by Hayley O'Keeffe
Animal rights campaigners who for years have worked hard to rescue dogs destined for the Yulin Dog Meat Festival say they hope that the coronavirus crisis will stop the festival once again becoming a showcase.
Around the world, the Chinese festival has attracted widespread horror, as videos obtained by campaigners annually shows pets being tortured to death at the gruesome event.
There was hope that the 21 June festival would be cancelled altogether, particularly as China has last month moved to declassify dogs as livestock in the wake of the pandemic.
But Julia de Cadenet, CEO for No To Dog Meat (a UK-based charity which helps local people set up shelters in China and other countries with a dog meat trade), says that, even if the festival is not cancelled, travel restrictions will quell the circus surrounding it.
"We were one of the first charities to tell the world about the horrors of Yulin, and the dog meat trade 10 years ago. It was not my first visit to a dog meat market but certainly the most shocking," explained Julia.
"But sadly after that the festival has become a bit of a circus, with people travelling from all over the world, either to try and help the dogs, or to revel in their barbaric treatment.
"Sadly, far from help, the mass of people travelling to Yulin only empowers organisers to make the spectacle even bigger, and the show more brutal. This drove up the price of dogs as some people were willing to pay anything to save them and led to more and more being stolen to satisfy demand.
"Hopefully Yulin will see sense and cancel their festival altogether, now that dogs can no longer be classed as livestock. But if they choose to go ahead, there will be far less spectators around for them to show off to and less money from the tourism it generates."
'Things will be different this year'
Good work is done every year at Yulin to save dogs destined for a barbaric death.
The biggest show of activism at the festival by campaigners including No To Dog Meat was in 2017, when the charity's volunteers stopped a truck laden with 1,200 dogs. Some of those dogs still live at a shelter run by the charity. Lexi is one of them. A big gentle Leonberger patiently waiting for a new home.
The Yulin Dog Meat and Lychee festival started in 2009 as a way to boost the economy in Yulin China.Public outrage and campaigns from charities, including No To Dog Meat, led to the city withdrawing official support in 2014.
But the festival continued with unscrupulous butchers and traders making money from rescuers and revelling in the attention of the media.
Julia said, "This year it will be different. International media can not fly there easily and nor international rescue groups. The world now knows that dangerous diseases can jump from animals to humans and that a pandemic from such disease started in China.
"The Chinese authorities previously took the view that the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival doesn't officially exist because the government has never recognised dog meat.
"Well, they have now. They have banned eating dogs and cats in two major cities in the next Province to Yulin, including Shenzhen."
'Society has evolved'
For months the Ministry of Agriculture has been under pressure to recognise that public slaughter of animals without disease control can cause a pandemic, and now it has been formally recognised that dogs and cats are not livestock.
No To Dog Meat says that this will pose a threat to the festival, as Yulin butchers are now unlawfully killing dogs.
Julia said, "For me, the most significant recognition by the Chinese authorities after so many years campaigning is the way they have formally recognised society has evolved and they need to listen to international pressure and look at how important dogs are to so many of us worldwide.
"China is not traditionally a country that bows to international pressure of any kind so this is a major, compassionate step forward."
To find out more, go to notodogmeat.com