“What I saw was a city in preparation for the annual massacre,” said Peter Li.
He is an associate professor of East Asian politics at the University of Houston-Downtown and a China policy adviser with Humane Society International.
“A slaughterhouse at the city’s Dong Kou market had just received a new supply of dogs shipped from Sichuan. The unloaded dogs looked emaciated, dehydrated and terrified. Inside two other slaughterhouses hidden in residential areas not far from the market, dogs and cats, many wearing collars, displayed behaviour associated with household pets.
“The slaughter is more than an insult to the nation’s expanding animal-loving community.”
Mr Li is referring to the annual Yulin Summer Solstice Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in China’s Guangxi region.
The festival, which first began in 2009, is scheduled to be held this year on 22 June.
Reports say that as many as 10,000 dogs will be slaughtered and consumed at the event as part of the summer solstice celebrations.
Eating dog meat, it is believed, brings good health and fortune, and wards off evil spirits. Some Chinese men believe it also enhances sexual prowess.
China has an estimated 130 million dogs, with about 27 million kept as urban pets.
The festival has been dubbed a “festival of cruelty” by some for the way the dogs are transported, kept and slaughtered.
“Animal rights advocates say dogs are caught with nets, drugged or poisoned and kept in pins until they are killed for their meat,” the Washington Post said.
The animals come from faraway regions of China, as far as 1,000km away, according to activists who are campaigning against the festival.
The dogs are crammed into wire cages which are too small for them to even extend their limbs, are denied food and water for days during the exhausting trip.
“The dogs arrive at their destination malnourished and underweight, dehydrated, often dying from injuries or from being poisoned during capture,” says CNN.
“Others are already dead.”
[Caution: Disturbing pictures in the video below.]
Such cruelty is now being met with wider disapproval from the Chinese public, with celebrities now joining the call to ban the festival.
“Actress Sun Li uploaded photos of her son with their adopted stray dog, and singer-actress Yang Mi posted a plea to end dog eating with an anti-Yulin festival poster that’s flooding Chinese social media,” TIME reported. “In the poster, a dog sheds a red tear, saying, ‘Please don’t eat us. We’re your friends’.”
The movement to can the festival has gained momentum, with activists and celebrities taking to social media, such as the popular Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, to attract support.
So far, it has fired up the public in China, according to reports.
One reason for this is because more Chinese people are now pet owners, who are more empathetic towards the plight of animals.
Also, there are public health concerns with the slaughter and handling of dogs for food.
China has the second highest rate of rabies in the world, and the Guangxi region has the highest rate of rabies in the country.
Yulin itself is one of China’s “top ten cities” for cases of human rabies, according to CNN.
“This is more than an animal welfare issue,” Mr Li told the New York Times. “This is a matter of public health as well. After long-distance transport, most of the dogs are sick, dying or already dead. Skin problems are common. These are serious food safety problems and public health hazards.”
Amid the outcry last year, Yulin’s government banned public slaughter and advertising using words such as “dog meat”.
But the authorities also claimed that the festival was a “myth” and that no such thing has taken place.
“The so-called summer solstice lychee dog meat festival does not exist,” the government said in a statement, according to Time. “Neither Yulin government nor social organizations have ever held such activities.”
Nonetheless, momentum has built to pressure the authorities there to shut down the event for good.
And it is not just in China where outrage is being felt and expressed.
The Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, a US-based animal rights organization, has launched an online petition, calling on Yulin Governor Chen Wu to cancel the event, citing issues ranging from animal cruelty to social stability to food safety.
It has almost a million signatures so far.
The group also posted a video on YouTube, which has been viewed more than 500,000 times.
Some are taking it upon themselves to stop the gruesome massacre of thousands of dogs for superstitious purposes.
65-year old Yang Xiaoyun is planning to purchase dogs ready for slaughter direct from traders at the festival and take them to a safe house.
The Chinese media reports that Ms Yang has saved up 50,000 Yuan (£5,000), and travelled 1,652 miles from her home town of Tianjin to Yulin to save the condemned animals.
Sign the petition here: “Please Shut Down the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in GuangXi China“.