This was the year when the cracks began to show in the annual dog meat eating festival in Yulin, China.
Animal lovers from home and abroad heaped pressure on the organisers and attendees while celebrities used their fame to call for it to end.
When it ultimately did go ahead, it was drastically scaled down and virtually disowned by the local authorities.
Carrot Chen, Animals Asia’s Cat and Dog Welfare Deputy Manager, lists six reasons for optimism about the festival’s future decline.
1) Social media brought the debate into people’s homes
China’s celebrities were more vocal than ever before in their opposition to the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. A full two months before the festival the debate had already taken to the internet with actresses Betty Sun Li and Vicki Zhao Wei posting Weibo messages condemning the practice.
The debate reached fever pitch when actress Yang Mi tweeted to her 35 million followers, “Dogs are more loyal to people than I'd imagined – I think of dogs as friends, not meat", a message which attracted more than 75,000 comments.
2) Debate over the festival was more widespread than ever before
This year experts and scholars from outside the field of animal protection added their voices to those opposing the festival. Professionals from the legal and medical professions as well as those in sociology, zoology and the media published an open letter expressing their concerns over the event.
On June 15, over 20 experts held a symposium in Beijing. A position paper was signed highlighting the illegality inherent in the dog meat industry and reminding the authorities that while they were distancing themselves from the festival organisation, they could not avoid their responsibilities to deal with illegality surrounding it.
3) Local government changed their attitudes
While media reports suggest that in previous years the Yulin authorities actively supported and promoted the festival, this year they took an altogether different approach.
Official government websites posted statements distancing themselves from the event, while government staff and officials were instructed to stay away and a poster campaign subtly suggested the public did too.
The authorities also used their position to put pressure on dog sellers and dog meat venders by reminding departments responsible for food, live-stock and public security to be vigilant in their duties – in effect ordering them not to turn a blind eye to food safety violations rampant in the dog meat industry.
In a final bid to put off dog meat sellers, the authorities ordered restaurants to remove mentions of “dog” from signage.
4) The controversy hit product margins and saved animal lives
Many of the city’s dog meat sellers reported a sharp drop in sales this year, with the China Daily quoting 55 year-old Zhou Jian as saying, "My grandfather, my father and I all sell dog meat. I could sell dozens of dogs a day last year during this time, but I only sold a few this year."
Due to the unregulated nature of much of the dog meat industry exact figures are hard to confirm, but numerous reports state that the number of animals slaughtered during the festival fell exponentially. While previous years have seen up to 10,000 canines slaughtered, the Beijing Times reported that this year the figure was closer to 2,000.
5) The festival lost its appetite for confrontation
While the acts of the more zealous dog meat sellers caught the headlines there were plenty of others who did not want to be part of a spectacle. Confusion was rife when media claimed that the festival had happened early to avoid protestors. Sellers and eaters alike had tried to avoid the limelight by getting together earlier in small groups while others simply stayed away. Many, as the local authorities’ posters suggested, said “goodbye to bad traditions”.
In addition with the wider reporting of the concerns over the sourcing of the dogs and of the health implications involved – eating dog was suddenly a lot less desirable.
6. The campaign to end next year’s festival starts here
Though the festival went ahead there was no doubt that the moral victory belonged to the local and international animal lovers who were united in their opposition. While we continue to be appalled by the cruelty and scale of the killing, the progress that has been made in terms of the scale of the opposition is significant.
With momentum on our side it is imperative that we don’t give up, you can ensure this work continues by donating to our cat and dog welfare work by clicking here.