Saving animals from China’s dog and cat meat trade

Humane Society International

Dog meat trader's truck in China
Adam Parascandola/HSI

Worldwide, an estimated 30 million dogs and 10 million cats are slaughtered each year for human consumption. Of those numbers, it is estimated that 10 million dogs and 4 million cats are killed for human consumption each year in China.

The dog and cat meat trade in China is, to a significant degree, facilitated by crime, as most of the animals are stolen pets and strays grabbed from backyards and streets. Detection and convictions are extremely rare.

Transport to slaughterhouses and markets entails being crammed into wire cages and driven for hours or days to the animals’ destination. They’re often sick or injured, and many die en route from dehydration, shock, suffocation and heatstroke. Those who survive the journey are then beaten to death, sold and served. China has no animal cruelty laws.

Despite the scale of this horror, dog and cat eating is not widespread in China; the majority of people in China never eat dog or cat meat. Of the 20% who say they do, many will have only eaten dog meat once or twice in their lifetime. China’s dog meat eating mainly centers in three regions: South China, Central China, and Northeast China, although dogs are stolen and transported from all over the country.

Supporting Chinese animal groups

HSI is actively supporting local organizations in China to end the grisly dog meat trade. With tens of millions of dogs and cats a year suffering in China, it is simply impossible to rescue our way out of this horrific business, which is why rescue is only one aspect of HSI’s work in China. Our multi-faceted strategy in China focuses on supporting the work of Chinese animal protection groups and shelters across China that are campaigning, conducting public education, and providing hands-on rescue efforts. Our Chinese partners avoid buying dogs from meat industry actors, because no matter how well meaning, it risks the unintended consequence of bolstering the supply and demand.

Rescue all year round

HSI has supported the rescue of thousands of dogs and cats from China’s meat trade by working in partnership with our Chinese activist and shelter partners such as China Animal Protection Power and Vshine. Chinese activists liaise with local police to pull over trucks illegally trafficking dogs and cats on their way to slaughter, and work with law enforcement when illegal dog slaughterhouses are discovered. These animals are largely illegally acquired and illegally transported across provincial borders without the required paperwork. As many of the animals are sick or injured, HSI supporters’ donations give them lifesaving water, food, and care, and help to bring them to safe sanctuary. HSI also provides expert training and support for shelters to ensure that they operate to the highest standards in China.

Some rescues involve large numbers of animals, such as the 375 cats crammed in wire cages in an illegal slaughterhouse in Tianjin who were saved in 2018 by the China Animal Protection Power rescue team, or the 423 dogs saved by Vshine in April 2020 from a slaughterhouses in Henan. Other times, raids on illegal slaughterhouses result in small numbers of terrified animals found cowering in fear just in the nick of time. In April 2019 Vshine discovered a group of frightened dogs at a slaughterhouse in Peixian that was supplying restaurants outside Shanghai. In June of 2019, Chinese activists saved 62 dogs from a slaughterhouse in Yulin, many of whom received life-saving veterinary care at a shelter in north China supported by HSI. In 2021, a slaughter truck packed with 68 terrified dogs was stopped before it reached Yulin, and all the dogs rescued.

Yulin festival

Across China, there are many dog markets and slaughterhouses, but the annual slaughter of dogs and cats during the summer solstice in Yulin in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, has come to symbolize the immense cruelty of the trade. Launched in 2010 by Yulin’s dog meat traders to boost flagging sales, and originally promoted as a “festival,” the event has earned domestic and international outrage. HSI has played a key role in shining a global spotlight on the horrors, and thanks largely to the efforts of HSI and our partner groups, this event gradually has become more muted and small scale.

In the face of worldwide condemnation, officials have cracked down on public displays of slaughter and limited advertisement of dog meat by restaurants. But the killing still goes on in the backstreets and out-of-town slaughterhouses under the cover of darkness. In 2016, the Yulin government issued its first-ever written pledge to end the event and road checkpoints were set up to prevent dog trucks from entering the city. In 2017, just weeks ahead of this festival, Yulin authorities alerted dog traders that restaurants, street vendors and market traders would be prohibited from selling dog meat with the threat of heavy fines. The prohibition was subsequently relaxed in the face of intense pressure from dog traders, however it was still a highly significant milestone that demonstrated the authorities’ acknowledgement that action is needed. HSI hopes that national and international campaigners can build on this momentum.

Laws and law enforcement

With dog meat bans already in place in many areas of Asia, including Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, achieving an end to the trade in mainland China is not an unrealistic goal, although we know that change can come frustratingly slowly. Most recently, in 2020, the Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Zhuhai introduced bans on dog and cat meat consumption, and China’s Ministry of Agriculture declared that dogs are considered companions and not livestock. HSI provides advice to Chinese animal groups to advance legislative proposals for a dog meat ban, with the hope that the National People’s Congress will sooner or later support the advancement of robust animal welfare legislation. HSI also works with local police, for example in Dalian, to promote best practices nationwide so that the standards of animal treatment across the country can be elevated.

In January 2017, China introduced the Foreign NGO Law, which places strong legal restrictions on foreign NGOs, such as HSI, requiring NGOs to register with the Chinese government in order to allow us to continue operating on the ground in China. HSI has several official projects registered with Chinese authorities, and although there are some limitations on us–for example, HSI staff do not have legal permission to operate in Yulin–we are able to continue having a presence on the ground through our Chinese partner groups, and have continued to be able to help dogs and cats rescued from the Yulin festival and beyond.

Learn More Button Inserter