Western Saviours Can’t Fix The Dog Meat Trade In China On Their Own


In Partnership With Humane Society International

Warning: Distressing Content

A dog in a cage at Yulin festival prior to sale of dog meat banVShine and Yi Shan/Humane Society International

You will not be surprised to hear spectators gasp in horror and bury their heads in hands as footage is broadcast from the Yulin dog meat festival this week.

We Westerners have all grown up in a society which humanises man’s best friend through film and TV; Scooby Doo helps fight crime with his good mate Shaggy; Lassie loves Timmy; the Andrex puppy has everyone’s back.

So, most of us want nothing more than to stop scenes of animal cruelty like these:

Up to 5,000 dogs will be beaten and slaughtered at Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in Guangxi, China this year during the summer solstice.

Thanks to encroaching globalisation the world is shrinking. We are privy to these animal rights violations in HD detail unlike ever before – and we’re justifiably outraged.

It’s all animal-lovers can do to stop themselves jumping on a plane to Hong Kong and taking an eight hour train to the town of Yulin to rescue as many dogs as possible from certain death.

A white dog waits to be sold as meat in a market in Yulin in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Sunday June 23, 2013, before the dog meat ban.Humane Society International

In fact, that’s what many like Dr John Sessa, Executive Director of The Vanderpump Dog Foundation and co-founder of StopYulinForever.org, have done in the past.

He described his journey, telling UNILAD about the problem of and lessons learned from intervention by certain ‘western saviours’ at Yulin.

The Oriental Peearl tower in Shanghai, ChinaPixabay

We’re closer to other cultures than ever before, whether or not we like what we think we see through the lens of the World Wide Web, but despite being privy to what goes on beyond country boundaries, naivety can prevail.

The brutal treatment of stolen domesticated pets at Yulin – cats and dogs like the ones you hold dear at home – is so obscene, it’s received a huge amount of press attention in recent years.

A subsequent flood of support has been beamed across to Chinese animal rights activists, who’ve been fighting the unjust cruelty and slaughter of innocent animals in China, long before it made headlines with Yulin.

A white cat kept in a cage at Yulin before the dog meat banHumane Society International

Indeed, Qin from the Capital Animal Welfare Association (CAWA), the Beijing-based partner group of Humane Society International, told UNILAD they started to notice the dog meat trade issue in the 1990s, but it really took off around 2000.

They confirmed Yulin was only founded as a cheap money-making enterprise in 2010 under the false pretence of a ‘dog-eating tradition’.

UNILAD spoke to Ellin Kao of the Duo Duo, an animal rights advocacy and education organisation founded by Andrea Gung in 2014 after a business trip to China.

While visiting a veterinary school, Andrea discovered a dog who was left in a room over the weekend without food or water. The animal was to be sold for meat.

Andrea spent the weekend feeding the dog through the window and eventually adopted him, taking her new pet home to the US where he became the namesake of the organisation.

It’s a wonderful story. But it’s rare.

Duo Duo Project caring for a rescue dogduoduoawp/Instagram

In her time working with Duo Duo, Kao has come across many well-meaning foreign activists who practice a ‘popular approach of buying dogs destined for meat slaughter’, commonly referred to as the Western Saviour solution.

Even if buying a dog’s way out of peril, it seems to make sense at first glance, but doing so simply creates more demand for dogs at Yulin, and harms efforts to stop the dog and cat meat trade longterm.

Dogs in cages waiting to be sold two years before the dog meat ban of sales at Yulin festivalHSI

Kao, who’s seen the ‘counter-productive’ exchanges first-hand, recalls:

The traders will simply increase their efforts in stealing more dogs if they believe it’s a lucrative business. A popular practice traders employ is jacking up the price for buyers from out of town.

This simply increases the incentive for people to steal pets for a quick profit. As such, not only is this not a sustainable approach to ending the dog meat eating practice, it only fans the flames.

A slaughterhouse butcher transfers a cat to a cage, to be handed off to Peter Li, China Specialist with Humane Society International, despite dog meat ban. Shortly after, Li rescued the cat from the slaughterhouse.Humane Society International

At least 11 million dogs and 4 million cats are butchered annually in China. You cannot buy them all. Hence, organisations trying to combat the dog and cat meat trade, such as HSI, focus on sustainable rescue missions.

Wendy Higgins of HSI told UNILAD the organisation avoids buying dogs and cats from Yulin and across China because it ‘only perpetuates the very dog meat industry we are trying to end’, giving it a shot in the arm when the trade had been in decline.

She explained how the ‘quick fix’ – especially the large-scale purchasing of dogs for big sums of money – artificially boosts business.

