The footage is blood-curdling. Dogs huddle together in a small, dark, filthy room, a slaughterhouse, their eyes wide with fear. On the floor are traces of fresh blood from dogs killed that same morning. A man clubs a dog repeatedly over the head to kill him, as the animal howls in pain.
These harrowing scenes were recorded inside a slaughterhouse in Yulin, the Chinese city now infamous for hosting one of the worst events ever: an annual dog meat festival. This year’s festival is just a couple of days away, and Humane Society International is focusing the world’s attention on this horrifying spectacle once again.
Besides the footage of the dogs, activists documented the paraphernalia of slaughter, including knives and a machine used to remove hair from the dogs, as well as footage of dead dogs being blowtorched to brown their skin for sale at the Yulin market. “What I saw will haunt me,” said Allen, one of the activists. “I have never seen dogs so scared… they were terrified because they had seen the killing of probably 50 dogs that morning…and all of them were emaciated due to food and water deprivation.”
This week, Chinese activists with whom HSI has worked for many years, along with two other groups, secured the release of 135 dogs from three slaughter facilities in the Yulin suburbs. The dogs rescued are mostly smaller breeds. What touched their rescuers is how, despite their harrowing experience, they were still very friendly and eager for a kind human touch. Many of the rescued animals, like many of the dogs in Yulin’s slaughterhouses, have likely been pet dogs. Like others, they too had made a days-long journey to Yulin without food and water. Many were emaciated and some were very ill. Among the animals were three pregnant dogs who delivered puppies soon after the rescue.
HSI has been fighting the dog meat trade in China for more than a decade and Yulin has been a particular focus since the event began in 2010. By focusing media attention on the event, stopping trucks carrying dogs, and holding discussions with authorities, we have helped bring down the number of dogs killed from 15,000 dogs during the festival days to between 3,000 and 5,000 dogs now. The festival has not just reduced in size, but in spirit too. In the early years, you could see nightly feasting in the streets outside dog meat restaurants, but such a sight is rarely seen anymore and most restaurants have removed overt signs of dog meat from their displays and menus. The position of authorities in Yulin has also changed, from touting the event as a tourist attraction, to denying it exists at all, to making tentative moves in recent years to tighten the net on the trade in the city despite fierce pushback from dog traders.
This year, we are attacking this event on several fronts. Besides releasing the video and rescuing dogs, HSI’s partner groups have extended an invitation for Yulin authorities to discuss ways to legally implement deterrents to the trade and end the festival that has only brought shame to the otherwise thriving city. This week, HSI and Chinese and international animal campaigners in Beijing submitted a letter with more than 235,000 signatures to Lu Xinshe, Communist Party Secretary of Guangxi. Organised by HSI and Care2 and supported by 87 Chinese animal protection groups, including Capital Animal Welfare Association, Zhejiang Animal Protection Association, and Hainan Small Animal Protection Association, the letter calls upon the party secretary to implement a range of measures to crack down on the gruesome event, including road blocks to prevent illegal dog trucks from entering Yulin, imposing heavy fines, and confiscating animals and placing them in the care of activists.
Meanwhile, the dogs rescued by our partners were all taken immediately to a temporary shelter to receive food, water and emergency care. They are now being transported to three permanent shelters in other parts of China where they will receive high-quality veterinary care. Sixty-five of the dogs will be cared for at an HSI-supported shelter in North China.
These dogs escaped a horrible end, but thousands more dogs and cats caught up in China’s meat trade still need help. Even one animal killed in this way is one too many. With the release of this video, we hope that more of you will join us in condemning this gruesome event as we keep up the pressure to end it once and for all.