Rescue in hub of dog meat trade won more notice than festival held to boost dog-eating
YULIN, China––The largest-ever rescue of dogs from a truck hauling them to slaughter, accomplished on June 19, 2017 in Guangzhau, the longtime hub of dog-eating in China, very nearly upstaged the 2017 Yulin Lychee & Dog-Eating Festival, which began without incident two days later, 240 miles to the west.
While the globally notorious Lychee & Dog-Eating Festival proceeded as originally scheduled, from June 21 through June 23, the activist rescue of 1,300 dogs better represented attitudes toward animals in contemporary China, argued University of Houston associate professor of East Asian politics Peter J. Li.
Nine layers of wire cages
Li, a lifelong longtime animal advocate who emigrated from China to the United States in 1994, doubles as a China policy specialist for Humane Society International, the global arm of the Humane Society of the U.S.
“A truck with hundreds of dogs on nine layers of wire cages was stopped on the highway,” Li posted to Facebook in one of the first postings about the rescue to reach the outside world. “Activists from Guangzhou region and nearby cities have converged on the highway.
“This truck was unlikely to head for Yulin since Guangdong is not a supplier of live dogs,” Li noted. “A standoff continues.”
“Dog theft is rampant”
Added Li in a June 20, 2017 update, “These dogs came from Longnan in southern Gansu, 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) northwest of Guangzhou. It is a region where dog theft is rampant. The destination of the truck was Zhanjiang, Guangdong, 2,400 kilometers (nearly 1,500 miles) from the place of origin. The dogs had suffered for 72 hours or more between loading and unloading.
“A team of law enforcement officers arrived at the scene to help ensure order and security,” Li wrote. “The truck has been cordoned off. Activists have started to pull the dead dogs out, to feed the dogs who are dying of thirst, and comfort those who are eager to be touched.
“Hundreds of Guangzhou’s young men and women are unloading the dogs off that truck of misery,” Li continued. “Look at these young people, the so-called spoiled generation from one of China’s most developed and affluent cities, shedding sweat for 800-plus furry individuals they have no personal connections with on this sizzling summer day. They have shown to the world that the Chinese activists are capable of working miracles.”
“Expanding animal protection community”
The Guangzhou dog rescue showed, Li said, that “China has an expanding animal protection community with a strong presence of young men who are especially action-oriented. There is a consensus that the dog meat traders cannot be rewarded: dogs must be confiscated, and no money should be paid to the traders who have only one option: hand dogs over.
“The leaders of the rescue are seasoned and experienced activists,” Li assessed, who “use smart strategy to defeat the traders and forces of evil, and use reason rather than emotion to win support from those in the middle. Dramatizing cruelty or suffering does not always help,” Li observed. “They [the Guangzhou rescuers] see government as an ally, not an enemy. Winning government support is also a way to shape policy change in the long run.
“Yes, China has desensitized dog meat traders,” Li acknowledged. “But it has an expanding community of animal lovers, too, like these young boys and girls. With these young people, the dog meat industry has no future,” Li said. “The day of its demise is fast approaching.”
“Mass rescues have never stopped”
Noted Li, “Similar massive rescues have never stopped since April 2011.”
But Li actually understated the duration and intensity of the Chinese mass rescues of dogs and cats from the meat trade.
Indeed, the mass rescues predate the Yulin Lychee & Dog-Eating Festival. Begun in 2009, the Yulin festival appears to be among the last gasps of the dying dog meat industry, now rapidly retrenching toward Guangdong and the few nearby provinces where more than 85% of all the dog consumption in China and practically all of the cat consumption has occurred since Marco Polo observed and remarked upon it circa 1350.
Rescues began with cats in 2006
The first mass rescue of dogs and cats from the Chinese meat trade known to ANIMALS 24-7 came in Shenzen, just south of Guangzhou, on June 17, 2006, when the founder of the Shenzhen Cat Net web site, identified by China Daily only as “Isobel,” carried a white rose to the newly opened Fang Company Cat Meatball Restaurant.
Starting with “more than 10” supporters, according to China Daily, including Gao Haiyun, Miss Shenzhen for 2005, “Isobel” had about 40 cat-lovers with her when she reached the restaurant, backed by “a large crowd including children,” China Daily reported. Storming the restaurant, they extracted a pledge from the owner that he would not sell cat meat any more.
In early 2007, recounted Zhang Kun of China Daily, “a truck packed with cats was stopped in Suzhou, where two crates of cats were rescued. A train car was found to be loaded with live cats in the Shanghai South Railway Station, but left despite protests from local animal protectors.”
Rescues had effect
The scale of the rescues increased when in July 2007 cat lovers in the Xinzhuang district of suburban Shanghai stopped a truck carrying 840 cats to diners in Guangdong Province, Zhang Kun wrote. Activists as far away as Beijing teamed up to relay the cats to safety, provide veterinary care, and place them in adoptive homes.
Responding with an indirect yet effective approach to helping suppress the cat meat trade under existing laws, Guangzhou bureau of forestry director Guo Qinghe in November 2007 announced his intent to enforce a four-year-old Guangzhou city ordinance against eating snakes.
Guo did not mention cats, but Zheng Caixiong of China Daily made his meaning clear:
“The popular Cantonese dish longhudou or ‘dragon duels with tiger’ has been banned,” wrote Zheng Caixiong. “The delicacy derives its name from snake and cat meat. Apart from having their snakes and snake products confiscated, those caught flouting the ban will be fined between 10,000 yuan ($1,300) and 100,000 yuan ($13,000).”
