Humane Society International's Kelly O'Meara shares how anyone can help humanely end the dog meat trade

By Kelli Bender
June 21, 2019 02:09 PM
Feature China/Barcroft Media/Getty

Today, another year of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival began in China. The annual event leads to the slaughter and consumption of thousands of dogs and cats each year.

Naturally, many animal lovers and pet owners who hear about this devastating festival wonder how it can be allowed to continue, numerous animal welafare groups ask the same thing and are working to bring the festival and the entire dog meat trade to an end.

Ahead of this year’s Yulin Dog Meat Festival, PEOPLE talked to Kelly O’Meara. She is the vice president of companion animals and engagement at Humane Society International — one of the animal welfare organizations working to stop the Yulin Dog Meat Festival.

After 20 years at HSI, many of them spent to “to lead the HSI dog meat campaign, and the dog and cat welfare program globally,” O’Meara has experience shutting down dog meat farms, saving animals from the Yulin Dog Meat Festival and working to win legal victories for companion animals the world over.

She told PEOPLE about what animal lovers need to know about the Yulin Dog Meat Festival — like that it’s a relatively new invention — and how anyone can help bring the event to a humane and safe end. Here is what O’Meara has to say about how to best help HSI’s fight to stop the dog meat trade.

Humane Society International UK

What are some common misconceptions about the dog meat trade?

  1. Many believe that dog meat is a staple meat for the poorer communities to eat for protein, but dog meat is usually more expensive than other meats and is more of a delicacy in most countries that consume it.
  2. In South Korea, there is a strong misconception that the dogs raised for their meat on dog meat farms are somehow different from the dogs that share their homes as companion animals. Through our numerous dog meat farm closures (14 total to date), we have been able to diminish this belief among Koreans by showing them that every type of dog can be found on these farms, including Chihuahuas, golden retrievers to great Pyrenees, and they all suffer the same horrible conditions found on these farms. And, we have helped show that the most common dog breeds used for their meat, Tosas and Jindos, are in fact loving and friendly dogs,  just as capable of being beloved family members as any other breed of dog.
  3. Contrary to popular belief, most people in China, South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia do not eat dog meat and many dislike the idea of dog meat consumption, especially among the younger generations.

RELATED: 200 Dogs Saved From Cruel Korean Dog Meat and Puppy Farm That Bred Pups as ‘Friend and Food’

How long as the trade existed?

In countries like China, dog meat consumption has existed for many generations, possibly centuries. While in South Korea, the trade only began in the last century. What has changed in most of the countries where the trade exists is its shift from something local or “backyard,” to a much larger, commercial scale. So, now millions of animals fall victim to this cruel industry.

Jean Chung for HSI

What is the Yulin Dog Meat Festival?

The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is a dog meat-based event held annually in Yulin, China during the summer solstice days, normally starting June 21. The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is not a traditional event by any means; it was invented as recently as 2010 by dog traders trying to boost flagging dog meat sales and to attract tourists. Before the festival started, Yulin had no history of mass dog slaughter and consumption.

How are China’s dogs affected by this festival?

Thousands of dogs are taken from the streets or even stolen from their homes/yards to supply the demand for this festival, and the dog meat trade in general throughout China. It is estimated that between 10-20 million dogs/cats are captured, transported and slaughtered annually in China for the trade. The Yulin dog meat festival has gained significant international attention and condemnation which has helped to highlight the terrible plight of the dogs/cats caught up in this very cruel trade. While HSI has worked on ending the Yulin Dog Meat Festival (which has drastically diminished in recent years from 15,000 dogs killed to an estimated 3,000 now), we also focus on fighting the dog/cat meat trade throughout China and other parts of Asia year round, since the trade operates all times of the year and well beyond just the Yulin festival.

Jean Chung/For HSI

What work is being done to end this festival?

The Chinese government and specifically, the Yulin local government have been bombarded with negative, international attention and a global spotlight during the weeks and even months leading up to the Yulin Dog Meat Festival over the last five years. Many global petitions, including HSI’s, as well as massive media coverage from around the world has helped tremendously in putting the needed pressure to stop the festival. It has certainly worked in diminishing the festival to something much smaller in recent years, and fewer animals suffer today due to this global movement against the festival.

The position of authorities in Yulin has also changed, as they have realized the fierce domestic and international opposition to the event. Authorities have moved in recent years to tighten the net on the trade in the city despite fierce pushback from dog traders, making it harder for traders to truck in dogs/cats for the event, and even deterring their sale at the markets directly.

RELATED: Activists Save 62 Filthy Dogs from Slaughter Days Ahead of China’s Yulin Dog Meat Festival

How can people who live out side the country help with this fight?

Sign HSI’s petition and other petitions against Yulin and make your voice heard. The larger the number of people that sign onto the petitions, the stronger the push to end the Festival. The petitions are powerful and have worked in reaching the Chinese authorities.

Jean Chung for HSI

Are dogs rescued from the dog meat trade ever available for adoption?

In China, most of the dogs rescued from the dog meat trade are sent to reputable, local shelters throughout the nation for their care and eventual adoption. It is possible to adopt directly from these groups. On occasion, dogs rescued from the Chinese trade are sent to the US and Canada for adoption through local shelter partners in the respective countries. This is currently always the case for the dogs that HSI rescues during our dog meat farm closures in South Korea. All of the dogs rescued from the meat farms are sent to the U.S., U.K. and Canada and are placed with our shelter partners for their adoption.

What is HSI doing to combat the dog meat trade?

HSI runs anti-dog meat campaigns in four of the prominent dog meat consumption countries in Asia, including China, South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. We have direct programs on the ground in each of the countries, and our approach in each country is based upon the local situation and culture. We work with local partner groups to address the dog meat trade issue, such as in China and South Korea, and in international coalitions in Indonesia and Vietnam. Our campaigns focus on increasing awareness of the issue nationally and internationally to change hearts and minds and gain support for our campaign to end the trade. We do have hands on rescue involved in much of our campaign work as well, such as in South Korea, where we work with dog meat farmers to shut down their farms, rescue the dogs, and transition the farmers to a new, humane livelihood. We create model programs that can guide local and national governments on ending the trade in their countries, as well as push for a legal ban on the trade in these countries.

How can others help HSI?

Please visit our website and join us on Facebook and Twitter to support our efforts to end the dog meat trade.

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