The dog I saved from Yulin is a constant reminder the dog meat trade must end

By Peter Li

By on June 20, 2023 with 10 Comments

For years, we have been fighting the dog meat trade alongside local activists who seek to eradicate this cruelty from their countries. In China, the infamous Yulin dog meat “festival, which takes place annually in June, has gained international attention. Ahead of this year’s festival, our Chinese activist partners have already managed to save a group of dogs before slaughter. Here, Peter Li, China policy specialist for Humane Society International, reflects on his experiences in Yulin, how far we’ve come in fighting the dog meat trade and the work that remains to end this scourge for good.

Colby is my beloved dog here in Houston. But nine years ago, he was just another animal at a live dog market in Yulin, a sub-provincial city now infamous for its annual celebration of dog meat.

It was 2014, during my second trip to Yulin with scores of activists from China and overseas, when I met Colby. At about 4 am, I arrived at the city’s biggest live dog market. Although it was pitch-dark, sales had already started with the help of flashlights. Going through rows of cages and crowds of traders, I heard noises coming from the back of a motorcycle. The whimpering sounds came from two puppies. After learning that puppies could be turned into stewed puppy meat, I offered to take them without a second’s hesitation. When I got a better glimpse of them under a streetlight, they looked breathtakingly cuddly. Holding these adorable babies in my arms, I was determined to bring them out of Yulin.

Both dogs have lived in the U.S. for almost nine years. Scout lives with a family in Washington, D.C., while Colby is part of my family. Both are living the lives they deserve, and Colby is a constant reminder of my time in Yulin and all we have yet to accomplish in China.

A fabricated ‘tradition’

Yulin is in the economically less developed Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and in 2010 the city launched the “Lychee and Dog Meat Festival” to celebrate the summer solstice which falls on June 21 in the Northern Hemisphere. In its heyday the event involved the transport of greater number of dogs to the city in the days just prior to the festival, greater numbers of animals slaughtered, and more slaughter carried out in public places, and lots of celebratory consumption of dog meat by locals, tourists and business owners. While marketed as a traditional event, the festival was in fact a new creation by Yulin’s dog meat traders to boost sales and take advantage of the government’s eagerness to catch up economically with the rest of the country. Journalists from across the world also converged on Yulin.

Local advocates rally against the dog meat trade in the city of Dalian in 2023. Vshine

Dog meat has been rejected as an acceptable food for the Chinese since the Han Dynasty (202 BC to 220 AD). A nationwide consumption survey in 2016 confirmed that a majority of Chinese do not eat dog meat, while an April 2023 survey conducted in Yulin disproved claims that dog meat is a household food of local consumers or a main source of animal protein for the rural people. Yulin traders attempt to use the festival to normalize dog meat consumption through celebrating it, but people aren’t so easily fooled. “You just cannot be so imprudent and shameless in order to line your pockets with dirty money,” a Beijing journalist once told me.

The keeping of companion animals has played a key role in the campaign against dog meat. Pet keeping was banned in China’s pre-reform era (1949 to 1978) as a symbol of decadence, based on ideological bias against the bourgeoisie believed to be more likely to be pet owners. Public health concerns and food shortage imperatives were also a consideration. In recent years, however, pet keeping has returned to mainland Chinese households, and Yulin’s dog meat festival is an insult to tens of millions of animal lovers across the country who live with their beloved companion animals.

A lawless trade

China’s dog meat trade is not simply an issue of morality. The trade as a whole is an affront to law and order, a free-for-all of cruelty driven by greed. Dog meat consumption, misleadingly presented as part of the Chinese traditional diet, is not driven by demand but by supply. Growing up in China myself, never once did I see my mother bring back dog meat from her grocery shopping.

China does not have dog farms where dogs are bred for consumption. Most dogs for slaughter, if not all, are stolen pets and strays snatched from the streets. The rescued Yulin dogs that Humane Society International has helped accommodate and find homes for over the years display behaviors typical of household pets.

On my trip to Yulin in 2015, I brought Huru, a cat, out of a slaughterhouse. Huru was a stolen pet. When he dashed in front of me, what caught my attention wasn’t just misery in his eyes but a pink collar around his neck. Unfortunately, Chinese law enforcement officials often ignore dog and cat thefts unless conflicts erupt between thieves and owners.

