All the farce surrounding a dog meat festival in southern China shows the country’s burgeoning animal rights activists are loosely organized, some of them ignorant about the law. As a group, they have a long way to go to become professional and rational animal protectors.
Yulin, a small city in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, turned into a battlefield between those who love dogs and those who love dog meat.
Since the 1990s, the city has held a dog meat festival during summer solstice, usually June 21. Local residents celebrate the day with dog meat hotpot, lychees and liquor. At least 10,000 dogs are slaughtered during a typical festival.
The event has spurred opposition from animal rights advocates nationwide in recent years amid rising public awareness of animal rights, increasing numbers of pet keepers and growing Chinese acceptance of the western practice not to serve dog meat at dinner tables.
Jinhua, a city in Zhejiang province, has not had a dog meat festival since 2011 after scrapping it amid mounting pressure from activists.
But Yulin remains unbowed. According to local authorities, 48 eateries offered dog meat Friday night, the eve of the festival, while 17 others suspended the dishes.
The festival went on regardless of the fierce protests by animal rights activists. Around 8 p.m. on festival day, several dog lovers clashed with dog meat eaters. A meat eater sustained wounds.
All were taken away by the police for investigation, according to media reports.
Meanwhile, dog lovers and animal rights activists surrounded diners to create a kind of pressure. Some dog lovers made threatening calls to owners of restaurants serving dog meat. Some vandalized restaurants and butcher shops.
However, many local residents and some from outside Yulin, who are not big fans of dog meat, joined the festival to thumb their noses on the protesters.
Apparently, the festival has divided people. Dog lovers have failed to achieve their goal using radical, sometimes violent, cultural revolution-style protests. They made a mistake.
Above all, many of them consider eating dog meat a crime or a sin but they forget that there is no law in China forbidding consumption of dog meat.
Legally, eating dog meat is a matter of personal choice or freedom. A piece of gentle advice, not rude finger-pointing, may make things better.
While they have a right to express their opposition to the practice of eating dog meat, animal rights groups have no right to disrupt the lives of those who sell or consume it.
Vandalism, taunting, physical attacks and violence can only worsen the situation and result in more people, who have been neutral on this matter all this time, to gravitate toward dog meat consumers.
The dislike toward animal rights protesters will grow, especially in a region where dog eating has a long history.
Pressuring the local government to ban the festival would be another mistake. The festival was not created by the government. It is a product of market forces, so it doesn’t make sense for the government to intervene in a legal market.
Some dog lovers have done a respectful job in the past weeks. They didn’t block the festival but tried their best to track the source of dogs that would be slaughtered for the event. They helped to check whether these dogs were properly quarantined.
They reported to authorities any doubts that a dog might have been stolen or wasn’t properly quarantined. Their hard work had led to the Yulin government barring more than 1,700 dogs from the region as of Friday morning.
These dog lovers did all this in a peaceful and lawful way. Their approach offers new thinking on how to protect the rights of dogs in a country where dog meat eating is legal.
Reminding consumers of the health hazards of eating meat from unquarantined dogs will win their hearts and is more likely to reduce the consumption of the animals than anything else.
By comparison, forcing them to get rid of the habit can only fuel resistance.
In addition, dog lovers can advocate for humane slaughter. Also, they could educate consumers about abuse of dogs during the slaughter. The brutality and inhumanity of it all may cause some dog meat eaters to voluntarily quit the habit.
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