Truck carrying 386 dogs stopped on way to controversial China ‘dog meat festival’

Hundreds of dogs have been rescued from a truck in China that was taking them to be slaughtered at the highly controversial Yulin dog meat "festival". Activists said the "truck from hell" was carrying 386 dogs in crampt conditions when it was spotted in Shaanxi city on Sunday and pulled over with the help of the police. Shaanxi is about 800km away from the city of Yulin, where the so-called "festival" of dog meat takes place every year despite efforts to ban it.

Video and photos taken by the activists and released to global animal protection group Humane Society International (HSI) show the moment the truck was intercepted, with distressing scenes of dogs crammed into small wire cages in the sweltering heat. The truck had a Yulin number plate and upon its interception the driver failed to prove that he had acquired and was transporting the dogs legally, the organisation said in a release. Activists say the dogs were all distressed and had visible signs of disease and injuries.

They were a mixture of breeds and some still had collars on, indicating they could have been stolen pets. "It was horrifying to see so many dogs in such an appalling state, it was like a truck from hell for these poor animals," Lin Xiong, one of the activists at the scene, told the Humane Society International, an animal rights organisation that supports the care of dogs rescued from China's meat trade. "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," Mr Lin said. Activists have also released new footage taken on 18 June at a dog meat market in Yulin city centre, where market stalls can be seen piled with dog and cat carcasses.

The festival takes place between 21 and 30 June each year to mark the summer solstice, and while it has come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid international outrage and a rise in pet ownership in China, the Yulin Municipal Government has repeatedly said that it is not able to stop the festival as it claims it does not exist as an official event. According to opinion polls consumption of dog meat is falling in China as concerns for animal welfare grow.

About 72 per cent of Yulin citizens have said they don't regularly eat dog meat despite the popularity of the festival and efforts by the dog meat industry to keep its business alive. Two major cities in mainland China - Shenzhen and Zhuhai - have banned the consumption of dog and cat meat, a decision polling showed was supported by nearly 75 per cent of Chinese citizens. Hopes of a change in Yulin were raised in February 2020 when the Yulin authorities declared a ban on dog meat, calling it an effort to combat coronavirus.

However, the festival still went ahead on 21 June 2020 in defiance of the orders. Activists said the dogs recovered this weekend have been moved to a police quarantine facility for 21 days, where they will recover and receive veterinary care. While the activists hope they will be eventually handed over to them, the police may still wait for the traficker to pay a hefty fine.

HSI in its release said trafickers rarely, if ever, pay the fines "because the fine exceeds the profit they would make from selling the dogs". It said a shelter from their side will be made available to take care of as many dogs as needed. While the activists lauded the police response in Shaanxi, they said a similar zero tolerance approach needs to be adopted across the country to put an end to the brutal dog meat trade.

"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," said Dr Peter Li, China policy specialist for HSI. "As well as being an animal welfare nightmare, the Yulin gathering also flies in the face of China's Covid-19 precautions and is largely fuelled by dog thieves, so there are compelling reasons for the authorities to really crack down on this trade," Mr Li said. Mr Lin described Sunday's rescue as "a very tense time for us". "But thanks to the authorities, these dogs are now safe in police quarantine where they can get food, water and rest," he said.

"If only all police across China would have such a firm zero tolerance approach to these dog thieves and traffickers, it would be the end of the dog trade here.

The dog meat slaughter brings shame on our country and so we will keep fighting until we see an end to this suffering."