I’m excited to share more good news in the tough fight to rid China of the cruel dog meat trade. This past weekend, Guangdong and Heilongjiang, normally home to two of China’s biggest dog meat markets, and 13 other cities played host instead to massive protests against the dog meat trade – each one a marker of the changing perceptions of dogs in China and a sign of the growing resistance to the awful killing of these animals for meat.
Protesters brought their dogs with them, carried huge photos of pet dogs and cats with their owners, distributed leaflets calling for an end to the dog meat trade, and displayed the biggest banner of the event, reading “Punish Dog Theft and End Dog Meat Trade.”
A good deal of the credit for this shift goes to Humane Society International and its local partners, which are part of a swelling animal protection movement in the world’s largest nation. Over the past several years, these local partner groups have been on the ground in China, rescuing dogs from trucks carrying stolen dogs and pets to their doom at the dog meat market, talking to governments about changing laws that allow the killing of dogs for meat, protesting against this gruesome trade, and raising awareness internationally. In South Korea, we are making strides in changing attitudes and rescuing dogs farmed for the dog meat market. Over the past few months, dozens of dogs spared from butchery have instead been re-routed to the United States for adoption. They are ambassadors for the hundreds of thousands of dogs caught up in this ugly, unforgiving business. One of these rescued dogs in particular, Snowball, has captured the attention of millions of fans online, drawing more attention to the trade than any human ambassador could.
In China last year, the world’s infamous Yulin “Dog Meat Festival” was thrown off course after protests by Chinese activists, including VShine and other HSI partner groups. Last summer, Chinese activists intercepted 18 trucks moving dogs over great distances to dog meat markets, rescuing the dogs from their awful fate. Activists forced a city in northeast China to suspend its dog slaughter regulation designed to legalize dog slaughter and the dog meat trade. Nationwide condemnation has even caused a dog slaughterhouse to shut down. Very recently, authorities in Yanji, another dog-eating region in China, bowed to pressure from activists and closed two local dog slaughter operations responsible for killing 146,000 dogs each year.
The sentiment against dog eating has been fueled by China’s awakening on animal issues, which in turn has been driven by civil society groups and our instinctive human kinship with other creatures. Dogs are particularly important companions for the nation’s 150 million “singletons” – people born after the government’s compulsory “one-child policy” – and for “empty nest elders” – seniors whose children have left for schools or work in different cities. Today, there are believed to be 130 million pet dogs in China—an average of one dog for every 10 people.
Shuttering the dog meat trade is a moral imperative and a priority for HSI. Our arguments are grounded not just on the obvious humane concerns, but also on the basis of public health. China, for instance, has the world’s second largest number of human rabies cases per year. Most of the dogs slaughtered for food are believed to be stolen household pets, rural guard dogs, and stray dogs, and the mass transport and handling of dogs of unknown origin and background exposes the workers to diseases, including rabies.
The passionate protests in China remind us that opposition to the dog meat trade is not a Western notion. It’s a notion built on the principle of universal values such as decency and kinship. I am so proud of the rank-and-file Chinese who are standing up for what’s right. We’ll be right with them, and not relent until the meat markets are shuttered. What happens to these dogs is barbarism in our modern age, and it must end.