Yulin is an ancient city in China known for holding an annual dog meat festival from 21st to 30th June, purportedly to celebrate the summer solstice, where an estimated 10,000 dogs and cats are killed and eaten each year. Far from being ancient or traditional, this festival, known worldwide as ‘Yulin’, was created recently in 2009 to bring business to a place that was economically depressed. Sadly, it has been very successful in doing so.
What is not so well known is that Yulin happens all year round, all over the Chinese countryside. It is estimated that in China alone, 10 to 15 million dogs are eaten annually – some figures say 50,000 per day and 4 to 5 million cats.
Far from dying out, the dog and cat meat trade is a thriving, highly profitable industry thanks to a strong network of greedy restauranteurs, meat dealers and butchers who, out to make easy money, have convinced the public that eating dog and cat meat is healthful and fashionable.
It is estimated that worldwide as many as 30 million dogs are eaten each year. Many dogs and cats are also used to make medicines and various tinctures or elixirs, which are sold for various health ailments or just as tonics. Their fur is also sold.
No meat industry is without cruelty but what truly separates this meat trade from others around the world is the extreme level of brutality and pain that the animals suffer.
In every country where dog meat is eaten, the people who do these things believe that the more intense the fear and torture experienced by the animals, the better flavour the meat will have. The belief is that stimulating as much adrenaline as possible through the animal’s body before death will make the meat more tasty and healthful.
Prior to being killed, the dogs and cats are ‘tenderised’ before death via malicious practices, including various combinations of hanging, bludgeoning, drowning, suffocation, stabbing, electrocuting, burning, blowtorching, boiling and skinning alive. In order to increase their suffering, the dogs and cats are usually forced to watch this being done to multiple others while they await their own turn.
The dogs and cats are often transported long distances, crammed into cages so small they can’t move with no food or water on journeys that can take days. The majority of these dogs are very ill with injuries such as broken legs and open wounds, etc. Diseases such as distemper, parvovirus and sometimes rabies spread quickly. Many die on the journey or soon after. Those that live endure more pain and suffering when they arrive at a slaughterhouse or live meat market. They have no comforts whatsoever, and hell, terror, pain and death all there is around them – and much of that is intentional.
These are animals who were either street dogs, stolen pets or bred for the purpose of eating, sometimes in the most appalling circumstances imaginable. The places where they are kept are filthy, cold and damp. In some cases, the dogs are starved as part of the torture. With others, their only food is their companions who die and then are boiled whole in a pot.
Some are fed unpalatable food just to fatten them up for slaughter, and if they refuse to eat it due to traumatisation, it is forced down their throats through pipes in a similar way to geese force-fed for foie gras so that sometimes they choke to death or die of suffocation. Dog meat traffickers don’t care if dogs are sick or injured, or die because it’s all part of the torture the dogs endure, and they all go into the pot anyway.
Depending on the country, many dogs that end up in the markets are raised specifically for their meat, while others are lost or stolen pets. Some still wear their collars and tags as they are crammed into the small wire cages – sometimes twenty-five dogs in one cage – and sold to slaughterhouses by cruel traffickers. Most dog meat dealers and butchers come from a criminal element and are often members of underground gangs, which commonly operate the dog and cat meat trades in these countries.
Any dog can end up in the dog meat trade. Former companions, stolen pets, all types of purebreds, such as Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Maltese Terriers, Labradors, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Schnauzers, Collies, Beagles, Great Danes, Greyhounds, and St Bernards. Dogs from puppy mills, shelters, farmed dogs, dogs trafficked from the police pounds and dogs sold at closed dog auctions. Puppies are regarded as a delicacy.
Some may defend dog and cat eating as a country’s right to follow its ‘cultural tradition’. Yet haven’t there been many cruel practices throughout history that have been banned as societies became more civilised and compassionate? After all, slavery and human sacrifice were once considered ‘cultural traditions’. The ‘tradition’ of eating dog and cat meat is no different. We believe any country that supports or turns a blind eye to such malicious cruelty – whether toward humans or animals – has no right to call itself ‘civilised’.
Through the mission to spread global awareness, promote humane education and persuade governments to enact strict and enforceable animal welfare legislation, the vision of charities working to end this trade is that one day companion animals throughout the world will never again be victims of torture for the purposes of using them as food and in the fur and skin trade.
In China and South Korea, for example, a common superstition is that eating tough dog meat makes men strong and sexually potent. While soup made from cat meat provides health benefits, cures ailments and wards off bad luck. There is no scientific proof to support these claims. If anything, eating the flesh of animals that are stressed, sick and near death due to rough handling, horrendous transport conditions, and exposure to communicable diseases including rabies is hugely detrimental to human health.
