There have been two times in Julianne Perry’s life when she was unsure whether she would survive. Both happened in about a 24-hour span in early May of this year.
Perry, a rising second-year MBA at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, doesn’t seem to fit the mold of an investigative vigilante. Standing barely over five feet, she laughs often and has a kind smile. But looks can be deceiving. While her fellow Tuckies were cramming for finals and first-year capstone projects, Perry and two other investigators from Direct Action Everywhere, a grassroots network of animal rights activists, were in Yulin, China, investigating dog slaughtering. What they found helped spark international news coverage — and widespread condemnation — of the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in Yulin. In the wake of the festival, other activist groups have claimed to rescue as many as 1,000 dogs.
Members of Perry’s team had identified multiple farms and concrete-walled warehouses in and around the market district of Yulin where abused dogs were either held while awaiting shipment to a slaughtering facility or in the actual slaughterhouse. From those locations, the dog meat would be distributed to restaurants around the region. Sneaking into one dog warehouse, team members each rescued one of the dogs that would later be shipped. Then, in an effort to bring light to the abuse and slaughtering, returned to an actual slaughterhouse with hidden cameras to capture footage of the horrific abuse.
For a few nights, things went well. The footage they captured was damning, showing dogs being beaten to death with rods and suffering other horrific abuse.
On the night of May 4 — four days after the cameras were originally placed — Perry snuck in to extract the footage, just as she had on previous nights. All the cameras were missing. She quickly texted Wayne Hsiung, the team’s lead investigator and a former Northwestern University law professor. As she slipped out of the warehouse and back into the Yulin marketplace, she was grabbed by the arm and flung around. Surrounding her were 10 angry men. She was caught.
Hsiung was already on his way. When he reached the group, he tried to convince the men the activists weren’t doing what they actually were doing — to no avail. They grabbed him as well and took the two to a nearby shipping dock. Standing next to a concrete wall, two of the men disappeared into a nearby warehouse, returning with metal rods in their hands.
“That was the first time in my life that I thought, ‘This could be my last day,'” Perry, 29, remembers. “These were men that the day before, I had watched footage of them beating animals to death.” A few days earlier, a mob of men guarding the facility had caught and beaten Hsiung. “We knew they were violent men,” adds Perry, a native of Boise, Idaho. Eventually, instead of beating them, the men called Yulin police and handed them over. Perry, Hsiung, and the third member of their team, Chris Van Breen, were taken into custody and locked in a Yulin jail, where they awaited interrogation.
AN MBA JUMPS INTO ACTIVISM
How does an MBA from an elite school end up detained by Chinese police for animal activism? It’s a gradual process, Perry says.
After graduating from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Perry went to work for Omniture, an Orem, Utah-based online marketing and web analytics company that was acquired by Adobe in 2011. By 2013, Perry was at a point where she could continue climbing the career ladder or make a big change. She chose the latter, quitting her job and spending four months doing pro bono work for Polaris Project, an NGO focused on fighting human trafficking. Learning about the abusive treatment of some farm animals here in the U.S., she volunteered at Animal Place, a farm sanctuary in California and Ching Sanctuary in Utah. In just a year, she amassed more than 1,500 volunteer hours — and the mission of Farm Sanctuary captivated her and spurred her application to Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.
Perry reasoned that an MBA would help her afford a California standard of living — her target was the Bay Area — and help her find work with an NGO, or even better, a philanthropic tech firm. “Any NGO you want to be a part of or any social justice issue, someone has a foothold here,” she says as we walk along the San Francisco Bay at a popular off-leash dog park near Berkeley. With her is Pao, one of the three dogs she and the team rescued from Yulin.
Mulling MBA programs, Perry applied to Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Dartmouth’s Tuck. In her essays, she mentioned her volunteer hours and the fact that she’d fostered 20 dogs in the past two years. Her activism caught the attention of Tuck but surprisingly didn’t garner an interview invite from the school based in arguably the most activist-centric town in the world. “I didn’t mention I had been part of protests and more extreme forms of activism,” Perry says of her essays, laughing. Perhaps that would have gotten the attention of Berkeley-Haas.
Before entering Tuck, Perry found herself with six months of free time. Throughout the B-school application process, she had also been evolving through the levels of commitment to the animal rights movement. First, she became a vegetarian. Then a vegan. “It didn’t feel like enough,” she says of her newfound veganism. “So I decided I wanted to do some activism.” At a Farm Sanctuary event where Perry was working alongside other volunteers administering Frontline to lice- and flea-covered hens, she was approached by a member of Direct Action Everywhere, founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013. The group had garnered media attention in 2015 with its investigation of a Whole Foods egg farm and turkey facility.
Since the connection, Perry has been involved in multiple protests with the group and says she “might have” been a part of investigations and rescues at hen, turkey, and pig facilities in California and New Hampshire. Last spring she was approached with an offer to make widescale impact through a trip to China.