Next month, in the southern Chinese city of Yulin, a bunch of people will gather to eat freshly slaughtered dogs, and perhaps watch as they're yanked from crowded cages and clubbed to death for a little pre-meal entertainment.
It is an annual cash-grab for dog meat purveyors that should be called the Yulin Rabies 'n Liquor Festival, but is technically known as the Yulin Dog Meat and Lychee Festival. In case you didn't know, lychee is a type of fruit, which helps balance the protein content of crispy dog, or dog hot-pot.
Ostensibly a celebration of the summer solstice, the festival, which began in 2009, has provoked worldwide outrage, less so for the whole dogs-as-lunch aspect, but for the barbarism: thousands of dogs — including, reportedly, strays and stolen pets — are transported hundred of miles, often without food or water, and are beaten to death in front of each other. The cruelty is captured in myriad photos and videos online, which make those Sarah McLachlan-scored SPCA commercials seem like Disney musicals. (The particularly brave may want to check out Vice's 2014 look at the festival).
Last year, a Humane Society International petition to ban the festival garnered 11 million signatures. And there's no shortage of other campaigns to end the festival, including one launched by Long Island's North Shore Animal League, a shelter close to the hearts of Howard Stern and his wife Beth.
In Houston, animal welfare advocate Mirela Willhelm is planning her second protest outside the Chinese Consulate in Montrose. She launched a Facebook page last year to raise awareness, and while it seemed to attract a lot of support, she said only four people showed up to last year's protest. (This year's is tentatively scheduled for June 9, and you can check the page for updates).
Willhelm said no consulate officials spoke with her during the protest, but, armed with a megaphone, she feels she got her point across.
"I wanted people in the [consulate] to hear that we had something to say against this, it's just not right, you know, what is happening there," she told the Houston Press, while also pointing out that "a lot of Chinese people [who] love animals and they are against this festival."
The good (or bad, if you're a psychopath) news is that the negative publicity has caused a tremendous decrease in the number of dogs slaughtered each year. Depending on who you ask, the backlash against the festival began in China, and the increased media coverage finally forced Yulin officials to switch their stance from "The festival doesn't exist," to "We don't endorse this crap."
The local government also gave lip service to the radical notion of public health — a 2015 New York Times story noted that Yulin officials vowed to "enforce food safety regulations." (Apparently, the average festival attendee isn't too worried about getting a little parvo with their poodle).
However, the Humane Society's Wayne Pacelle wrote that year that all the government succeeded in doing was to move the slaughter from the streets "to behind closed doors and in the middle of the night."
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Houston is also home to an expert on the festival — Peter Li, an associate professor of Chinese and East Asian politics at the University of Houston-Downtown. He's also an adviser with Humane Society International.
In a 2015 Q&A with the New York Times, Li discussed his own observations after attending the festival:
"I’ve been to Yulin three times. I went there twice last year including on the summer solstice day. I went back to Yulin in late May as a representative of Humane Society International to investigate if Yulin was any different. Dogs were being shipped to Yulin from different parts of the country. I saw a truck with some 1,000 dogs from Sichuan being unloaded to slaughterhouses. Unlike in the past, when you would see big slaughter operations, I saw smaller operations scattered in different parts of the city. I went to two slaughterhouses. What I saw were terrified small dogs, typical of pet dogs in China, and cages of cats, many wearing collars, a sign of stolen household pets.
The dogs and cats I saw were sick. The owners of the slaughterhouses admitted that the dogs and cats did not have quarantine inspection certificates as required by the Ministry of Agriculture. They also said the local animal health inspectors never visit to check the health of the animals they slaughter."
Li also said something that sometimes gets lost in all the online bloviating the festival inevitably generates: "Opposition to eating dog meat began with the Chinese themselves. The bond between companion animals and humans is not Western. It’s a transcultural phenomenon."