Huru, a cat saved from Yulin, who was discovered with a collar around his neck. AP Images for HSI

Dog transport reaches another level of animal cruelty and lawlessness. Crammed into small wire cages, denied food and water, exposed to extreme temperature and weathers, enduring injuries, broken limbs and open wounds sometimes filled with maggots, dogs are dying, catching illnesses and getting soaked with urine and feces from animals in cages above them on the trucks. At that live dog market in Yulin, I saw dogs with pitiful skin problems, noticeable cancerous growths, open wounds and injured limbs. All the dogs looked exhausted, emaciated and depressed from long and excruciating trans-provincial journeys that could take three or more days on the road. No dogs transported across provincial boundaries had proper documents, which was in clear violation of the country’s animal disease control and prevention laws.

What makes dog slaughter so horrific is not just the cruelty, but the fact that dogs are slaughtered in plain view of other dogs waiting for their turn. Visiting Yulin’s slaughterhouses is a traumatizing and forever haunting experience. On my trip to the city in 2016, I saw a slaughter operation in an open market. The killing was happening just two or three feet away from other terrified, trembling and huddling dogs. I still have vivid images of the poor dogs standing in pools of blood, waiting their turn. While it’s a myth that dog traders torture the animals to make dog meat tastier, the dog slaughter I witnessed in Yulin is ugly beyond description. It does not need any exaggeration to make it uglier. And beyond that, slaughtering dying and diseased dogs for food violates China’s own food safety laws.

Signs of progress

While writing this, I have Colby lying next to me. He is such a loyal and loving member of our family, and he never fails to show up at the door when we come home. We could not love him more.

Colby Li in Houston with Peter Li’s daughter Madeline Li and other dog Teddy Li. Peter Li

Colby is my motivation. There is no doubt that the days of the Yulin dog meat festival are numbered. Although the world’s media tends to focus on the trade in Yulin, dogs and cats suffer at the hands of butchers all across the country, and that is why we’re fighting to end the nationwide trade.

In 2012, a similar event, the Jinghua Dog Meat Festival, was shut down in Zhejiang province. Across China, dog meat sales are decreasing, and the trade has been condemned time and again in recent years. Many traders have been prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. Hong Kong has continued a colonial era dog meat sales ban, making it China’s most steadfast anti-dog meat trade territory. In 2017, Taiwan amended its animal protection act and added explicit provisions prohibiting the slaughter of dogs for food. In March 2020, Guangdong’s cities of Zhuhai and Shenzhen adopted bans on the sale of dog and cat meat. Dalian in Northeast China has never hesitated to go after vendors dealing in dog meat.

The national government’s position has shifted too. In April 2020, China’s Agriculture Ministry removed dogs from its livestock catalogue. Explaining the move, an official said that dogs were not food animals but companions.

The Chinese government has in recent years called for efforts to enhance China’s global status and appeal and there is little doubt that this goal is being undermined by the presence of the dog meat trade and the Yulin festival.

Finally, I can say that a surging animal protection movement in China has made a great difference in raising levels of public disapproval and winning the support of legislators in a position to do something about banning the trade. For all the other Colbys out there, that ban could not come soon enough.

Help end the dog meat trade by making a donation.

Companion Animals, Humane Society International

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address below to receive updates each time we publish new content.


Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Mark A Young says:

    Thank you so much for the work you do in helping to end this horrific practice. I know it happens year round but I’m especially saddened and disheartened this time of year when the Yulin festival is underway. I donate to as many groups as I can and try to spread awareness, but it seems hopeless sometimes and feels like we’re never going to get through to people. I appreciate your optimism that one day there will be and end.

  2. Diana Noel-Labieniec says:
    The end of this horrific festival should be forever prohibited and be made illegal. It makes me sick that these animals are subjected to such a barbaric practice.

  3. Priscilla M Mendoza says:

    Thank you so much, Peter Li, for giving Colby a future. Also for the very informative and provocative account of your experience in the fight against the Dog Meat trade in China. I wish this would make headline news in the USA and around the world.
    It is up to us advocates who cannot be there in the good fight to continue to support the HSI with much needed monetary donations.
    Every little amount adds up.
    Thank you Peter Li. I hope Colby has a long beautiful life and can continue to bring your family joy.

