Bearing Witness to the Yulin Dog Meat Festival

Humane Society International

HSI’s Dr. Peter Li, along with The HSUS’s Karen Lange and colleagues from local partner groups, bore witness to the horrors of this year’s Yulin Dog Meat Festival in an effort to persuade officials to cancel it. Below are some of the scenes they encountered.

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Saving lives

Activists surround a truck in a Yulin dog meat market on June 20, bargaining for the lives of animals on their way to slaughter. At the city’s notorious dog meat festival, an event they had managed to shrink in size but not stop, activists searched for and bought as many such dogs as they could. All of the dogs in this truck were saved, along with as many as 400 others rescued from dog meat traders during a series of interceptions over three days.

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Media attention

As activists descended on Yulin from around China for the June 21 festival, so too did media—radio and TV reporters from Shanghai, Zhejiang, Beijing, Hong Kong, and beyond brought the story to the rest of the nation. Overseas journalists brought it to the world. Streets that in past years had filled with people eating dog meat and lychee and drinking hard liquor to mark the summer solstice were instead crowded with activists, reporters, defenders of the dog meat trade, and bystanders drawn to the conflict.

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Signs covered up

About a week before the official date of the June 21 dog meat festival, the city government banned the display of the word “dog” on restaurant signs. So around the city, restaurant owners covered up the Chinese character. It was not the only move that the government, under pressure from activists and concerned about its image, took to subdue the festival. Earlier, officials ordered an end to the public slaughter of dogs within the city and told employees not to eat dog meat in restaurants. They also tried to stop big transport trucks carrying dogs from entering the city.

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Suffering in transport

Dogs being sold as meat arrived in Yulin crammed in narrow cages that can be stacked on big trucks during transports of as much as 700 miles that leave dogs sick, dehydrated, and sometimes dead. The cages can also be flipped on their slides to fit on the back of motorbikes. When Yulin blocked big trucks from entering the city, dog traders appeared to have unloaded their trucks and transported dogs the remaining distance on motorbikes and in pickups.

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Slaughtered in the shadows

Dogs await slaughter behind a restaurant in Yulin. In past years, dogs were killed in the street, but this year, they were slaughtered in secret. “Now we have to do it as though we are thieves,” a restaurant owner told a Chinese TV station.

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Processed with poison?

A woman uses a blowtorch to prepare the skin of a dog so that it can be displayed for sale in a restaurant. Because many dogs sold for meat are skinny, their flesh is soaked in water, where it swells and becomes plump and white.Then traders brown the outside to make the meat marketable. Eating dog is hazardous. City officials have not strictly enforced food safety laws. Dogs may carry rabies or other diseases, or may have been poisoned. Animal welfare advocates estimate that as many as one in 10 of the dogs traded for meat in China are stolen pets. Help put a stop to the suffering.

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Speaking out for change

Protesters in front of Yulin’s city hall on June 13 briefly unfurled a banner about the health hazards of eating dog meat before being run off by police. A week later, on June 21, activists were back. HSI partner group members handed out leaflets that read, “Food safety is more important than dog traders’ profits.” Their audience: As before, the media and police.

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Rescued from butchers’ knives

This year’s unprecedented campaign by Chinese animal welfare activists along with more than 100,000 signatures collected by HSI did not completely end the festival. But there was little celebration in this year’s event. “It was really not a festival anymore,” said Li. “It was just a reaction from the locals, saying, ‘We want to eat [dog meat].’ It was just shameful.”

In past years, as many as 10,000 dogs had been slaughtered. This year, according to the Xinhua News Agency, 17 of 69 restaurants in the city that served dog took the meat off their menu. Another four were shuttered by city authorities for food safety violations. Dog meat sales were down. No exact count can be made,¹ but hundreds, likely thousands, fewer dogs lost their lives.

Photo descriptions by Karen Lange.

¹ A likely reliable source, the Yulin Centre for Animal Disease Control and Prevention, later estimated the number of dogs killed to be around 2,000.

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