Animal rights activists have stepped up efforts to stop an annual dog meat festival in China, started six years ago in the southwestern city of Yulin to draw tourists to the poor and rural Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Thousands of dogs and cats are brutally killed during the festival, and then served at local restaurants according to Layla Wen, a special projects coordinator for PETA Asia.
“I think the thought of killing, cooking and eating dogs is abhorrent to most of us in China or all around the world, because we know them, we know the dogs. They are our family members, and our best friends. We can imagine their fear when they are caged with other dogs, when they are unable to move even one inch, and the agony that follows,” she said.
Activists say the animals are often stolen before being transported hundred of miles in cramped cages without food or water.
In Yulin, slaughterhouses sometimes kill the cats and dogs with clubs, in front of other animals, to increase the level of fear-induced adrenaline in the meat, which traders say makes it taste better.
But as pet ownership has become popular among China’s new middle class, the festival has increasingly sparked outrage on Chinese social media.
Some Chinese animal rights groups have staged public protests, and attempted to halt trucks transporting dogs and cats to slaughterhouses. Some groups, like the Animals Asia Foundation, have waged a quieter campaign, working directly with government officials to try to shut down the festival.
“A lot of the time it’s just working quietly with the local government, rather than going out in the streets as other groups do,” said Jill Robinson, founder of the Animals Asia Foundation. “We all have different tactics. Animals Asia works inside the country, and we want to do that to the degree that the government understands what we do and why we do it.”
Activists’ efforts seem to be paying off. When the Yulin festival began, 10,000 dogs were killed during the event. That number has fallen to 1,000.
However throughout China, 10 to 20 million dogs are killed every year for consumption, and some animal rights groups say that 300 are killed each day just in the city of Yulin.
Dog meat has been linked to the spread of rabies and cholera, and Yulin’s local government, at the urging of animal rights groups, has begun to take action. The government has shut down some markets and slaughterhouses, and forbidden officials from eating dog or cat meat at local restaurants.
“In mid-May of 2014 the Yulin authorities issued an internal directive to all the government officials and employees to stay away from dog meat restaurants. That was the first time the Yulin authortities started to do something which was positive,” said Dr. Peter Li, China Policy Specialist for Humane Society International.
But the Yulin Dog Meat Festival is still scheduled to take place in June. It’s held during the summer solstice every year, and eating dog meat remains a summer tradition in much of China.