There was hope that due to heightened concerns about public health, officials would ban the horrific June 21st festival, but people on the ground have reported that trucks full of brutalized dogs are headed to Yulin now.
Some defenders of the annual Lychee and Dog Meat Festival insist that it’s a cultural event, but this unregulated, lucrative spectacle was launched in 2010. Dog traffickers and restaurant owners colluded to create an event around the summer solstice that would boost flagging dog meat sales and bring money into Yulin, a disadvantaged city in the southwest of China.
The profitable trade, which is not fully legal, is run by criminal groups who face little risk of arrest or conviction.
10 Million Dogs Are Killed Every Year
While this grizzly one-day event gets a lot of attention, many restaurants in Yulin and other dog eating regions of China serve dog meat all year. It’s also estimated that 4 million cats are killed and eaten every year.
The controversial practice is primarily based in 3 regions — DongBei, Guangdong, and Guangxi, home to the city of Yulin. Consumers of dog meat, primarily older men, cling to the belief that eating dog meat brings luck, health, and virility.
There’s No National Law Against Consuming Dog
While it’s not specifically against Chinese law to eat dog or cat, there are national laws against stealing pets, capturing strays, and transporting animals across provincial borders. There are also regulations around the slaughter of undocumented dogs and sales of uninspected meat. Andrea Gung, founder and executive director of animal welfare organization, Duo Duo Project, says, “Enforcement of those laws could greatly impede the trade but, for the most part, officials don’t see this underground market as a priority.”
Pets Are Stolen and Strays Captured to Meet Demand
While some countries in Asia raise dogs for meat, China does not ‘farm’ dogs. It’s much cheaper for thieves to fan out across the country capturing street dogs or stealing pets to satisfy demand.
While several animal welfare organizations fund humane sterilization programs, the number of homeless animals and wandering pets is a significant challenge. In fact, the World Health Organization says that China has over 40 million free-roaming dogs — more than any other country.
Dogs Are Shipped Under Torturous Conditions
Black market henchmen keep abducted dogs in holding pits until there are enough animals to fill large trucks. Hundreds of dogs are stuffed into cages and hauled — often for thousands of miles in extreme weather — without food or water. Gung, whose U.S. based organization works with activists on the ground in China year round, says, “Many of the captive dogs on the trucks are injured or have contracted diseases. Others die in transit from dehydration, suffocation, or heatstroke.” Adding to the tragedy is the fact that many of the terrified dogs are still wearing their collars and name tags.
At the slaughterhouses, dogs are bludgeoned, their throats are cut, and they are left to die in front of other traumatized animals.
The Majority of Chinese People Do Not Eat Dog or Cat
Estimates are hard to come by but it’s known that only a small percentage of people in China eat dog. A survey conducted for Duo Duo Project in Yulin showed that 70 percent of residents had never eaten dog or cat meat and that only 6 percent of people eat dog or cat meat regularly.
Backlash Against the Practice is Growing
As the country’s middle class has grown and pet ownership in China has increased, attitudes about companion animals have evolved and more people view the inhumane practice as a damaging throwback that they want China to get beyond. Young Chinese people are the most vocal about animal cruelty and are leading well-organized campaigns via social media.
Gung, a Chinese American, feels that young people’s sense of compassion came from growing up with a companion animal. “Much of the younger generation grew up with pets who were likely their only sibling, because until 2016 China enforced a one-child policy for most families.”
Signs That Beijing May End the Trade
There is mounting evidence that China’s central government is concerned with how the dog and meat trade affects its global image. In 2020, Beijing cited concerns over animal welfare and prevention of disease transmission and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs classified dogs and cats as companion animals vs livestock.
As promising as that is, Beijing has not officially prohibited people from eating dog or cat meat. But two mainland cities have taken that additional step. The southern cities of Zhuhai and Shenzhen in the Guangdong province have enacted a landmark law that clearly bans the sales and consumption of dog and cat meat.
There’s enough evidence for local activists to say that the Yulin festival is losing ground. In the event’s biggest years — from 2014 to 2016 — approximately 10,000 dogs were slaughtered per year. In 2020, that number fell to around 3,000.
Health Concerns Have Fueled the Case Against the Trade
The COVID-19 epidemic, which is widely believed to have originated in Wuhan, China has led to increased concern and criticism about live markets. Experts have said that the unsanitary conditions at wet markets for both wild and domestic animals contribute to breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases.
Beyond concerns about COVID-19, the World Health Organization warns that the transport and consumption of dogs and cats comes with human health risks from diseases including trichinellosis, cholera, and deadly rabies.
Is the Trade on its Last Leg?
Gung believes that Beijing will eventually enforce a national ban on all facets of the trade and that other countries will follow. Yet she and the activists she collaborates with aren’t waiting for the government to act. She says,”Duo Duo Project is addressing both supply and demand.”
The non-profit uses culturally conscious education and first-hand experiences to show people that dogs are invaluable companions. The organization also coaches local activists on intervention and policy training. Those strategies are complemented by dog and cat rescue support along with spay and neuter programs to reduce the number of homeless dogs and cats.