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Were dozens of stray dogs buried alive in northern China?

By Wilfred Chan, CNN
April 29, 2014 -- Updated 0452 GMT (1252 HKT)
Members of the Yinchuan Stray Animals Home charity rescued 5 stray dogs who survived an apparent mass burial. Members of the Yinchuan Stray Animals Home charity rescued 5 stray dogs who survived an apparent mass burial.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Volunteers saw many dogs in a pit and helped save some of them
  • When a charity came to save the remaining dogs, the pit was filled with soil
  • The charity dug the next day and found 6 dead dogs
  • Many dogs still remain missing

(CNN) -- Chinese Internet users are expressing anger amid claims of as many as 100 stray dogs being buried alive in the Inner Mongolia region of northern China.

While no one is disputing there were dogs in the pit, no one is taking responsibility for how the dogs got there -- and now many dogs' corpses are nowhere to be found.

Desperate mission

It all began when pictures showing scores of dogs trapped in a deep pit began circulating on Chinese social media, with a message asking for help.

"I saw the pictures of the dogs in the pit from WeChat," a local woman, who asked not to be named, told CNN. "I and several other volunteers went to look for the pit and we found it."

Using ropes, the group managed to save 20 dogs Wednesday afternoon.

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"We first tried buckets and ladders, but nothing worked. Then we tied a knot to make a loop with a rope, dropped the loop into the pit, lured the dogs into the loop with food, and got them out of the pit with the rope."

With many dogs left in the pit, the volunteers contacted a nearby animal charity, the Yinchuan Stray Animals Home, for assistance. But when Yinchuan went to save the dogs the next morning, they found just a few dogs running around and barking.

To their horror, the pit had been completely filled in with soil. Lacking tools to dig, the team rescued the few dogs they could see.

"You could see the terror in their eyes and they were very afraid of people," said Liu, a Yinchuan volunteer.

"They wouldn't leave one another," said another worker, named Zhang. "They looked quiet and depressed."

On Friday, Yinchuan returned with an excavator and dug. They found six dead dogs -- but that left many dogs unaccounted for.

The volunteers theorize that the missing dogs were killed, then moved to a new site. If so, who could be responsible?

"Shameful"

After news of the incident broke, a furor was unleashed online, with the story shared and discussed thousands of times over the course of the week.

The large majority of users expressed rage at the incident, calling it "shameful" and "inhumane." Some called for the establishment of animal cruelty laws in China -- the country currently has no such laws.

Users accused local enforcement officials -- known as chengguan -- of burying the dogs.

But officials denied the accusations that they were responsible.

"Our investigation shows that what's spreading online is untrue," said a spokesperson named Wang from the publicity department of Axla Left Banner, an administrative division in Inner Mongolia.

Meanwhile, the local woman who helped save the first 20 dogs says she is reluctant to draw any conclusions, as the volunteers "only found six bodies."

Asked if she believed the remaining dogs were saved, she said, "I really don't know. I'm wondering too."

CNN Beijing intern Andi Wang contributed reporting.

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