Right now, over ten thousand dogs are being dragged to the southern Chinese province of Guangxi, where they will be slaughtered – sometimes boiled alive, sometimes strangled, sometimes throats slit or beaten to death – cooked, and eaten. Reportedly, many of the dogs stuffed unto overflowing cages have collars, signs that they are stolen pets.
It’s an annual event dubbed the Yulin Dog Festival, held on the solstice, and it’s been drawing moral outrage from around the world.
Sometimes described as a generations-old tradition, Yulin’s festival was in fact started in 2009, though the region does have a long history of eating canines. Admittedly, it’s a tradition that is beginning to show signs of fading away as China’s economy continues to grow and more and more of its population starts to keep pets as opposed to eat them. But it’s not gone yet.
In contrast to initial reports that local officials had banned the barbaric tradition, investigations by the animal rights groups seem to indicate this is not the case. Even if it’s no longer officially sanctioned – the Chinese government distanced itself from the festival last year, and “discouraged” the execution of dogs, at least in public – everything is in place for another slaughter.
“'Mass dog slaughter is still going on at Yulin despite the local authorities trying to give the impression that's it's ended,” Peter Li of the Humane Society International told the Daily Mail. “The Yulin government has declared the "festival" will not happen, but this is mere semantics and thousands of dogs will still die for their meat whether it's called a festival or not.”
Brutal images from the event have garnered a firestorm of online criticism, and attracted the attention of celebrities like comedian and actor Ricky Gervais, who has been venting his disgust to his 8.7 million Twitter followers under the hashtag #StopYulin2015, and making headlines as he does.
A petition against the event at Change.org has over 2.3 million signatures.
Last year, a bevvy of protestors at the event caused a spike in the price of dog meat, to nearly $8 a kilo, which in turn makes the animals more attractive to thieves. And unregulated dog meat is more than a moral issue—it’s a public health issue. Dogs slated to be transported and eaten need an official health certificate, something back alley purveyors avoid. In 2011, 11 people were sentenced to jail in the Hunan province after attempting to sell over a thousand dogs tainted by a toxic poison that had been used to kill them. Additionally, the Guangxi Province has historically one of the highest rates of rabies in the country, with the International Foundation for Animal Welfare reporting 338 human deaths from the disease in Yulin alone between 2002 and 2006.
Admittedly, worldwide, millions of cows and pigs and chickens are held in similar, or worse, conditions than those reported at Yulin, yet the traditional bond between humans and dogs makes this slaughter more difficult to stomach for some.
“Some dogs were still wagging their tails when they were being killed in the slaughterhouse,” activist Andrea Gung, who was at the festival last year, told the Independent.
Years of international and Internet outrage haven’t quelled the slaughter yet, and it’s hard to be optimistic about an authoritarian country that routinely disregards human rights will come around on animal rights. But there is hope—in 2011, the 600-year-old Jonhua Hutou Dog Meat Festival was ended after a widespread online campaign.