Despite an official ban by the Chinese government, it doesn't appear that the sun will set on the infamous Yulin dog meat festival anytime soon.
Held annually around the time of the summer solstice, the festival attracts thousands of tourists and locals looking to dine on dogs. Thousands of canines are slaughtered every year for the event. If dog meat doesn't strike your fancy, many vendors also offer dishes made from cats.
Eating dog meat is not considered unusual in China, and estimates say 10 million dogs are killed for food every year. In recent years, the Yulin festival has garnered criticism both international and domestic. Activists have called for an end to the event, labeling it "the festival of cruelty" amid public health and animal welfare concerns.
Chinese tradition says eating dog meat brings good health and luck. Some also believe that eating dog meat can scare away ghosts and disease, as well as heighten men's sexual performance, according to the South China Morning Post.
Will Kaku, from Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, an animal rights organization based in the US, told VICE News that eating dogs is a Chinese "sub-culture" and not as widespread in the country as many think. Most Chinese people don't even know about the Yulin festival, and they're actually horrified at the practice, Kaku said.
Kaku dismissed people who say the practice of eating dog meat can't be changed because it's embedded in Chinese culture.
"Culture is very malleable. It changes over time," Kaku said. "Just like foot-binding was a tradition in China that was stopped, in [the US] with the civil rights movement or our attitudes around LGBT equality… It's proven over time that that's not true."
An internet petition in 2011 shamed authorities into ending a 600-year-old dog festival in another Chinese town. Duo Duo's latest petition has more than 750,000 signatures.
Last year, authorities distanced themselves from the Yulin festival, reportedly telling restaurants to remove the word "dog" from their menus, and instructing meat traders to slaughter the dogs at night, Peter Li, the China Policy Advisor for Humane Society International and a professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, wrote in a post for the website The Dodo.
Again this year, the Yulin city government said it would enforce food safety regulations, though it also denied the festival's existence. During a recent trip, Li reportedly witnessed preparations continuing as usual.
Duo Duo's primary concerns lie with the sheer number of dogs slaughtered every year in inhumane conditions, Kaku said. The dogs are transported in cramped trucks, sometimes filled with 200 to 300 dogs, without food or water and then stuffed into cages, he said. Many of the slaughtered dogs are pets that have been stolen off the streets, he claimed.
The festival also raises concerns about public health because the practices are unsanitary, Kaku said. Some dogs are poisoned when they're captured. Yulin also has high rates of rabies cases in humans, recording 338 cases between 2002 and 2006.
Duo Duo also hopes to push the Chinese government to enact animal protection legislation, which currently doesn't exist in the country.
While activists have welcomed the international and social media attention around the dog festival, it has irritated some locals. "I actually don't eat dog meat, but they insult our Yulin people in such a way," one resident told the Washington Post. "This year I surely to have join the dog meat festival."
Some also held counter-protests and dog-meat banquets.
Kaku acknowledged that the organization wants the movement to come from within the country.
"We have to make sure it's an internal movement because that's what we believe," he said. "We can try to provide them with help but it cannot be perceived as the West trying to dictate another culture to change."
This year's festival is set to begin on Sunday, June 21.
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