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The Washington Post reports a comic incident in the Chinese battle for identity that seems more appropriate for a Walker Percy novel than real life: last month a wealthy urbanite forced a delivery van packed with pooches destined for dinner tables off the road and sparked a 15-hour roadside siege between animal rights activists and normal people. Activists declared the incident to be a rousing success, even though it has left a number of the working poor jobless, and has given the activists ample cause to fill their dog-free plates with crow instead:

The debate is the latest sign of China’s rapidly changing mores and culture. For centuries, dog meat has been coveted for its fragrant and unique flavor; it is an especially popular dish in the winter, when it is believed to keep you warm. But pet ownership has skyrocketed in recent years as China’s booming economy produced a burgeoning middle class with both money and time for four-legged friends. And with the new pet stores, a once powerless animal rights movement is slowly gaining traction.

The highway incident has been its biggest success thus far. The mob of dog lovers finally won the standoff by pooling together more than $17,000 to pay off the truck driver. But their victory was quickly eclipsed when they soon realized they had no idea where to house the hundreds of loud, wild and decidedly not housebroken canines.

Even after combining forces, the handful of animal rights groups in the region had trouble handling the overflow from the truck. Most of the dogs they unloaded were strays, and many were dehydrated, malnourished or suffering from deadly viruses. Several have died since the rescue. Dozens this week remained under treatment at animal hospitals around Beijing.

“We are a small organization. We haven’t even tried to pay the animal hospital bills yet,” said Wang Qi, 32, who works at the China Small Animal Protection Association . “There was so much enthusiasm when the dogs were first rescued, but our worry is, what happens now?”

Dog day afternoon, indeed!

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