Debating Yulin

Our Cat and Dog Welfare team and I have just returned from organising and hosting our two-yearly Dog Ownership Management Conference in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China. Co-sponsored by HSI, and the largest such symposium of its kind in China, the delegates are brought together to discuss practical and humane forms of dog ownership management, including the updating of humane policies and regulations, veterinary intervention, disease control, public education, NGO collaboration, and the use of publicity, media help, and mobile applications to facilitate this work.

Since 2009, over 320 government representatives of dog ownership management departments in 46 cities across China have taken part in these meetings, together with the relevant NGO's. This year, close to 150 representatives from government and NGO's in over 35 cities across the country discussed the above issues – in a collaborative process, working from the inside out.

Xi'an conference 2016Dog Ownership Management Conference 2016 - government and NGO participants

With the Yulin festival now being highlighted again in media across the world:

"Crammed into rusty cages then sold off to be skinned, boiled and eaten: vendors chop up dog carcasses as helpless puppies await the butcher's knife ahead of China's barbaric annual Yulin dog meat festival."
Animals sold ahead of annual Yulin festival

"Engaging in dialogue, rather than reproaching dog eaters from on a high horse, is the most logical way forward. Instead of creating an expensive media campaign ... it would be better to funnel money into empowering people on the ground in China. This would help to educate and inform the minority of dog meat eaters in Yulin about the threat to public health and safety, through the potential spread of rabies, as well as the problem of stolen pets."
–  Yulin dog meat festival - Don't judge China...'s important to recognise that much is being discussed and actioned, again from within.

Our team have met with the Yulin authorities – passing over our evidence of years of investigations, and showing that the dogs so horribly killed in this festival – together with 10 million dogs across the country – are stolen, often poisoned, from the streets or from people's loving family homes.

tackling the meat trade - reportTackling the meat trade - Animals Asia's investigations

It is unlikely that the government will ban dog eating outright any time soon. They cannot risk social dissent in the country against a practice that is still tolerated and in contrast to those who would say that it is China's cultural right to consume dogs. Just as the West would be irritated to be told not to engage in a practice that might be distasteful to others across the world, those in China who really do sit on the fence may be persuaded to come out defending dog eating simply because they don't like being told what to do. The very same thing happened in South Korea during the World Cup several years ago after international protests against dog consumption occurred. The students in the country said that they would eat more dogs, in protest of Western imperialism and cultural interference.

market sectionDog meat section signposted in Yulin market hall

In truth the Chinese government is stepping back from supporting this practice and making life increasingly difficult for the dog meat traders today. In Yulin itself they are banning restaurants from advertising dog meat on their signage, and preventing their own officials from attending the festival. The reported number of dogs stolen and eaten in Yulin has apparently reduced from 10,000 individuals in 2013 to approximately 1,000 dogs today.

animal quarantine officers patrolAn increased number of animal quarantine officers patrol Yulin, checking restaurants and markets

In this respect, local groups are helping the government in their work – providing proof that the dogs are stolen, exposing the truck drivers who are unable to show travel permits and licenses for taking dogs to different provinces, and highlighting that they carry no quarantine licenses for each dog they carry on the truck.

yulin - market stallYulin market stall offering dog, donkey and cat

Dog eating falls within a particularly vivid grey area in legal terms – while eating dog meat is legal, there are no regulations for actually slaughtering dogs, and transport and quarantine regulations remain loosely enforced and overseen too. The very worst thing would be calls to regulate the trade – which would undermine the work of groups in Asia who have banned dog and cat consumption in countries and areas such as Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong – and would also undermine the work of approximately 150 local groups across China calling for the same. To regulate would not see the theft of people's companions disappearing – instead they’d be absorbed into a so-called "legal" industry where the cruelty of confinement and slaughter behind closed doors would continue.

yuin dog stallYulin dog meat stall

Meanwhile, our dog ownership conference in Xi'an shows increasing progress and collaboration between the authorities and local groups countrywide. Some government departments are joining with the groups to help street dogs – sending dogs they find directly to the locally run shelters, or allowing groups to visit the government shelters and help them re-home. Other government departments are also reducing the cost for registering and licensing dogs, loosening restrictions on the number of dogs allowed in owners homes and on the size of the dogs themselves. They now allow larger dogs such as Golden Retrievers and Labradors, where before they weren't allowed in urban areas at all, recognising that it is not the size of the dog that determines character, but the breed.

Together, the authorities and local NGO's hold dog management days, encouraging the public to register and vaccinate their dogs, to care for them properly and ensure they are not a nuisance in the neighbourhood where they live. Not perfect and certainly a long way to go, but increasingly moving forward in the most practical – and humane - way.

Nanning PSB speaker Mr Zeng - Director, Nanning Municipal Dog Shelter introduces Nanning's dog management work

Naturally the subject of dog eating arose during the conference – including bio security concerns with cross-province transfer of meat dogs, dogs being killed with cyanide, diseased dogs carrying parvovirus, distemper, potentially rabies too – not to mention the broader issue of social disharmony with dogs being stolen from family homes. A Public Security Bureau official assured the conference that all such criminal activity would be given due attention and followed up.

Increasingly, more and more people in China care about dogs and cats. Besides bringing companion animals into their homes, the general public also recognises the good that dogs can bring to society. Guide dogs for the blind are not only accepted but welcomed in China, and earthquake and disaster scenes see rescue dogs working side by side with emergency teams as they help to save lives.  

posterAnimals Asia's 'Say NO to Dog and Cat Eating' poster on display at a Yulin animal hospital.

Our Dr Dog animal therapy programme is now particularly popular in hospitals and disabled centres, homes for the blind, elderly and deaf, as well as in orphanages. Here dogs work their tails off giving those residents exactly what they need when they are down – a very best friend offering their unique form of unconditional love.

dr dog 1  dr dog
dr dog 3 

Our Professor Paws dogs are now also "teaching" in schools in China where they are widely welcomed and embraced. Children “graduate” after a series of lessons that teaches them how to approach dogs correctly, how to recognise their body language, and how to care for them in the most practical and humane way. Academic groups such as CARIC (Companion Animal Research and Information Centre) in Beijing are also keen to emphasise that animal therapy and programmes such as this really do work!

dr dog 1  prof paws 3  prof paws 2 

As ever more people in the community own and love their four legged companions, and are outraged by the thefts of these family members, we will continue supporting and working with local groups in China who know their country and its regulations well. Through collaboration from within, we inevitably see increasing justice and compassion for the members of this remarkable species that help humankind in all walks of life, and live – and often lose – their lives to help ours.