing between what Ching said and what others observed, Tchekmedyian and Pringle recounted, “By 2016, Ching’s work with his foundation had drawn the support of some of Hollywood’s biggest names.”
In particular, “A public service announcement that showed shocking images of dogs being tortured and killed—from videos Ching produced—featured a roster of celebrities, including Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara.”
Celebrity newscaster Janie Velez-Mitchell praised Ching, the star speaker at many animal advocacy events, as an “earth angel.”
Those stars, and others, threw their reputations behind Ching’s purported rescue mission.
“Ching’s volunteers took 300 dogs to a shelter in Nanning, 130 miles from Yulin, set up by his charity the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation,” Knowles recounted. “A further 700 went to Buddhist sanctuaries after Ching struck a deal with monks.
“Within days, dogs with disease and distemper began dying en masse in their cages at one of the Buddhist sanctuaries where––unknown to Ching,” Knowles conceded, “religious beliefs dictate that animals are denied any treatment and instead nature is allowed to take its course.”
Had Ching worked with people more experienced in Buddhist environments, he would have known that similar issues have been recurrently controversial, especially in Taiwan, for more than 30 years.
Falling out with partner
“The chaos worsened after Ching flew back to the U.S. and then cut off funding to the Nanning shelter after a spectacular falling out with businessman Jeffrey Beri, the man leading his volunteer team in China,” Knowles continued.
“Incredibly, Ching admits hiring men described by others as local thugs to break into the Nanning shelter at night and snatch more than 100 dogs – some already lined up with adoptive homes overseas – to take to a shelter run by his supporters 500 miles away in Changsha,” Knowles described.
“Ching accused Beri of misusing funds and sexually harassing staff,” Knowles summarized. “Beri, who denies the allegations,” and went on to found a New York City-based charity called No Dog Left Behind, which also has a corporate address in Fort Pierce, Florida, “says he has since spent £50,000 of his own money [about $65,000 U.S. dollars] to stay in China to care for the surviving dogs and find them homes overseas.”
Soi Dog Foundation issued early warning
The Soi Dog Foundation, of Phuket, Thailand, whose cofounder John Dalley was recently admitted to the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II, funded transporting 70 of the Nanning dogs to foster homes in Britain. Humane Society International flew 120 dogs to be rehomed in the U.S.
“Concerns over Ching’s tactics surfaced three months before the Yulin rescue,” Knowles reported, “when he visited the Soi Dog Foundation and took a dog with severed paws for adoption in the U.S. Ching later claimed on his website that he had rescued the animal from the dog meat trade.
“Dogs were not from the dog meat trade”
Said Dalley, “I told him repeatedly those dogs were not from the dog meat trade, but from road accidents and cruelty cases in Phuket.”
Wrote Knowles, “Ching blames the error on a mistake by his assistant.”
Dalley, meanwhile, pointed out to Knowles that in some of Ching’s videos, in particular one made in Indonesia, indications of extreme cruelty being inflicted on cue are clearly visible.
Explained Dalley, “You can see at the beginning a guy puts his thumbs up to him [Ching] as if to say, ‘Are you ready?’ At the end the guy is turning around as if to say, ‘Was that okay?’”
“He wasn’t saving lives”
Three days after the Daily Mail exposé appeared, NatureSound videographer Martyn Stewart, who had traveled to Yulin to document Ching’s efforts, blogged “It can’t be denied that what Marc Ching did at Yulin was reckless. He wasn’t saving lives; he was creating a new, bigger market for the slaughterhouse owners who had only profited from dog meat sales in the past. This time they had a guy throwing lots of money around, a guy who didn’t own the animals, but was merely postponing the death of so many doomed dogs.
“One of the slaughterhouses Marc had paid to suspend its operations was still trading when I visited,” Stewart charged. “Why wouldn’t they, with no one hanging around to monitor them?
“No slaughterhouses were closed”
“I found out,” Stewart alleged, “that Marc’s team had been to Yulin 30 days prior to the festival to set up a shelter in Nanning, so obviously they had intentions of buying dogs. Otherwise setting up a shelter would be pointless. Still, Marc continued to insist that he was not in Yulin to buy dogs.”
