This week, Humane Society International’s Peter Li, working with Chinese activists, helped save 29 dogs and five cats from the butcher’s block in Yulin, China, where preparations are on for an annual dog meat festival that begins June 21.
“It was a great sense of relief to leave the slaughterhouse cages empty for one day at least,” said Peter, who negotiated the release of the animals from a slaughterhouse in Yulin. “The dogs and cats were clearly afraid, especially the older dogs who looked very fearful. But once they realized that we were not there to hurt them, but in fact we would make their suffering stop at last, they very quickly responded with licks and wagging tails.”
Like most of the dogs and cats butchered at this event, the terrified animals, including puppies and kittens, were being held in squalid conditions, starved, and without water. Some of the dogs wore collars, suggesting they were pets stolen by dog thieves to fuel the trade, an increasingly common crime across China.
Rescue operations are just one in a number of steps we are taking in Yulin to end the suffering of dogs and cats at this so-called festival. Stopping the entire bloody spectacle is a top priority within our organization – as much as ending the confinement of farm animals in industrial agriculture, stopping the seal hunt in Canada, and adopting felony-level penalties everywhere for malicious cruelty.
Since the Yulin festival opened in 2010, we have helped bring down the number of dogs slaughtered each year from 15,000 to around 2,000-3,000 last year. Through a concerted communications effort , we have focused the world’s attention on this awful event. Still, the fight is far from over, and in the past few weeks, HSI and activists from China Animal Protection Power have helped rescue 500 dogs from trucks headed for slaughter. In April of this year, Peter and a team of HSI investigators traveled to Yulin to document some of the horrors that precede the festival. They found that as many as 300 dogs were being slaughtered each day in the city, weeks before the festival even began.
We are keeping up the pressure on the Chinese government to end this cruel spectacle. Last week, we delivered a petition to Chinese authorities signed by an astonishing 11 million people around the world and in China, demanding an end to the festival. The petition was also presented to the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom by several celebrities, including actress Carrie Fisher of Star Wars, and members of parliament.
The Yulin dog meat festival began as an attempt to encourage tourism, but as the overwhelming response to the petition shows, the event has brought China nothing but international censure and condemnation. Even within China, where only a small and declining minority eats dog meat, animal activists have demanded an end to this barbaric event. Increasingly, young Chinese view dogs and cats as pets, not food.
China has the second highest number of human rabies cases in the world, and the Guangxi Autonomous Region, where Yulin is located, and the city of Yulin, have China’s highest incidence of rabies. Mass transport, handling, and slaughter expose workers in the dog meat trade, who are mostly unvaccinated, to the deadly disease. The World Health Organization warns that the dog trade spreads rabies and increases the risk of cholera by 20 times.
All of the 34 animals we helped rescue are now safe in a shelter where they are being evaluated and treated by veterinarians before being prepared for adoption within China, and in the United Kingdom and the United States. Meanwhile, our work to stop the dog meat festival continues at a fever pitch, and we’re committed to staying the course until Yulin is better known as the place where a dog meat festival once occurred.