386 Dogs Rescued from Crowded Truck on its Way to Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China

The trader connected to the rescued dogs has relinquished custody, allowing the canines to move to shelters where they will receive veterinary care and the chance to find a forever home

Over 350 dogs are getting a second chance after police and animal activists intercepted a truck carrying the canines to China's Yulin Dog Meat Festival.

According to Humane Society International (HSI), several days before the 2022 Yulin Dog Meat Festival started on June 21, police and animal activists in Shaanxi, China, intercepted a truck filled with canines heading to Yulin.

The truck with Yulin plates was first spotted 500 miles outside of Yulin crammed with wire cages filled with dogs. Police stopped the vehicle in sweltering heat and confirmed that the truck was carrying caged dogs to Yulin, HSI reported.

With assistance from activists from China Animal Protection Power (CAPP), the authorities removed 386 dogs from the truck and took them into protective custody.

"They had probably been on the truck for days, dehydrated and starving, many of them with visible signs of injury and disease. We could see their petrified faces peering out from the cages and we knew those dogs were headed straight for Yulin slaughterhouses where they would have been bludgeoned to death," Lin Xiong, one of the activists who assisted with the rescue, told HSI.

"The Shaanxi police response was really impressive, they came out in force and pulled the truck over, taking the dogs under police control when the driver was unable to prove he'd acquired and transported them legally. It was a very tense time for us but thanks to the authorities, these dogs are now safe in police quarantine where they can get food, water and rest. If only all police across China would have such a firm zero-tolerance approach to these dog thieves and traffickers, it would be the end of the dog trade here," the rescuer added.

From the truck, the dogs were taken into police custody, where they received medical help and attention. The canines found on the vehicle were from various breeds and reportedly some were wearing pet collars — a sign pointing to some of the dogs being stolen pets.

The dog trader connected to the canines in the truck agreed to relinquish all of the animals, many of whom were found in poor physical health. Now that the trader has relinquished custody of the dogs, CAPP will work on getting the canines all the care they need and will help the pets find forever homes. At least 180 of the animals will be transported to an HSI shelter in China so that the organization can assist with CAPP's rescue efforts.

"It was an immense relief when the dog trader officially relinquished possession of the dogs so that the police could pass them into the care of the activists. Now that they are safe, they have the best chance of recovering from their terrible ordeal. They need a lot of care, rest, and veterinary attention, which they will now receive at the various shelters taking them in, including our HSI-supported shelter in north China which is standing by to receive around 180 of the dogs. Every single one of these dogs would probably be dead by now in Yulin were it not for the bravery of the Chinese activists and the professionalism of the Shaanxi police," Wendy Higgins, the director of international media at HSI, told PEOPLE.

In their coverage of the rescue, HSI noted that the Yulin Dog Mest Festival was started in 2010 to boost declining dog meat sales. The event can attract thousands of visitors each year, but the popularity of consuming dog meat continues to wane.

According to HSI, opinion polls show that 72% of citizens in Yulin don't regularly eat dog meat and that opposition to the practice is growing across China. In 2020, China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs officially stated that dogs are companion animals, not livestock. Additionally, that same year, two major Chinese cities in mainland China — Shenzhen and Zhuhai — banned the consumption of dog and cat meat.

"Despite the fact that most people in China don't eat dogs, dog-eating hotspots in the south such as Yulin do still exist, and millions of dogs continue to suffer terribly. I'm so proud of the Chinese activists who are standing up for these animals, and the police whose response was absolutely vital, because without them these dogs would already be dead on the kill floor of a Yulin slaughterhouse," Peter Li, Ph.D., a China policy specialist for HSI which supports the care of dogs rescued from China's meat trade, said:

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