Contrary to Ching’s claims afterward, Stewart said, “Ten Yulin slaughterhouses were never closed down – no slaughterhouses were closed down. There were six suspended for the duration but to this day, dogs still suffer and die in them. Those who wanted to tell the world that they saved dogs at Yulin have long gone home and moved on.”
Butchers said Ching paid them
“In The Times’ investigation,” wrote Tchekmedyian and Pringle, “butchers in Indonesia told the newspaper that Ching paid them to hang a dog and burn it to death — a method of killing more cruel than any they say they normally employ — so he could stage the scene for the camera.
“Ching presented videos of that incident and others as candid portrayals of the day-to-day routine at the slaughterhouses he documented mostly while ‘undercover,’ posing as a dog meat buyer,” Tchekmedyian and Pringle alleged.
“Local animal rights activists in Indonesia, Cambodia and elsewhere in Asia say the slaughterhouses’ methods are uniformly inhumane, but that they have never heard of dogs being regularly tortured or killed in some of the ways depicted by Ching,” Tchekmedyian and Pringle continued.
Ching said allegations “motivated by rivalries”
“And raw footage of Ching’s recordings obtained by The Times casts doubt on whether all of the videos show how butchers typically torture and kill the dogs.
“Ching,” Tchekmedyian and Pringle acknowledged, “denied [in an extensive statement posted to the Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation web site] that he ever staged scenes of animals being tortured or killed. He said the allegations against him were motivated in part by rivalries among animal rescuers.”
But Ching, 41, has had a checkered history for much longer than he has been involved in animal advocacy.
Nine years & seven months in state prison
Ching “started his pet food business and the foundation,” Tchekmedyian and Pringle wrote, “after serving nine years and seven months in California state prison for kidnapping and causing great bodily injury. In what authorities called a ‘heinous’ and ‘sophisticated’ crime, Ching and several accomplices abducted a man who had stolen $60,000 in a drug deal, bound his hands and drove him to a hotel, where they removed his pants and beat him at length, court records show. Ching was released from prison in 2010.
ANIMALS 24-7 obtained documentation of the Tchekmedyian and Pringle summary via the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.
Ching has also had more recent brushes with the law. The Federal Trade Commission in April 2020 “accused Ching of making false or deceptive claims that an herbal supplement he was selling could treat COVID-19 and that some of his other products could treat cancer,” Tchekmedyian and Pringle summarized, and a multitude of documents posted by the Federal Trade Commission verify.
“Ching,” who says he is a fourth-generation herbalist and nutritionist, “denied doing anything wrong,” Tchekmedyian and Pringle summarized. “He later agreed to a settlement,” also posted by the Federal Trade Commission, “that barred him from making baseless claims that his products can treat COVID-19 or cancer.”
Tchekmedyian and Pringle turned up more reasons than that, they wrote, to question Ching’s activities.
Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation records “show that more than $350,000 in cash was withdrawn from the charity in a period of 27 months and that Ching billed the foundation for at least $59,000 in food and other products from the Petstaurant,” Tchekmedyian and Pringle alleged.
Qualified Tchekmedyian and Pringle, “In emails to The Times, and through statements by the foundation’s attorneys, the organization said Ching never misused funds and had contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in goods, services and cash to the charity since 2014.”
Vegan dog food, or horsemeat or other meat?
Apart from questionable activities associated with dog meat issues in Asia, Ching may have been best known in recent years for having proposed in writing on November 17, 2018 to sell “vegan dog food for 33,000 impounded dogs to the City of Los Angeles at 82 cents per pound––5 cents lower than the meat-based dog food used,” recounted Animal Watch blogger Phyllis Daugherty.
“However,” Daugherty wrote, “Ching later admitted that he was not currently manufacturing vegan dog food.”
The charges now filed against Ching suggest he may have been “packing horsemeat or other meat as pet food without a license.”