For the last two mornings, Adam Parascandola, director of animal protection and crisis response for Humane Society International (HSI), has woken up at 3 a.m. in China to bear witness to one of the most horrific scenes you can imagine: the slaughter of thousands of dogs – and cats – for the Yulin dog meat “festival.” Adam is in Yulin with 22 other activists from HSI and our local partners on the ground. Their aim is to build momentum to stop this monstrous spectacle that persists despite surging local protests and a growing international clamor for this cruelty to end.
It pains me even to give voice to Adam’s firsthand account, since what he’s witnessing is so truly atrocious – but we must document it to rally China and the world to halt it.
“The killing has not stopped,” writes Adam, who has witnessed many scenes of animal brutality over his career with The HSUS and now HSI. “I will be haunted for the rest of my life by the sight of dogs so crowded into the slaughterhouse pen they were standing three deep on top of each other. I will never forget their cries as they were beaten.”
The Yulin dog meat “festival” is held to mark the beginning of the summer solstice. Dog meat traders falsely claim it is a time-honored traditional festival – in fact, they created it in 2009-2010 to boost their business. Many of the dogs and cats slaughtered here are stolen pets who are transported to the event site over several days, often without food and water for days on end during the long journey that can cover half of China. They watch in shock as their cage mates are ruthlessly butchered, before that same fate befalls them.
HSI staff and our Chinese partners have organized protests in front of the Yulin city government building, sponsored a 50-city protest campaign calling for an end to the festival, and sponsored four city candlelight vigils against the dog meat industry. HSI also sponsored an international Chinese open letter addressed to top leaders in Yulin, calling for a stop to the event. And all the time, we have kept the international media’s attention focused on the events in Yulin, making sure that the world learns of these atrocities. (HSI staff has also rescued one dog and two cats who will be brought to the United States for adoption – survivors and ambassadors for the continuing campaign.)
The Yulin dog meat “festival” has very little support among local Chinese who were shocked when local authorities gave enthusiastic support to the opening of this event in 2009, believing it would attract tourists. Instead, Yulin, a city of 6.7 million people, has only earned an indelible black mark and worldwide condemnation.
More and more Chinese today accept dogs and cats as friends and companions, and there are now more than 130 million dogs in China, including 27 million pets. In response to the public outcry, Yulin’s government has responded by banning public slaughter of the animals, and by removing the words “dog meat” from all banners related to the festival. But the killing continues behind closed doors and in the middle of the night.
There is no doubt that change is coming to China, as locals become more aware of the human-animal bond. Adam reported how a brave group of young activists unfurled protest banners at Yulin’s festival. Each time they unfurled a banner, they were chased by groups of unidentified men who would rip their banners away. But they kept coming back again and again, determined to ensure that their voices were heard.
In 2011, the Jinhua Dog Meat Festival was banned after huge protests. And more and more advocates are invoking China’s existing laws and regulations to expose dog meat traders who are engaging in criminal conduct by kidnapping pets. In 2014, 18 trucks bound for the slaughterhouses were stopped by activists and more than 8,000 dogs were rescued from their journeys to sure death.
A prominent Hong Kong businessman and artist, Mr. Genlin, has directed a documentary, “Eating Happiness,” about the cruelty of the dog meat trade and the work of courageous Chinese to end it. I look forward to sharing details with you about the documentary when it is released soon.
As the most influential regional power, China occupies a strategic position in the global campaign against the dog meat trade. Its success in ending the dog meat trade has the potential to set off a chain reaction in the region.
“It is so important we be there to expose this horrendous cruelty,” Adam argues. “We must send a message that hiding the killing in the dead of night will not bring an end to the protests against the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. Only an end to the festival can do that.”
I am proud of him and my other colleagues and the Chinese activists for confronting this awful spectacle firsthand. Now it’s up to us, and to the global community, to confront it and build sufficient pressure so that it never happens again.