Friend, not food: Why China needs to stop dog meat festival

Annual dog meat festival causes outrage
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Story highlights

  • Activists believe many of dogs eaten at festival are stolen pets
  • 11 million people have signed petition condemning cruelty

Adam Parascandola is the director of Animal Protection and Crisis Response for Humane Society International. He visited the Yulin dog meat festival in 2015. The views expressed here are solely his.

(CNN)Every year during the summer solstice, residents of Yulin, a city in southeast China, take part in a festival created by dog meat traders to boost the sale of dog meat.

It's a dwindling market and, to more and more Chinese, an embarrassment.
    The horrific images pouring out of Yulin around this time of year -- images of dogs of various breeds and sizes crammed in tiny cages and then beaten to death -- have created an international backlash that has not gone unnoticed by local authorities.
    To millions around the world, including some people in China, these dogs are friends and companions -- never to be abused or eaten.
    Once a sponsor, the Yulin government now distances itself from the cruelty, and much of the trade and slaughter is conducted indoors and at night.
    But Yulin needs to go much further by canceling this cruel "festival" outright.
    This photo taken on May 9, 2016 shows people eating dog meat at a restaurant in Yulin, in China's southern Guangxi region.

    Slaughterhouse cruelty

    The suffering of each of dog at this event is unspeakable.
    I visited Yulin last year, venturing into the dog meat marketplaces, often in the middle of the night, to document the cruelty of slaughterhouses.
    The dogs are forlorn, sick, tired and hungry. They are beaten indiscriminately before being slaughtered. Many still wear collars, revealing that they were once beloved pets. They are far away from home, and far from the love and care they expect and deserve from their human companions. These memories haunt me still.
    Sadly, this scene plays out in other major dog meat markets. Yulin is only a small part of the Chinese dog meat trade.
    Every year an estimated 10 million dogs are consumed for meat in China, according to a 2014 commercial report on the dog meat industry published by ASKCI.
    As in every country where dog meat is consumed, the trade here is brutal.
    But in a vast country like China, it takes a particularly cruel turn -- dogs are transported for thousands of miles, often through extreme terrain and temperatures, to the slaughterhouses.
    Each truck can carry hundreds of dogs stuffed in tiny wire cages that don't permit them to move. Volunteers found they are given no food or water, and often arrive sick, injured, traumatized or dead.
    But not only is this cruel, it's also illegal in China. China's food safety regulations ban the processing, selling and serving of products made from diseased animals, or those which died from unknown causes. China's animal transport laws also require each dog to carry a certificate of origin.
    And that's not mentioning that we believe many of these dogs are stolen pets.
    Dogs are transported in tiny wire cages that don't permit them to move

    Trucks key to trade

    Activists in China know that one way to stop this trade is to prevent trucks, few of which carry the right documentation, from delivering these dogs.
    By alerting the authorities of the trucks' movements, they are able to force the dog meat traders to relinquish their cargo.
    This has been the strategy used by China Animal Protection Power (CAPP), a coalition of animal protection advocates formed with the help of Humane Society International.
    CAPP volunteers enter the stopped trucks and provide relief to the dogs -- including food, water and veterinary care -- while their status is checked by the authorities.
    After intense negotiations with the authorities, the truckers usually relinquish the dogs, which are finally placed under the full protection of the volunteers. The dogs are moved into shelters for adoption, rehabilitation and reunification with the families.
    Since August 3, 2014, more than 22 trucks have been stopped and tens of thousands of dogs rescued.
    A Chinese dog lover and her dog was amogn a small number of animal rights activists that handed in a petition protesting the Yulin Dog Meat festival at government offices in Beijing on June 10 2016
    Countless millions more have made their voices heard on social media via the #StopYulin hashtag, including celebrities such as Kelly Osbourne, Ricky Gervais and Carrie Fisher -- who helped deliver the petition signatures to the Chinese embassy in London last week.
    In Washington, U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida introduced a congressional resolution condemning the dog meat trade.
    I'm making my way again to Yulin this year, as hard as it is, to bear witness to this cruelty until the festival ends forever.