Police and animal activists in China have saved nearly 400 dogs from slaughter as the notorious Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival is set to begin.
The annual festival—which can see thousands of dogs slaughtered in the city of Yulin in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region over the course of 10 days—begins tomorrow on Tuesday, June 21—the day of the summer solstice.
Thousands of people flock to the city every year to consume dishes such as dog meat stew and crispy dog meat at the market stalls and restaurants of the city.
But 386 dogs that were being transported to Yulin for slaughter ahead of the festival proper were intercepted by police and activists in Shaanxi Province, hundreds of miles from Yulin, on June 19, according to animal welfare non-profit Humane Society International (HSI).
Officials and activists managed to pull the truck over on a highway, finding hundreds of dogs packed into small wire cages amid sweltering summer temperatures—an incident that was captured on video.
Lin Xiong, one of the activists at the scene, told HSI: “It was horrifying to see so many dogs in such an appalling state, it was like a truck from hell for these poor animals. They had probably been on the truck for days , dehydrated and starving, many of them with visible signs of injury and disease.”
“We could see their petrified faces peering out from the cages and we knew those dogs were headed straight for Yulin slaughterhouses where they would have been bludgeoned to death,” the activist said.
Many of the dogs on the truck appeared to be in poor condition, suffering from infected eyes and skin diseases.
After the interception of the truck, the dogs were taken to a police quarantine facility where they will receive care before being released to activists and moved to shelters.
Peter Li, China policy specialist for HSI, which supports the care of dogs rescued from China’s meat trade, said in a statement: “Despite the fact that most people in China don’t eat dogs, dog eating hotspots in the south such as Yulin do still exist and millions of dogs continue to suffer terribly.”
“I’m so proud of the Chinese activists who are standing up for these animals, and the police whose response was absolutely vital, because without them these dogs would already be dead on the kill floor of a Yulin slaughterhouse.”
Some of the dogs were still wearing their pet collars—a sign that they may have been stolen from their owners.
“China’s dog and cat meat trade relies heavily on the illegal activity of dog stealing to sustain it,” Li told Newsweek. “Unlike South Korea, there are no dedicated dog meat farms in China. The majority of dogs caught up in the trade are family or ‘owned’ pets and strays snatched from the streets.”
“Dog thieves use a variety of methods, including poison, dragging dogs from back yards and drive-by grabbing of animals, to sell to traders and restaurant owners,” he said. “Once they have accumulated enough, the dogs and cats are crammed in small cages in their hundreds unable to move, and piled on the back of trucks. Dogs shipped to Yulin during the so-called ‘festival’ will come from as far as Anhui , Hubei and Henan in central China, as much as 1,500 miles away.”
These journeys are often “excruciatingly cruel” with the dogs denied food, water and rest, Li said.
“Those dogs stacked at the bottom of the truck become drenched in urine and feces, while those piled in the middle of the cargo can suffocate to death,” he said.
While there is no nationwide ban on the dog meat trade in China, the Ministry of Agriculture has previously made a public statement to explain that dogs (and cats) are not included on the “livestock” list because they are considered companion animals.
Many aspects of the trade violate other laws and regulations in China. For example, in the law dictates that any live animal driven across provincial borders must be accompanied by an individual health and quarantine certificate.
“Dog thieves and traders of course don’t have these, and so they routinely breach this law,” Li said. “Dog and cat slaughterhouses also break the law because they are killing animals not officially recognized as livestock for eating, and they also often breach laws and regulations about noise and waste pollution.”