Activists Couldn’t Stop 10,000 Dogs from Being Eaten in China Last Weekend
Over the last week, there’s been some pretty intense media coverage of China’s Dog Meat Festival, which has become something of a tradition over the last two decades. As the name suggests—and much to the dismay of all the people who see dogs as friends rather than food—tens of thousands of dogs are slaughtered and eaten each year at the event, which takes place in the city of Yulin, Guangxi province.
I was in Yulin on Saturday, when locals once again raised glasses loaded with lychee wine to the heavens and tucked into bowls full of freshly roasted, fried and boiled dog.
Pet-lovers across China and the rest of the world have been quick to lament Yulin’s apparently boundless appetite for puppy flesh, and several Chinese celebrities have made online pleas to bring the festival to a halt. However, locals are reluctant to give up their annual gathering. When I spoke to one female vendor in the downtown Dong Kou meat market, she told me she’d lost count of the number of dogs she’d sold in the last week but guessed it was well over a hundred a day—business has rarely been better.
Shandai, from animal protection group the Guangdong Shoushan Volunteer Center, reckoned that previous estimations of 10,000 dogs being sacrificed for the festival are too low, claiming the figure is more like 40,000. (Plus 10,000 cats, in case you’re not really a “dog person”)
Walking around the city, the presence of animal rights protesters seemed to have resulted in an unapologetic backlash. Locals filling their baskets with freshly chopped paws and tails were defensive over their dog-eating customs, one woman in the market declaring indignantly, “I’m not forcing them to eat dog, so they can’t force me to stop.”
“Even more people are eating dog this year,” complained Pian Shan Kong, an animal activist from Guizhou who has been observing the festival for three years. “As outsiders come to protest, locals are spurred on to resist.” Kong is currently holding four rescued pups in his Yulin hotel room—the guy who sold him them reportedly got angry when he realized they weren’t destined for the dinner plate, and threatened to slice all four open on the spot if Kong couldn’t match his inflated asking price.
Has China’s One-Child Policy Bred a Generation of Dog Lovers?
People in Shanghai fucking love dogs, maybe even more than they love themselves. Walk down the street in China’s biggest city and you might see heiresses’ Chihuahuas getting facial scrubs, lawyers adjusting their poodle’s distressed jeans, a Yorkshire terrier with a pink Mohawk, or a couple feeding their corgi cupcakes outside a tea shop.
But what’s motivating the people of Shanghai to treat their dogs like extras in a Katy Perry video? Ask around and you get the impression that lots of locals are turning to their pups to fill a one-child-policy-shaped hole in their lives. It’s amateur psychology of the most amateurish kind, sure—but when you see a dog dressed up in little booties being pushed around in a stroller it’s hard to escape the conclusion that many Chinese people are turning themselves into surrogate bitches.
To tap into the city’s hound obsession—and to max out my phone’s memory with pictures of dogs wearing sneakers—I decided to head to the annual Shanghai International Dog Expo.
First I met Greg Li, Vice President of the Shanghai International Trade Promotion company, which organized the event. Sitting next to a board displaying the tagline, “My dog. My family. My life,” he explained that his event now attracts 50,000 people over five days, compared to 20,000 two years ago. He said unofficial stats put dog ownership rates here at around 12 percent of households, which would mean there are well over 1.1 million pet dogs in Shanghai, not including the nomadic armies of strays.
Stolen Puppy Photography
A few years ago, Florida-based photographer Mary Lundberg decided to spread some awareness about abused canines by crafting portraits of the adorable animals she met while working at a shelter. When she put them online, however, they got stolen by strangers.
Celebrity Dogs of America
Last weekend, I attended America’s Family Pet Expo in Costa Mesa, California, which attracts thousands of people for a host of reasons: they love pets, they volunteer with rescue organizations, or they’re interested in buying their cats some quality business cards. One of the biggest draws, though, was the celebrity pet event—a showcase of trained dogs and cats who act in popular TV shows.
Like normal, non-dog-dominated events, the expo had its own black market: shortly after I stepped into the long admission line with the rest of the non-celebrity pets and humans, I got approached by a sketchy, nervous-looking guy who mumbled at me, “You guys want to buy some passes?” Yes, this man was a Pet Expo scalper. I bought a pass.
Although I was primarily there for the celebrity pets, there was no shortage of other entertainment. While walking through the expo, I watched several rounds of dachshund racing, pet an 18-pound rabbit, and spotted more than a few dogs who were better dressed than I was.