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Chinese town hosts dog-meat festival: How are dogs treated in Asia?

The town of Yulin in southern China hosts a dog-meat festival, sparking outcry and activism around the world.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
People eat dog meat at a dog meat restaurant district on the day of local dog meat festival in Yulin, Guangxi Autonomous Region, June 22, 2015.

This week, a dog meat festival is being held in Yulin, China, a rural town in the Guangxi province. The festival has been occurring for two decades, and is intended to celebrate the start of summer. But this year, public outcry has become so strong that the local government has denied association with the event.

‘Yulin government itself or any social organisations have never held a summer solstice lychee and dog meat festival in any form,’ reads the statement posted on the China's state-owned news website. News of the festival has led animal-rights activists and pet-lovers alike to protest against the slaughter.

Dogs have been part of Chinese culture for centuries. They were the earliest animals domesticated in China and were used for hunting and as companions. Considered a gift from the divine, dogs were also sacrificed because it was believed their blood would provide protection. In 1983, the city of Beijing banned dog ownership; restrictions on pet ownership were loosened incrementally in the 1990s and 2000s.

Today, China is the third-largest pet market in the world. In 2012, the city of Beijing alone had over one million registered pets. The pet industry including veterinarians, specialty boutique shops for pets, and dog walkers and groomers, among others, has shown a rapid increase in the past decade.

Earlier this year, the National People’s Congress of China received a proposal to ban the slaughter of cats and dogs. However, the Chinese government has yet to formally respond to the proposition.

The dog meat trade in southeast Asia is not limited to China. Up to 5 million dogs are slaughtered for consumption per year in Vietnam, with the majority of the dogs coming from Thailand, where the slaughter of dogs for human consumption is illegal. The capital of Thailand alone had over 300,000 stray dogs in 2009, and smugglers round up the stray dogs for transport across the border to sell.

In August 2013, officials from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam met with activists from the Asian Canine Protection Alliance (ACPA) to consider a five-year ban on the commercial selling of dogs between the countries. ACPA is comprised of a number of organizations including Humane Society International, Animals Asia, and Soi Dog Foundation. Vietnam agreed to the ban, however John Dalley of the Soi Dog Foundation notes that smugglers have pursued other tactics including the shipment of caresses as opposed to live animals.

Soi Dog Foundation is located in Buriram Province in Thailand and is home to over 1,500 dogs who have been rescued from Thailand’s underground dog meat trade. Dalley and his wife Gill were planning to retire on the island, but were moved to help the local dogs when they learned of the dog-meat trade. 

“We had a dog back home, but I wasn’t particularly involved with animal rights,” said Mr. Dalley in an interview with the Monitor in 2013. “But you see these dogs [in Thailand] suffer, and you want to do something to help them.”

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