The dog and cat meat trade is a multi-billion dollar industry that operates all over Asia and in Hawaii, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Switzerland, Poland, the Arctic and Antarctic, more than twenty countries in Africa and parts of India.
Eating dogs was only made illegal in the US in 2017 except for North American Indians, but it is still legal to eat dog meat in Canada. Even in the UK, while selling dog or cat meat is forbidden, private slaughter and consumption are legal if humanely carried out.
Countries that rely heavily on Western tourism, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, often attempt to deny that the trade exists within their borders. While some countries have histories of dog eating, others only did so during times of famine.
South Korea once considered eating dogs shameful, but now it is famous for its appallingly squalid dog farms, estimated to be around 17,000 in number. Over 5 million dogs a year are produced for consumption and supply more than 20,000 restaurants selling dog meat. During ‘Bokdays’, the country’s 60-day-long dog eating festival held annually from July through to August, approximately 15,000 dogs and several thousand cats lose their lives each day, all in the name of gastronomic pleasure and cultural superstition.
In South Korea’s dog and cat meat markets, terrified dogs and cats are brutally slaughtered in front of diners, including children, who may stand and watch, seemingly unaffected as they wait for their meals or elixirs to be ‘prepared’. Typically, tourists and non-Koreans are not allowed in this market where people can pay extra to have the dog of their choice ‘tenderised’ in the old-fashioned way or what many would call the preferred way.
Vietnam: Dog meat is eaten throughout Vietnam, where it is estimated that 5 million dogs and 1 million cats are consumed a year, although the true figure may be much higher. To many Northerners, it is a popular, if relatively expensive, dinnertime restaurant meal. Dog meat is widely believed to bring good fortune, and medicines and elixirs made from dogs and cats are popular and sold as remedies for various ailments, such as cancer, impotence, or even Covid.
In the capital, Hanoi, a popular dish is fried cat meat consumed with beer and the cats are killed by smashing their head with a hammer and drowning before removing their fur, which is also sold.
To meet the high demand for dog meat in Vietnam, dogs are inhumanely imported from neighbouring countries such as Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, where they also eat dogs and cats, and some are stolen pets.
The economics of the trade is that 20 kg of dog meat (the weight of a border collie) can fetch around $100, which is the monthly wages of a Vietnamese worker.
Thailand: Even though the dog meat trade is illegal in Thailand, it still goes on, and stolen and stray dogs are trafficked to Vietnam.
Indonesia: Predominantly Muslim, where dog meat is classed along with pork as ritually unclean, only a small percentage of Indonesians consume dog and cat meat. Nevertheless, it is estimated that 1 million dogs are killed for food each year, blowtorched and bludgeoned, and otherwise tortured and killed on street markets in front of children and tourists.
Cambodia: An estimated 3 million dogs a year are consumed in Cambodia, including unwanted pets which are sometimes traded for pots and pans by dog traffickers, and pets stolen by thieves who travel from village to village. It is claimed that a survey has revealed that only 10% of Cambodians support eating dogs and cats, and someone who does can lose respect from their family or community.
Philippines: Even though killing and selling dogs for food is not legal in the Philippines, an estimated half a million dogs are eaten there annually. Around 50 restaurants sell dog meat, and there is a thriving underground market network in the northern provinces.
Japan: Dog and cat meat are legal in Japan, and while Japanese people do not usually eat dog and cat meat, there are around 100 dog meat restaurants in Japan which cater for their Chinese and Korean residents.
Malaysia: It is not illegal to eat or sell dog meat, and while most Malaysians disagree with it, the practice of treating dogs and cats as food is known to have appeared as Vietnamese nationals were found to sell dog meat there openly.
Polynesia: Dogs were historically eaten in Tahiti and other islands of Polynesia at the time of first European contact in 1769.
Mexico: Dogs, called itzcuintlis, were historically bred for their meat by the Aztecs and were often pictured on pre-Columbian Mexican pottery.
Switzerland: According to a Swiss newspaper report in 1996, the Swiss rural cantons of Appenzell and St. Gallen are known to have had a tradition of eating dogs, curing dog meat into jerky and sausages, and as using the lard for medicinal purposes.
Arctic and Antarctic: Dogs have historically been an emergency food source for various peoples in Siberia, Alaska, northern Canada, and Greenland. Sledge dogs are usually maintained for pulling sledges but occasionally are eaten when no other food is available.
The dog meat trade has been outlawed in Singapore and Malaysia, and since 1950 in Hong Kong. Since 2017 the eating of dogs and cats or the sale of dogs and cats for consumption has been illegal in Taiwan but despite the high fines that can be imposed, as with some other countries it still carries on underground and often also openly.
Even though it is illegal to eat dog meat in many countries, the dish continues to be popular due to weak law enforcement and the absence of enforceable companion animal welfare laws.