On Tuesday, as China's Yulin city kicked off its controversial 10-day dog meat festival, animal rights activists were busy working to shut down some of the vendors and slaughterhouses that are expected to kill some 10,000 dogs during the event.
While an estimated 10 to 20 million dogs are killed for their meat each year in China, the annual Yulin event has become synonymous with the practice.
Each year, the festival kicks off in the beginning of the summer solstice, because of traditional Chinese beliefs that eating dog meat helps the body cope with the heat.
American activist Marc Ching travelled to Yulin ahead of the festival, where he started work trying to rescue the dogs kept in some of these compounds.
By the end of Tuesday, Ching and his companion, Valarie Ianniello, had managed to free 1,000 dogs from six slaughterhouses, he announced on his non-profit's Facebook page.
This is a video he posted of the fifth facility, showing the conditions under which the dogs were living:
This is reportedly Ching's seventh rescue trip to Asia in the past year, where he's previously shut down other slaughterhouses in countries like Cambodia. Last week, he said he failed to reach some of the facilities in Jogyakarta, in Indonesia.
Ching has employed different methods to shut down the slaughterhouses. In some cases, he posed as a buyer for the dog meat, and shipped hundreds of dogs back to the U.S. for rehabilitation. In others, he was able to persuade the slaughterhouse owner to give up his trade, in exchange for a fee and help with setting up a new business.
On his Facebook page, Ching says he's been beaten up and detained by authorities for questioning en route to Yulin. Although the local government says it does not officially recognise the festival, Ching claimed the local police had been trying to stop him and his team of volunteers from reaching the slaughterhouses as well, for fear of them exposing the dogs' suffering.
Ching runs an organic pet food company in LA.
Chinese activists clash with vendors
The American group weren't the only ones who travelled to the festival to try to stop its goings on. On Tuesday, activists from other parts of China verbally clashed with locals and vendors there.
Image: andy wong/AP
"We came to Yulin to tell people here dogs are our friends. They should not kill dogs in such a cruel way and many of the dogs they killed are pet dogs," said Yang Yuhua, a volunteer from the central city of Chongqing.
The police had to intervene at times to prevent confrontations from getting physical, reports said.
Image: andy wong/AP
By most reports, the opposition appears to be working. Wendy Higgins of the Humane Society International said activists on the ground reported fewer dogs killed and less visible dog meat eating than in years past.
Rallies held around the country to oppose dog eating, as well as outrage on social media from the growing ranks of dog lovers in China, are also having an effect. Dog meat restaurants have been forced to take the festival indoors and large-scale open air dog-meat consumption is no longer seen.
The local government in Yulin has in recent years also disassociated itself from the event, forbidding its employees from attending and limiting its size by shutting down some dog markets and slaughterhouses.
Image: andy wong/AP
But promoters continue to cling onto the practice.
"It's been a tradition for years for us to celebrate the festival. We can't change it simply because they (animal lovers) love dogs," a local resident, who gave only his surname, Huang, told The Associated Press.
"They don't want us to eat dog meat. We eat dog meat to celebrate the festival, but since they've come here, they've ruined our mood completely," Huang said.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.
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