    • Peter says:

      Thank you Priscilla for your words of encouragement!!!! On behalf of Colby and family, Best wishes to you and family.

  4. Karin Erker says:

    Stop das ist so brutal und grauenvoll … die Regierung mussvdas stoppen und die Menschen müssen das stoppen … was für Menschen … schrecklich … dank an sie für die Rettung von einigen Hunden …

  5. William H Reamy says:

    Thinking about the dog and cat meet trade in China (especially Yulin) makes me furious and nauseous. I am thankful for anything you can do to get rid of this atrocity. I am an HSUS monthly contributor – that’s about all I can do in my old age.

  6. Veronica Lavin says:

    It is particularly sad that we call ourselves a civilised society and still have industries that thrive on exploiting animals whether it is dog fighting, puppy farming etc. But the dog meat industry is one that particularly causes me grave concern. These beautiful animals suffer horrendously before they die at the hands of inhumane people who treat them like worthless garbage. Hard to have hope that one day this industry may cease to exist and I pray that time comes quickly. Of course I will continue to support and donate to animal welfare organisations in the hope that my small effort goes some way in helping end this senseless cruelty. And finally to all those people around the world, people who donate and people who work tirelessly to help animals, thank you for all that you do.

  7. Diana van der Lely says:

    How very brave of you to have visited the Yulin dog meat ‘festival’ and the slaughterhouses. I truly couldn’t mentally stomach this and have enormous respect for my animal welfare colleagues who do this very important and necessary investigative work. Thank you! The dog meat industry is one that has horrified me ever since leaerning about it as a young adult. Making it even more gruesome than it is, I was led to believe that the dogs are tortured before slaughter because the adrenaline produced in their body is believed to have healing properties for humans. From your article I understand that this is a myth. Do you know if that is the case for the whole meat industry (Korea, Vietnam, etc.) or just for China?

    • Blog Editor says:

      Hi Diana, thank you for your concern for the animal victims of the dog and cat meat trade and kind words of encouragement. Dog slaughter—which entails bludgeoning, electrocution and/or hanging—is an extremely cruel practice. From being transported long distances without food and water to the horrific methods of killing which occur in front of other dogs, there is immense physical and psychological suffering throughout the trafficking and slaughter of dogs.

      Dog slaughter is a business in which, in the name of expediency and with little understanding of or care for animal welfare among traders, dogs often endure further suffering as part of the process. For example, in China where fur removal machines are used, dogs can be subjected to additional suffering if not properly stunned and unconscious. In Indonesia, it is not uncommon for dogs to still be conscious and aware after inexpert stunning when their fur is burnt off with a blowtorch. In South Korea, dogs can endure protracted deaths by electrocution as slaughterhouses cut corners to “process” dogs quickly. And in Indonesia our investigations have documented dogs inexpertly stunned who are then conscious when hung by the neck to be bled out with a cut to the throat. Those traders and slaughterers involved witness these animals still moving, but animal sentiency and suffering is often such an alien concept that they simply ignore it and move on to the next dog. Witnesses can mistake this for torture when it is simply, just as sadly, a total lack of care. Although there have been—thankfully rare—instances where individuals have been filmed clearly deliberately exposing a dog to additional egregious cruelty and suffering such as being boiled alive, this often appears to be “played up” for the camera, and there is little if any verifiable of dogs being routinely intentionally tortured as a deliberate act to affect the properties of the meat in China, South Korea, Viet Nam or Indonesia, where we have campaigns. The notion of adrenaline-rich animals improving the medicinal qualities or taste of the meat is often repeated on social media but has little evidence to back it up.

      The truth is that the cruelty of the dog meat trade and the suffering that these poor animals endure is already bad enough simply due to the nature of the trade and the careless and heartless attitude with which they are handled, that what is in fact simply the sad reality of the trade is often mischaracterised as torture.

Share a Comment

The HSUS encourages open discussion, and we invite you to share your opinion on our issues. By participating on this page, you are agreeing to our commenting policy.
Please enter your name and email address below before commenting. Your email address will not be published.