It’s Not A Human Eat Dog World: The Yulin Dog Meat Festival

More than 10,000 dogs are killed for the festival in south-west China.

By Erin Kirkpatrick

There is no doubt that this is a disturbing topic, but it warrants discussion. Only by speaking up and exposing the cruel, inhumane treatment of these animals can we get anywhere close to stopping it.

Held in Yulin, Guangxi, China, the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, known more widely as the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, is a yearly summer solstice celebration. As the event’s title suggests, attendees consume lychee fruit and dog meat. The consumption of dog meat is a tradition that dates back between 400 to 500 years. It was believed to keep the blistering heat of the summer months at bay.

Change.org’s Stop the Yulin Dog Meat Eating Festival online petition page describes the event:

“This brutal ‘festival’ involves what some call savoring the “delights” of dog meat hotpot, lychees, and strong liquor — which will increase the abduction of strays and pets and also increase the torturous & inhumane prisons of dog meat farms – places where man’s best friends are raised for such purposes — thousands of dogs will suffer, be butchered, beaten to death, skinned alive and eaten.”

Credit: Change.org

It is estimated that between 10,000 to 15,000 dogs are killed over the festival’s 10-day period.

This festival, started in 2009 by dog meat vendors hoping to boost business, was instantly met with worldwide outrage, controversy, and disgust, and continues to be a source of tension. Where there are critics, there are also supporters. They speak of the cultural, traditional relevance, and dog meat vendors have routinely suggested that all the dogs are killed in a humane way.

Animal rights activists and festival critics aren’t buying it, and they definitely shouldn’t be …

Judging from the graphic media assets that have surfaced over the years, it’s hard to make the “humane treatment” argument and justify the existence of this festival for a number of reasons. Besides the obvious, that you’re consuming a vulnerable, kindhearted, loving animal. First, the 10,000 to 15,000 dogs killed are made up of diseased strays and stolen pets.

 Photo: Stop Yulin Forever

Stolen dogs fund much of the dog meat industry.

Second, animals are transported hundreds of miles with no regard for their well being, no food or water. Third, they are often beaten to death in front of each other or dismembered while still alive. That does not sound humane in any way, shape or form. There are so, so, so many reasons why this is horrifying event should cease to exist.

The ever-growing negative publicity and press surrounding the festival has led to a steady decline in the number of dogs slaughtered each year. Yulin officials, who previously denied the existence of the event, made infant-sized steps in 2015, by acknowledging the festival and refusing to endorse it. Yet, locals still find ways to participate and animal rights activists, both local and foreign, still rescue as many dogs as they can from the slaughter. In a Humane Society blog post, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Humane Society of the United States Wayne Pacelle wrote, “Yulin’s government has responded by banning public slaughter of the animals, and by removing the words “dog meat” from all banners related to the festival. But the killing continues behind closed doors and in the middle of the night.”

Photo: Stop Yulin Forever

In January, a large-scale operation by Humane Society International (HSI) saw 200 dogs rescued from a dog meat farm in Wonju, South Korea. And in March, over 50 dogs were rescued from similar circumstances. HSI has shut down seven farms, rescuing approximately 800 dogs who were being bred for the sole purpose of human consumption, since 2015.

Social media hashtags (i.e.#StopYuLin2015#StopYulinForever, #FriendNotFood, and #ItsNoFestival), online petitions, and the tireless work of activists have resulted in no shortage of efforts to end the festival. In 2016, a petition started by HSI, RaiseUrPaw, Care2, DDAWP, and Avaaz demanding the festival be shutdown was signed by 11 million people and delivered to the Yulin government in Beijing. That same year, authorities called for a “gradual end to slaughter practices at Moran Market, in Seoul,” South Korea, “the nation’s largest —which sells 80,000 dogs a year.”

Photo: Stop Yulin Forever

In the last couple of years alone, significant progress has been made.

This past April, Taiwan became the first Asian country to outlaw the slaughter, sale, and consumption of dogs and cats. Despite being made illegal in 1998, the underground dog meat market thrived over the years. Today, the punishments are much higher, in hopes of deterring this inhumane behavior and lust for dog meat. Anyone who purchases or eats dog meat can be fined up to $8,200, and their names and photos may be made public, and those caught deliberately harming a cat or dog can be fined up to $65,000 and serve two years in jail. This had many people asking, “Will China and South Korea follow suit by banning the sale and consumption of dog meat?

Photo: Stop Yulin Forever

On May 17th, animal advocacy groups, animal rights advocates, and festival critics reported a milestone breakthrough in their work, saying that “officials in the southern city of Yulin had agreed to ban the sale of dog meat in the week before the event,” according to the New York Times. Despite the fact that HSI and the Duo Duo Project announced news of the ban, no city officials who were contacted could confirm it, and dog restaurants and vendors told BBC that they has not heard anything about it. Some speculate that vendors and restaurants were informed, but they chose not to acknowledge it publicly.

Photo: Stop Yulin Forever

So, there is some doubt surrounding the impact and enforceability this ban will really have, but its visibility and concrete penalties are steps in the right direction. The seven-day ban, which covers the days leading up to the festival and its opening (thought to be when the largest number of dogs are typically killed and consumed), starts on June 15th. In the week leading up to the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, anyone caught selling dog meat will face fines up to $14,500 and even time in prison. It is unclear whether this ban extends to cats, who are less popular but still consumed during the festival. Increasing pet ownership in Asian countries has caused a shift in the attitudes of how dogs are perceived and treated. As a result, tastes, quite figuratively and literally, have changed. While activists and festival critics expect dog meat vendors to return to business as usual once the ban is lifted, many are still confident in the message the ban sends: the festival’s future is waning and the collapse of the dog meat market is inevitable.

Photo: Stop Yulin Forever

“Of course we understand that no law can completely deter the sale of dog meat in Yulin. But this ban suggests that the government is becoming more serious about taking action in a determined way,” said Peter J. Li, a China policy adviser to Humane Society International.

Progress has to start somewhere, and at least, it’s starting.

The Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival runs from June 21st to June 30th.