A stand in Yulin selling dogs before the dog mate ban on salesHumane Society international

Some slaughterhouses have told HSI they deliberately accumulate larger numbers of dogs knowing activists from the USA and elsewhere will be their highest-paying customers, Higgins explained, adding they don’t care who they make their profits from, as long as they make their money.

Higgins added:

So HSI and our Chinese partner groups support animal rescue where dogs or cats are legally confiscated by the police, or relinquished through negotiation at slaughterhouses or markets.

It’s much harder to do, and it’s not always successful and that takes an enormous emotional toll, but it is the right way to conduct ourselves and it’s what the vast majority of Chinese animal groups want.

Animal activists display protest banners outside the Yulin government office in Beijing on June 10, 2016 prior to dog meat ban.Getty

After all, HSI operate in their country and, as Higgins puts it, no-one knows the impact of our actions better than them.

When the western activists have left Yulin and the summer solstice festival is over, Chinese activists have to carry on campaigning throughout the rest of year, she continued, ‘but it’s made that much more difficult’.

While local animal-lovers are sympathetic to the kindliness of those who want to help, and appreciate the awareness raised by Western animal-lovers, Kao says they unequivocally hinder ‘long-term efforts to change the minds and hearts of people’ in China and create a lasting end to the demand for dog meat.

It’s not as simple as good and bad, yet, ‘often in life, altruistic intentions exceed ability’, Kao muses.

Traders looking at dogs ready to be sold for meatGetty

Indeed, not all the dogs saved by Western Saviours lead happy lives in the aftermath, said Kao:

This depends entirely on the Western Saviours. Providing long-term care and treatment for the dogs require a tremendous amount of resources, commitment, and support.

Stuck over here on our small British Isles or across the pond in the United States of America, relegated to the Western parts of the world, other ways of life and their consequences seem very remote and alien to us.

We sometimes feel like swooping in as White Knights, without understanding one of the common outcomes from slaughterhouse rescues: Many of the dogs can die soon after rescue.

A dog looks out from its cage at a stall as it is displayed by a vendor as he waits for customers during a dog meat festival at a market in Yulin, in southern China's GuanginGetty

Higgins elaborates on what can happen when activists don’t have a rehabilitation plan:

Their condition can nose dive really rapidly if they don’t end up in a good shelter situation where they can be properly cared for.

The dogs can end up being sent off to poor quality shelters, ill-equipped to deal with a large influx of very sick dogs, and the outcome for those dogs won’t be good.

Sickness and disease can spread rapidly in a shelter, and often they don’t have access to skilled veterinarians or veterinary medicine.

Duo Duo rehabilitating rescue dogsduoduoawp/Instagram

It takes time to get them back on their paws, and sheltering costs are very high indeed in China.

Some Chinese groups can find themselves taking in animals from foreign activists and then being lumbered with the costs of looking after those animals for months or years to come.

Kao, being on the ground and seeing the adverse effects, doesn’t understand why so-called Western Saviours do what they do.

Dog peers fromcage at Yulin before dog mest ban on trading and sellingHumane Society International

Aside from the impact on the dogs, the Western Saviour solution also raises the false expectation among the general public in America and the UK here that if a charity like HSI isn’t getting large numbers of dogs out of Yulin, it’s somehow failing.

Higgins – and presumably her colleagues in arms – find this ‘frustrating’ because it’s ‘unfair to the teams working really hard in dreadfully challenging circumstances on the ground’.

In fact, HSI’s success over the past 10 years in terms of rescues and rehabilitation is centred on strong relationships with Chinese animal groups, shelters and activists all over the country, and an ability to support them in their missions all year round.

People watch a vendor working behind a poster saying "providing wild hares, cat meat, local hares, local dogs, and cat heads" in Yulin before the dog meat banHumane Society International

Higgins concluded her thoughts on the Western Saviour solution, saying:

It also perpetuates the idea that we can rescue ourselves out of the dog meat trade and that’s simply not possible.

Rescuing individual animals is of course important, but in order to dismantle the quiet government tolerance that allows the Yulin festival to continue, we need to advance a broader strategy.

There are better ways.

Animal rights activists protest against eating dog meat outside a dog meat restaurants in Yulin, southwest China's Guangxi province on June 21, 2013 prior to dog meat ban.Getty

We in the West must support efforts to change the minds and hearts in dog meat eating communities through education and advocacy to create lasting change.

We can continue to nurture our innate love for animals, without hindering the spectacular progress being made in cultures and communities far from home.

Together, we can work towards a better future for mankind’s best friend.


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.