How are you celebrating the Summer Solstice? In Yulin, China a feast of 10,000 dogs is planned for this weekend.
As a dog lover I cannot imagine anything worse than my best friend used for food - and the thought of her being beaten, hung, skinned, blowtorched or even boiled alive leaves me frozen and distressed. Imagine then an entire festival devoted to eating dog as part of a trade where such methods are commonplace. This is not a myth created to shock - it's a fact.
Since the 1990s in the city of Yulin - in a rural part of China, the Southern province of Guangxi - around 10,000 dogs are slaughtered so that they can be eaten on or around June 21st. The meat is served with lychees as a stew.
You may wonder how so many dogs are found - in fact they are shipped in on huge dog trucks in tightly packed cages. Some are from 'dog farms' but most are rounded up strays and former pets. I have witnessed entire cages full of dogs being literally thrown to the ground from the tops of trucks several metres high.
Former pets in the meat trade: photo Kyenan Kum , IAKA
Is this culturally acceptable....or even legal? Unfortunately, China has no real animal protection laws - certainly not for the dogs and cats who end up as part of the human food chain - and because the trade is unofficial and black market it is not even subjected to health, trade or food production laws. Culture aside, Chinese consumers have many reasons to think twice.
And as if this were not bad enough, China is not the only country with a dog and cat meat trade. During the hot summer months it is estimated that over 12. 5 million dogs and cats are eaten each year in South Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines and Indonesia - and in nearly every instance, torture is demanded. It is still believed by some that the more suffering a dog endures the more potent or tender is the resulting meat or that if a cat is boiled into a soup or drink it can cure ailments. Many believe dog meat can treat impotency. Governments turn a blind eye and stay silent. The dog meat trade - illegal and unregulated - is lucrative for some who will not be willing to relinquish it and so far there has been no political will to address this.
Thankfully, there is a glimmer of hope: times are changing and so are attitudes. This year's Yulin festival has become more subdued and secretive having attracted unprecedented opposition amongst activists and celebrities from both inside and outside of China. Social media has played a huge role in spreading information and the gruesome images of suffering animals are now shared far and wide.
The charity World Protection for Dogs and Cats in the Meat Trade runs the 'NoToDogMeat' campaign. Originating as a lobbying page on Facebook WPDCM works to raise awareness at home and abroad and aims to make a lasting difference to the welfare of animals in those countries affected.
NoToDogMeat campaigners have been outside the Chinese Embassy all week and the BBC petitioning against the Yulin Dog Meat Festival Photo: Brett Allan
Many people in the UK and other western countries have not even heard of the dog meat trade. I continue to lobby our own government and the UN for at least an acknowledgement of the existence of the trade. In December last year I spoke at the APGAW annual general meeting on Companion Animals and this week hand delivered a letter for the Chinese prime minister Li who was in London this week. Routinely, Chinese Embassy officials are unresponsive to protest and will rarely open the door for petitions. Recently even a group of Chinese people wishing to pay tribute to the Tiananmen victims were refused.
People often ask how we can make a difference being so far away, but through social media we can all connect with activists and other welfare groups and our collective voice is powerful. Freedom of speech is curtailed in China but here we can speak out, without the same fear of reprisal and this makes a genuine difference for activists abroad.
The sad reality remains for now that with a festival like Yulin even if it is banned publicly the cruelty will still go on behind closed doors.
To find out more about our work please visit http://www.notodogmeat.com You can also find us on facebook http://www.facebook.com/NoToDogMeat and twitter @NoToDogMeat World Protection for Dogs and Cats in the Meat Trade registered charity 1154524
17 Cavendish Square London W1G 0PH + 44 207 873 2250