From cats to dogs
The cat rescue movement spread to dog rescue on April 14, 2011, as Li remembered, when Beijing activists intercepted and eventually rescued approximately 500 dogs from a truck transporting them from Henan province to dog meat restaurants in Jilin province.
The April 2011 dog seizure led to widespread recognition that most of the Chinese traffic in dogs for human consumption was already illegal, since it involves transporting dogs across provincial borders without proof of vaccination.
Therefore, the dog traffic could be stopped immediately, argued attorneys Lu Xun, An Xiang, and Cai Chunhang at a pivotal two-hour press conference convened in Beijing on June 15, 2011 by the Shangshan Animal Foundation. Their perspective was affirmed by China Veterinary Association Pet Clinic Branch vice president Liu Lang.
Local mobilization succeeds; global mobilization fails
Neither the Beijing central government nor any provincial government moved immediately to stop the dog meat traffic, but from then to the present, most law enforcement agencies have cooperated with activist interceptions and rescues of dogs and cats being trucked to market.
The success of mass rescues, especially the June 2017 Guangzhou rescue of the 800 dogs, stood in stark contrast to the failure of international mobilization to stop the 2017 Yulin Lychee & Dog-Eating Festival, even after several organizations working mostly outside China prematurely declared victory.
Andrea Gung, founder of the California-based Duo Duo Project, on May 15, 2017 amplified a claim, never confirmed on the record by Chinese government sources, that dog meat sales in Yulin would be suspended during the week of the festival.
Bogus claim amplified
Despite the lack of confirmation, the claim that the Yulin dog-eating festival had been suspended was amplified worldwide by the Humane Society of the U.S. and the HSUS affiliate Humane Society International, though Li was cautious, and was echoed by major media including The New York Times, Reuters, and the Daily Mail.
The May 17, 2017 online edition of Time even declared “China’s Gruesome Dog Meat Festival Has Been Canceled, Say Activists.”
Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle in his June 19, 2017 Humane Nation blog post even managed to mix up the purported suspension of the Yulin dog-eating festival with the earlier Guangzhou dog rescue, despite Peter Li’s advice that “This truck was unlikely to head for Yulin,” not least because it was headed away from Yulin when stopped.
The truth was soon evident
The truth of the Yulin festival was evident soon enough. Wrote Tracy You for the Daily Mail and Agence France Presse on June 21, 2017, “Pictures taken today show butchers hacking slabs of canines and chefs cooking the flesh in a busy market as the locals celebrate summer solstice with dog meat feasts.
“Multiple insiders told MailOnline,” You said, “that the Yulin government issued a ban in May, prohibiting vendors from selling dog meat in the lead-up to the festival. After initial reports of the ban, animal rights groups said vendors and officials reached a compromise, setting a limit of two dogs displayed per stall. But,” as the festival opened, “multiple carcasses rested on some stalls at the main Nanqiao market,” the largest in Yulin.
“Seems likely there will not be an overt ban”
A restaurant owner surnamed Yang, You said, told her that “Business during the festival goes up about ninefold,” and that he planned to sell six dogs a day during the festival. This would suggest that his normal traffic amounts to less than a dog per week.
“It seems likely there will not be an overt ban on dog meat sales,” acknowledged Irene Feng, cat and dog welfare director for the Animals Asia Foundation, to National Geographic writer Michael Greshko.
“However, we do believe that the government has had enough and wants to end the global association of Yulin with the minority practice of eating dog meat,” Feng added. “The international attention given to Yulin for one week of the year is becoming a distraction from the much larger issue of the dog meat trade’s activities every single day of the year across the country. That is the real issue and it requires a consistent and holistic approach—it can’t be solved in a week.”
Signs for optimism
Li found some signs for optimism even at the Yulin festival itself.
“Yulin law enforcement agencies seem to have stepped up market inspection and animal product safety evaluation,” Li wrote in a commentary for CNN. “Dog meat stands in the open are fewer and empty. Indoor stands are less provocative. Law enforcement officers are everywhere.
“So, why won’t the Yulin authorities publicly denounce the festival and end the trade? First,” Li reminded, while trafficking in unvaccinated dogs is illegal, “dog meat consumption is not illegal. When dogs are consumed in the rest of the country, Yulin is unlikely to act against it.
“Second, outlawing the trade would require the authorities to find other jobs for the vendors. Since there is a huge rural labor surplus, there will always be people willing to be dog traders,” if there is market demand for dog meat.
“Third, it is less costly to be passive, i.e., to hope the industry dies by itself, than to accelerate its demise.
“China will bury the dog meat trade”
“Lastly,” Li mentioned, “acting against the trade and the festival could expose the Yulin authorities to nationalistic accusations that the local leaders are bowing to Western cultural imperialism.
“The festival has helped reinforce foreign stereotypes about China and the Chinese people,” Li lamented. “Many who oppose Yulin’s dog massacre see China as lacking a legacy of compassion,” whereas practicing vegetarianism and kindness toward animals were for centuries national policy under Buddhist dynasties which left reminders of themselves everywhere.
“China outlawed foot-binding in the past. It will bury the dog meat trade,” Li concluded.