In 2016, charities bought hundreds of meat dogs from traders at the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. The pure-breeds and the most beautiful were chosen to be sent outside of China for adoption in the West. Over 100 smaller mongrel dogs were left in their meat farm cages to die without food, water or shelter. This is their story.
The sad and uncomfortable truth is that buying dogs helps the dog meat industry.
I know from my previous experience with the Korean dog meat trade that this fact will attract many unhappy comments. But whether you agree with buying dogs or not, you cannot deny that fact.
So before we start, let's get this straight: these dogs are not rescued, they are bought, and the traders in Yulin welcome these charities with open arms. Instead of selling some of their dogs over a few days, they get to sell all of their stock at once (usually for a much better price). Every year they know they can sell a huge amount of dogs to these NGOs, many of them Western, and it makes them very happy.
Here's how it works:
You donate money. They contact the traders (or sometimes even a middle-man in advance, to make it easier, they earn commission too). The traders name their price, and the deal is done. The traders go back to the farmers and dog thieves, buy even more dogs than the previous year (a recent Animals Asia study shows most of these are illegal, for example stolen pets). They breed more dogs than last year, and sell more to the charities next year.
The simple truth is, the number of suffering dogs doesn't decrease, it increases. Every person in Yulin who wanted to buy dog meat did so. Every dog bought by charities in Yulin were in addition to those that were sold to be killed. Buying 1 dog did not save 1 dog's life. It saves that dog's life (that's not guaranteed, more on that later), but it will pay for even more dogs to be bred for meat. Why are those dogs any less deserving?
Because there is no limit to the number of dogs being farmed (est. around 10 million per year), the same amount of dogs are killed. All that happens is that the traders get double the profit and your money has been passed on to dog thieves and farmers, via the charities. It is then used to create more suffering.
There are very few exceptions to the general rule that charities in Asia have arrived at after decades of experience: don't buy animals from hunters, poachers or traders.
Vshine is a Chinese charity that has been visiting the Yulin festival for many years. Like 100 other Chinese charities that got together this year to ask NGOs to stop buying dogs from Yulin, they go only to observe and campaign.
In the past few years the amount of Chinese NGOs buying dogs has decreased, however more and more international charities have begun to buy dogs on a large scale. These charities do not, for example, buy dogs from puppy mills in their home countries and put them up for adoption (it wouldn't make sense, of course). But they do travel to China to do a similar thing. Generally these dogs are sent to other countries like the USA, much to the dismay of the estimated 3.9 million homeless dogs already in the USA.
For the months before they are ready for export, they are given to local shelters who provide all the long term care for these dogs. They are often given no credit and no money for doing all the work. Considering the amount of money and publicity around these buying charities, you would think they should be considered heroes, not go unmentioned.
At the Yulin festival this year, a charity bought more than 400 dogs. Later, it was seen on social media that around 100 of these dogs had been left still in their original dog meat cages, up to 10 in a single cage, without food, water or shelter. For two days.
Someone alerted Vshine, who were able to track these dogs down. They immediately provided water and shelter from the sun, and tried to find out what had happened. The purebreed dogs and larger, healthier dogs had been taken elsewhere. The smaller mongrel dogs were left in their cages. When asked why these dogs had been left to die, they were simply told to take them away.
If this surprises you, it shouldn't. Last year 1,000 of 1,400 dogs bought by charities died after being bought, left in cages or passed to local shelters. The conditions are often appalling, the shelters don't have enough space, money or staff to care for such a sudden surge so most of the dogs die.
After much consideration, Vshine had no choice but to hire a truck and take them to their home city of Dalian, 40 hours' drive away.
Three months later, and Vshine's purpose-made shelter is almost complete. They are working with Human Society International and SPCA Hong Kong to complete the real work that comes with animal rescue: caring for and rehabilitating these lives.
As the shelter was built from scratch, Vshine took the chance to consult with many re-homing NGOs around Asia to make sure it was the best possible design for the dogs. I was impressed, it was clean, bright with lots of space (in fact the outside areas for each den is not yet complete, which will double the size.
SPCA HK are visiting to train staff to vaccinate, microchip and assess the dogs for behaviour to find the physically healthiest and most friendly dogs for adoption. These will be prioritised for homing. The rest will not simply be left in cages, instead the charities continue to work together to rehabilitate the more anxious dogs to make sure they too can find happy homes, none of them will be left behind. This may take a lot more time and effort from the behaviourists and shelter staff, but time and effort is exactly what is needed.
When these dogs are homed, the shelter will be used to provide re-homing for the city's street dogs.
The behaviour assessment and staff training takes a few days, but rehabilitating the dogs could take months or years. This is how you rescue animals. It shouldn't matter how big or small, if they are purebreeds or not. It's more than three days buying dogs and then leaving that country and culture behind. It's hard work and it takes a long time.
Look at the best welfare charities in the world. They work with local charities, not against them. They work with local people, not against them. They work with local governments, not against them. They work to change attitudes and the root causes in these countries, and they spend years to find out how to do it. It hard, thankless work, but what matters is stopping cruelty and sometimes that needs a step back.
Short-sighted efforts often make matters worse.
One of the dogs, Mick, had a piece of string tied round his neck when he was younger. As he got bigger, it had simply grown under his skin for months or perhaps years. Luckily it was not just the shelter that had been built in record time: Vshine have also taken the opportunity to build their own clinic, for public clients as well as the Yulin dogs and dogs taken in from their rest of their welfare work.
The infected wound around his neck was treated and before long he will go back to the shelter. Mick is a good candidate for homing, he is very sweet and affectionate, although not all of them are so well adjusted after all they have been through.
How You Can Help
Vshine didn't set out to buy any dogs in Yulin but were forced to take action. along with 100 other charities including Animals Asia, they beg foreign charities not to come and fund the dog meat industry. The same thing has happened all over Asia: charities getting involved in a situation and a culture that they simply have not taken the time to understand well enough.
I know you at home want to help, the easiest thing you can do is nothing. In both China and Korea, the charities have told me that the dog meat trade is dying. Local charities are working hard to end it sooner. Giving it more money keeps it going for longer.
If you really want to take action, support charities that promote awareness and change attitudes in China (more PR in the West doesn't stop dogs getting eaten in China). If you only want to donate to rescue efforts, then support charities that get dogs confiscated from trucks during transport. This is real dog meat rescue, done legally and money does not change hands. It's hard work, it takes planning, co-ordination and boots on the ground permanently, working with local groups, government and police. Dog traders without licenses have their dogs confiscated en-route, and the charities can then start the process of rehabilitating them in China.
The Yulin dog meat festival is the most famous dog meat event, although it is just one of many, and the trade continues all year round with little attention given.
Our hearts are all in the right place. If you have supported a dog-buying charity you have done a very kind thing to help animals, and if you have adopted a dog meat dog, that's an even more amazing thing you have done.
I, and every single charity I have worked with, have had to leave animals behind. In shelters, in zoos, in farms, people's pets. If Jill Robinson had started buying bears from the bile industry in China, it would not be ending now. We have to be strong. Don't think small. Turn "I can't let that dog die" into "I can't let millions of dogs die". Now we know the facts, lets end the dog meat trade.
Don't buy dogs.
Thank you to everyone who supports my work via my Patreon page, it's only through this crowdfunding I am able to help these charities.
Vshine's website (Chinese only)
Illustrator Icy Tan's website
You can read Animals Asia's recent factual reports into China's dog meat industry, from where many of the statistics in this essay were taken.
Click here to read more photo essays.