When officials in Yulin, China enthusiastically endorsed the idea a few years ago of holding an annual “dog meat festival” at the summer solstice in hopes of attracting tourism and investment, they apparently did not realize to what extent a culture of pet-keeping had spread across the country, nor how powerful social media could be in arousing the ire of other animal lovers around the world. They’ve certainly made a name for their city now—but not in a good way.
In 2014, advocates succeeded in subduing the celebration, decreasing the number of animals killed and moving the slaughter out of the public eye, but this year, the pressure became overwhelming as hundreds of thousands of people including celebrities signed petitions, a slew of major media outlets covered the event and dramatic photos of candlelight vigils and dogs in cages helplessly awaiting a terrible fate circulated online.
Shining a spotlight
Last year and again this past week, HSI sent staff to the city ahead of and during the festival to photograph and report on the horrors taking place there in an effort to draw attention to the cruelty and pressure authorities into action.
On the scene, HSI Director of Cruelty Response Adam Parascondola wrote: “It’s been a real challenge to be here in Yulin over the past few days. I’ve witnessed truly heartbreaking suffering of dogs and cats that I will never forget, but at the same time I’ve also had the honor of working alongside really inspiring Chinese activists and ordinary animal-loving citizens who care deeply about ending this horrific trade. They give me hope for the future, and they in turn are feeling hopeful because they finally feel that their voices are being heard around the world. May this be the last we see of this brutal festival.”
Signs of progress were evident, Adam said:
- As last year, city leaders ordered restaurants to remove dog meat advertisements from their windows. Police patrolled the streets to make sure no public displays of dog eating would rile the crowds.
- The notorious Dong Kou Market had fewer dog meat stands. HSI spoke with a former dog meat trader who confirmed a rapid downturn of business.
- A Chinese activist who has observed the festival for the past three years estimated the average number of dogs sold per trader as 70 or so in 2012, compared to 20 this year.
- Singapore News Channel Asia aired and more than 20 reporters covered a June 22 protest by members of VShine (a local HSI partner group), who unfurled multiple banners in Chinese and English calling for a shutdown of the Yulin dog meat festival and the industry as police chased them around the square–to the delight of onlookers. HSI also supported pre-festival protests in 50 cities and did numerous interviews to help spread the word.
- The protests have set the more sophisticated Yulin folks to thinking, says a Yulin dog lover. Many of them have reduced their dog eating as a result.
- We’ve also heard directly from the dog meat traders themselves that their business has become more difficult due to protests, government pressure in the form of unannounced safety visits, and their own family members, particularly their children, who condemn their trade. They admit that we have caused them a “huge headache” and that the dog meat trade “is not the livelihood [their] children will take over.”
Supporting local efforts
HSI is contacting groups and individuals who have rescued animals to coordinate assistance for their care and accommodation, and is bringing a dog and two cats to the U.S. to serve as ambassadors for the cause. Photos of the latter—before, in utter misery and terror and afterward, cuddled in the arms of Chinese animal advocates—have been seen by millions of newspaper and website readers. The dog was named Little Ricky in honor of actor and comedian Ricky Gervais, who is supporting HSI’s campaign.
“China is not a democracy,” said HSI’s Dr. Peter Li, also present in Yulin. “A lot is not transparent. But, the call for ending or restricting the dog meat industry is stronger and the Chinese authorities have heard it. Things do not happen fast in China. But, it is moving in the right direction.” Join us in our fight to stop the suffering.