Come Thanksgiving, while most of us are watching football and filling our faces with turkey, potatoes and stuffing, Alicia Stacey will be on her way to China. She’s not traveling as a tourist. She’s not going on business, either – not typical business anyway.

Stacey, of Lewiston, will be heading to China by herself, but when she flies back to the states, she’ll have nine dogs in her care; dogs that might otherwise end up in a meat truck, slaughterhouse or breeding farm.

Stacey really loves animals, we’ve learned, and she’ll save as many of them as she can. On the trip. she’ll be working for Harbin Slaughterhouse Survivors, a non-profit group that works to save dogs, cats and other small animals from all varieties of cruelty and death – in China, there are no animal welfare laws protecting the critters from such horrors.

Stacey won’t be home for Thanksgiving, but she’ll have a lot on her plate nonetheless, including various efforts to raise funds for the trip. While she prepares to make that long journey, we caught up with her and asked her a whole bunch of questions about her work and about the motivations that drive her.

We suspect you like animals a bit. What’s your history with critters? I’ve always loved animals but haven’t always observed them being treated as they should be, so I make every effort to lend them my voice when possible. It bothers me so much when I hear about animals being mistreated or abused that it’s almost a physical pain. It’s something I dwell on but it gives me anxiety, so I’ve developed a form of therapy for myself by seeking out stories with positive endings. I’ve taken it a step further in the past by volunteering with the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society and hope to do so again soon with my goddaughter. I feel that it’s incredibly important to teach children to be responsible and respectful with animals and it’s never too early to start.

How did you come to hear about Harbin Slaughterhouse Survivors? As I was scrolling through Facebook one day, I found a feel-good story about a dog saved from being abandoned on an island by a gentleman from Ireland while he was on vacation. He named her Negrita and got her fostered and vaccinated so he could bring her home. This wonderful man’s name is David and he runs Plays For Strays (you can like them on Facebook) which is a nonprofit that helps get toys to dogs in shelters all over the world. I liked his page and watched a video he posted one day about a rescue he went on with Harbin Slaughterhouse Survivors. I joined their Facebook group and was amazed by everything they did. The rescue is run by three ex-patriots from other countries that maintain full time jobs as teachers in China and often pitch in their own money to pay for what their animals need. It struck a cord for me. When I noticed a post from Harbin SHS looking for volunteers and, more importantly, flight volunteers to get dogs out of China, I knew I had to do it. I didn’t know how at the time, but I knew that somehow I would do whatever I needed to in order to help. It’s heart-wrenching to imagine such loyal, affectionate animals being treated so abhorrently. I take a little solace in knowing that I’m going to be able to do something.

What will your trip to China entail? I’ll be taking a bus from Maine to JFK, then a flight to Beijing before taking yet another flight to Harbin. While most Americans will be sitting down to eat their turkey dinners, I’ll be shoveling dog poop, cleaning, giving baths, taking dogs out to the yard and whatever else they need me to do. I’m told you don’t often leave the safe house before 7 p.m. and then you go somewhere to order food before they stop taking orders at 8 p.m. (though I have no plans to eat meat due to the questionable origin so I’m bringing lots of peanut butter crackers). Often volunteers bring special needs dogs back to their hotel rooms to give them extra attention, often feeding newborn puppies every couple hours or whatever else they require and I plan to ensure that I’m available for whatever is needed. The dogs go to Beijing a couple of days before the flight for the transport company to prep them for the trip and though this isn’t a pleasure cruise for me, I am hoping to get the opportunity to see the Great Wall while I’m there.

My son is grown and lives and works in Portland. He’s able to stay at my house while I’m gone to take care of my dogs and cat so I’m in the position of actually being able to help with my own hands. I’ll be able to see and experience the amazing miracles everyone at Harbin SHS pulls off 365 days a year. My contribution will be approximately eight days – including travel time – over Thanksgiving, though I’ll probably only spend closer to four days, if that, at the safe house. They ask that your minimum stay be three days if you want to volunteer, but the traveling takes a long time from the East Coast, particularly the way I need to do it to make it financially feasible.

What are you doing to prepare? Though no dates have been set yet, we should be doing two to three food/toy drives (and accessories such as collars, leashes, harness, etc.) with Loyal Companion. We’re also discussing the possibility of doing something with (other businesses).

Are you nervous about the trip? I am a bit nervous about the trip but honestly my family is way more so. My dad initially refused to support me because he’s afraid for me but once he realized I was determined to do it anyways, he relented and he and my mom sent me my birthday and Christmas money early. Several people have tried to talk me out of it and tell me how dangerous it is, but I’m not going to back out and I’ve decided that this will not be a one time thing as I’ll be applying for a 10-year visa and am already looking forward to multiple trips. I plan to make this at least an annual event. Harbin SHS is always in need of volunteers so I mean to make myself available as much as possible.

What do you have for pets? I have two female dogs and a male cat. My older girl, Dutchess, is a German shorthaired pointer and is almost 12 years old. My younger girl, Ezmerelda, is not quite 2-years-old (still very much a puppy) and she’s a pointer/treeing walker mix. Both were private rescues and they’re both fully vaccinated, licensed and spayed. I adopted Chunky “The Death Cat” (named after the saber-toothed tiger in the movie “The Croods”) when my friend moved into a place that didn’t allow animals. All three are my babies and I consider them family.

Why go across the world instead of helping animals in Maine? My answer to that is that I’ve already volunteered here and will continue to do so in the future but after everything I’ve learned about what’s going on in China and all the good they do every day at Harbin SHS, it makes me want to do more. This is a quote I received from Sharon Brew, who is in charge of fundraising: “China has no animal welfare laws like the U.S.; dog meat consumption is not against the law however, there are no dog farms so these animals are stolen pets, strays or cast offs from breeders. These animals are typically starved, dehydrated, and kept in diseased-prone areas before being slaughtered.”

How can our readers find out more about your work? You can join Harbin SHS on Facebook or follow them on Instagram. If anyone is interested in volunteering, they have a special group called Slaughter House Survivors Interested Volunteers. Here  is a mini documentary that will give you an idea of what these amazing ladies do and what they’re up against every day.

What are you doing right now to raise money for the trip? I’m having a garage sale on Friday, Aug. 30 till Sunday, Sept. 1 with the proceeds going towards my trip. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and it’s located at 26 Laurier St. in Lewiston. I’ll have a door prize provided by George’s Pizza in Auburn. (She also has a fundraiser on the website

Alicia Stacey Submitted photo

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