In a few days' time, thousands of dogs and cats, the majority stolen pets and strays, will have endured unimaginable cruelty at the Yulin dog meat festival in Southwest China's Guangxi province. They will have been crammed into wire cages unable to move, loaded onto trucks 400 to 1,000 at a time, and driven on a gruelling days-long journey without food or water. By the time they arrived in Yulin, many of them will have been malnourished, dehydrated, suffering wounds or the gut-wrenching side effects of poisoned bait. Others will already have been dead as their cages were thrown to the ground for unloading at the slaughterhouse. Here, one by one they will have watched as their yelping cage mates were beaten to death in front of them, before their lifeless body was tossed in the de-hairing machine.
I have visited many dog and cat slaughterhouses in Yulin and I have seen for myself the look of terror on the faces of the animals. There is no doubt in my mind that they know they are next. It is an utterly traumatizing and brutal death, and I am proud to do everything in my power with Humane Society International to stop this cruelty.
I vividly remember one trip to a slaughterhouse in Yulin where I found a pile of collars discarded in the corner, the floor awash with the blood of the beloved animal companions to whom they once belonged. The Chinese news often reports CCTV footage of criminals grabbing strays or wandering pets from the streets and bundling them into vehicles, never to be seen again. With more than half of China's population now living in cities, companion animals are a source of emotional comfort for a rapidly growing young, urban class, especially with extended families many miles away. Pet ownership was once banned in the Cultural Revolution, so their parents may have never experienced such a bond. But these young urbanites are horrified by animal cruelty, and they are taking to the streets in protest, exchanging information on China's Weibo social media, and heading out on the highways to intercept illegal dog trucks.
I often hear people in the West say that we shouldn't interfere with China's culture, no matter how cruel. I strongly disagree, and so would these brave fellows actively challenging the ways of the past. They, like me, refute that China's culture should be defined by animal cruelty. And indeed the Yulin festival has no place in Chinese culture at all - it was invented in 2010 by dog meat traders trying to drum up business precisely because so few people in China are eating dog meat! In fact, dog meat consumption hasn't been considered fashionable or even acceptable in China for more than a thousand years. Today, while certainly available, it's little more than a culinary sub-culture.
Already we're seeing the downward spiral of the dog meat trade; it is in every respect a dying industry, but regrettably not soon enough to save the dogs and cats in Yulin this year. I visited Yulin last month, filming in the markets and slaughterhouses to show the world that the cruelty continues. While there, I got the unexpected chance to rescue two little dogs and two cats who were next in line to be killed. All four looked absolutely petrified; the two dogs huddled close together, wide-eyed, as the chaos of the killing unfolded in front of them. One of the cats climbed the wall of her cage and meowed at me incessantly until I noticed her. Once we got them out, it was clear that the little brown dog (we named Tom) was in ill-health and deeply traumatized by his experience, and despite our best efforts he passed away. We drew comfort from the knowledge that Tom died surrounded by love and kindness at the shelter looking after him.
Credit: AP/Humane Society International
The black and white dog we called 'Little Ricky' in honor of one of our most out-spoken celebrity supporters, Ricky Gervais. Ricky shares our deep passion for animal protection, and has an honest and heart-felt revulsion at cruelty. He recently joined forces with us to urge his fans to sign our online petition to Guangxi Party Secretary Peng Qinghua. Little Ricky is safe and well, incredibly friendly considering what he's been through.
The Yulin dog meat traders know their days are numbered. International and domestic protest has given them and the entire country pause for thought about animal suffering. I feel deeply encouraged by that. So if you tolerate the Yulin festival, please don't convince yourself that you do so in defense of my Chinese culture, instead you actually unwittingly insult it. I am proud to be Chinese but I will be even more proud when we have removed the stain of the dog and cat meat trade completely.