In Partnership With Humane Society International
Warning: Distressing Content
Each year, animal activists valiantly band together to protest against the Yulin Dog Meat Festival.
The festival has become a symbol of the cruelties of the dog meat industry; with photos of trapped, petrified animals prompting dog lovers to petition against it year after year.
During the ten day long Chinese festival, a commercial rather than cultural activity, promoted by local authorities, it’s estimated up to 5,000 dogs are eaten: A truly devastating statistic for any animal lover.
However, while this is indeed a worthy cause to get behind, the controversial festival is sadly just the tip of a very large and blood-soaked iceberg.
The dog meat trade is much wider and more far-flung than many people realise, with millions of dogs each year suffering brutal deaths before having their bodies turned into a delicacy.
China is often regarded to be the focal point when discussing the dog meat trade, and, with an estimated 10 million annual canine deaths attributed to the trade in China alone, this is indeed a problem.
You can see why in the footage from Yulin, below:
However, the dog meat industry is spread much further afield. According to the estimations of Humane Society International (HSI), 30 million dogs are slaughtered for their meat throughout Asia each year.
This practice cannot be outlawed with the dismantling of a single festival. HSI is one such organisation working to rip away this unacceptable industry at the roots.
The Director of International Media at Humane Society International UK, Wendy Higgins, told UNILAD about the disturbing reality of this often underestimated concern.
Higgins, who’s dedicated to this cause, said:
Across Asia, the dog and cat meat trade is an every day grim reality.
There is quite rightly a huge focus on single events like Yulin, but dogs and cats are killed every day in Yulin, and across China, there are millions of these animals, every year, being stolen, incapacitated with poison darts or bated food, grabbed from gardens, snatched from the streets.
These animals simply disappear from people’s homes and lives never to be seen again.
According to Higgins, increased dog meat consumption is often linked to the summer season, with the mistaken belief across several countries that dog meat soup can cool the blood and reinvigorate a person during hot weather.
Most dog meat in South Korea is consumed during Bok Nal, the name given to the hottest days of July and August, just after Yulin wraps up its cruel trade.
Even those who would usually never eat dog may well do so during the Bok Nals.
While a South Korean court recently ruled meat consumption was not a legal reason for killing dogs, and fined a farmer three million won (£2,100), the sad fact is, dogs are not only at risk for a few days or weeks at a time.
At all points of the year, dog owners in many Asian countries are vulnerable to having their beloved pets stolen from them.
Daylight robbery happens in scenes like this one:
For example, Christmas time is a popular time for dog meat consumption in Indonesia, a country where it’s not unusual to find dog meat furnishing the tables at special occasions such as wedding receptions.
When tackling this issue, it’s vital for organisations to consider the varying socio-cultural norms of the very different countries involved. According to Higgins, HSI always makes sure to ‘get under the skin of the in-country reasons for the trade.’
The trade in modern day China has resulted from the aggressive business promotion of dog traders, who ‘dress it up as cultural when in fact dog eating has never been part of China’s culinary mainstream’.
The trade is sustained because there are no animal welfare laws in the country, a general apathy from law enforcement about tackling dog thieves, no nationwide action against trans-provincial transport of illegal dog trucks, and a government that seems to hope that the trade will simply fizzle out in time without the need for political intervention.
That combination of factors has led up to this point in China where there is starting to be a genuine tension in society, the result of a growing population of animal-loving dog owners sick to death of inaction.
Going forward, Higgins believes the Chinese government must come down harder on the criminal aspects of the dog meat trade, while introducing more robust animal protection legislation.
In South Korea, HSI must address a profound generational divide with attitudes differing greatly between the younger and the older generations.
Higgins told UNILAD most young South Koreans are unlikely to have ever eaten dog and would be appalled by the idea.
They are more likely to live with a dog or cat too, whereas older people, especially men in their 60s or older, are more likely to eat it in the belief it’s invigorating.
However, respect for elders is very important in South Korea so although most young people are personally against dog meat eating, that doesn’t necessarily translate into vocal opposition for fear of appearing to criticise their parents or grandparents.
With this in mind, HSI approach their work in South Korea in a way Higgins describes as being ‘respectful and thoughtful and solutions-led.’
HSI’s work in South Korea focuses on shutting down dog farms while partnering with dog farmers who want to leave the trade behind to create a ‘persuasive blueprint for a phase out’ which will encourage the South Korean government to adopt this model and roll it out nationwide to dismantle the trade.
However, Higgins said the problem persists:
In South Korea the political sticking point is the need to find a solution that works for the farmers as well as the dogs, and so our tactic there has been to show in a very practical way how that’s possible.
And at the same time we show the Korean public how adorable and loving these dogs really are, which in turn helps increase public support for a phase out strategy, which is also politically helpful of course.
So getting people behind that momentum is the key, and working within South Korea is critical – it’s not a country where pressure from outside is especially helpful.
Activists fighting against the trade in Indonesia, must bear in mind other factors to ensure their work is effective in the long-term, says Higgins.
For example Indonesia’s dependence on tourism leaves it sensitive to global criticism:
It’s important for us to galvanise international calls for change and to express that to the authorities, and we do that as part of the Dog Meat-Free Indonesia coalition which also includes local Indonesian groups.
Supporting local groups on the ground and adding weight to their efforts is one of the ways that HSI works in many different countries, and it’s often the most effective route to change.
HSI activists work tirelessly to spread awareness of the scale of the dog meat industry, with teams operating within each of the affected countries.
According to Higgins, HSI have helped to raise awareness through the media, having previously successfully engaged South Korean journalists in the cause and opening up dog meat farm rescue operations.
You can watch footage of one such rescue which happened just weeks ago:
She recalled one such visit:
The last dog meat farm I visited, we brought out tiny Tosa puppies to meet the journalists, and they couldn’t help but have their hearts melted.
Tosas are traditionally thought of as ‘just’ meat dogs, and they have a very negative reputation.
We were able to show that they are just the same as any other dogs, so when we introduced the journalists to a sad old Tosa male cooped up in a tiny cage his whole life hidden from sight, I think their view genuinely altered to one of greater sympathy.
In Indonesia the cruelty of the live markets is truly shocking, and the footage we’ve helped bring out of those locations has really catapulted the trade onto the global radar.
We were also one of the first to expose the terror of the killing pits in Nagaland, India too, so the power of film – even mobile phone footage – mustn’t be underestimated.
Higgins said outlawing this trade is in the interests of human health as well:
In all honesty, there is nothing to gain from allowing the trade to continue – in most countries it’s linked with crime, and it’s a genuine health risk because of how easily communicable diseases, including deadly rabies, can be spread, and in none of the countries is dog meat even eaten by a significant proportion of the population.
Bans on trading dog meat have already been implemented in Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan and Singapore.
HSI remains confident similar restrictions can be introduced elsewhere, with Higgins emphasising the effectiveness of ‘quiet diplomacy’ and the ‘active participation’ of countries which have already introduced bans.
It’s too late to save the many, many dogs who’ve been tortured and destroyed under such inhumane conditions; forsaken by humans they would have showed such loyalty to if given the chance.
However, for those currently crammed in filthy cages – homesick and frightened – there’s still hope.
In the meantime, you can follow UNILAD’s Stop Yulin campaign, which will be running throughout the festival, from 21 to 30 June, to find out more.
Humane Society International and their Chinese animal group partners, VShine and Capital Animal Welfare Association, are petitioning the Yulin authorities to implement and enforce a total ban this year.
Speak out against this cruelty by signing the petition.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.