Earlier this month we told you about Lucky, a dog saved moments before slaughter in Yulin, as the city began preparing for its infamous lychee and dog meat “festival” later in June. Since Lucky’s rescue, local activists have been vigilant in their determination to end this event for good.

In the days and nights leading up to the summer solstice, activists stayed awake at all hours to patrol highways for trucks transporting dogs into the city for slaughter. With their help, police in Xi’an intercepted a truck bound for Yulin and confiscated all 386 dogs, many of whom were stolen pets still wearing collars. Activists praised the police for their swift response; if all law enforcement agencies took this zero-tolerance approach, China’s dog meat trade would come to an end.

The term “festival” is a misnomer because there is actually very little about this week in June that would be recognizable as festivities. The event was originally marketed as a festival when it was launched in 2010 by dog meat traders. After years of opposition by Chinese animal advocates, supported by global voices such as Humane Society International, the event has been vastly reduced, and now it would be more accurate to describe it as a dinner party for some locals during which dog meat is eaten in greater volume, and visitors from other cities arrive in the city for the alleged local “specialty.”

Local animal groups report that business at this year’s event was once again slow. While dog meat was still sold at the markets, the number of diners inside local restaurants was noticeably smaller. Although Yulin has become globally famous for all the wrong reasons, the spotlight on this cruelty often overshadows the fact that dogs and cats are killed for meat in Yulin and other cities in the Guangxi region and beyond all year round. Long after the world’s media have moved on from Yulin in June, this brutal trade, though extremely small in view of China’s gigantic economy, continues to be responsible for the suffering and death of millions of dogs across China every year.

Transport cages such as these are typically used to bring dogs to the slaughterhouses in Yulin.

Every year, we highlight the rescue of dogs and cats who, thanks to the diligence of local activists, are saved and brought to shelters to recover and begin new lives as adoptable pets. While we hope that this dog and cat cruelty will come to an end in Yulin and across China, it is vital to amplify the voices and efforts of all those Chinese advocates calling for change. The activists whose actions changed the lives of 386 dogs on the eve of the Yulin event, deserve our praise and admiration.

All 386 dogs were handed over to the activists on June 21. While most were taken in by local shelters, 80 were accepted to animal welfare group Vshine’s shelter in north China, which is supported by Humane Society International. The dogs are now receiving much-needed veterinary care as well as nutritious food and time to heal, before being offered for local adoption when they fully recover.

These are the silver linings that keep us fighting this cruel trade—but we know that no rescue can replace the urgent need to ban the dog meat trade. This is why other elements of this year’s Yulin event stand out as positive marks of progress:

  • Our partner group activists who were stationed in several sections of the highways leading to Guangxi reported that most of the time they saw no dog trucks on the highway. The only one they saw was the truck that was successfully intercepted in Shaanxi, many miles away. This suggests a reduction in the volume of dog trafficking.
  • Activists on the ground had expected to see a surge in dog slaughter and dog meat sales because 2022 was the first year since the COVID-19 pandemic began that China had lifted most of the restrictions on live animal transport across provinces. Instead, business at Yulin’s dog meat restaurants was surprisingly slow.
  • From early June, our partner group mobilized concerned citizens from across China to urge through hundreds of phone calls different provincial offices urging a stop to the slaughter and the dog meat trade. This level of citizen mobilization shows the strength of opposition against the cruelty.
  • Although much more needs to be done, the Yulin authorities have heard domestic and international criticism and have been restricting many of the usual practices of the traders.

Dog meat is not part of China’s mainstream food culture. It is not a common food choice of citizens of Yulin, or indeed most of China, but is pushed out to consumers at a steady pace by those who can profit from it. Across China, there is significant opposition to the dog meat trade. And even the authorities do not see dogs as food. In 2020, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs made an official statement that dogs are companion animals and not “livestock” for eating. The cities of Shenzhen and Zhuhai in south China led the country in outlawing dog meat trade through local legislation, which we hope other cities will replicate in future.

Persistence is so much a part of the work we do to make the world a more humane place for animals. I have no doubt that the persistence and dedication of the activists on the ground and the shelters and organizations in support of saving these dogs from slaughter will soon create the future we all want to see, one where the dog meat trade no longer exists.

You can join us in taking a stand against the dog meat trade.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.