April 2020 saw enormous steps taken in the fight to end the cruel and unjust practice of the dog meat trade in China and broader Asia.
Chinese cities including Zhongshan, Shenzhen and Zhuhai have already either banned eating dog meat or expressed a desire to enact the ban. This comes days after an announcement from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, stating that "Along with the progress of human civilization and the increasing concern of the public on animal protection, dogs have been 'evolved' from traditional livestock to companion animals."
This new legislation comes off the back of the massive global impact of COVID-19, where the consumption of wild animals and livestock has become a hotly debated topic in China. While the country may well be on its way to shutting down the unethical consumption of dog and cat meat and its associated trades, what remains is a fundamental and underlying cultural attitude that is left unaddressed. When looking at the case of the Yulin festival, the situation provides the perfect case study - despite the local government withdrawing it’s support for the event, the community has continued to celebrate the consumption of dog meat on those same days of the festival each year, congregating in public places to participate - even if it is technically outside of an ‘official’ setting, the brutal torture and slaughter of dogs continues at full force.
This serves as a teachable moment on the importance of education and shifting cultural values in order to effectively target the dog meat trade. Should China outlaw the dog meat trade and dog meat consumption, it would be logical to assume that the trade to simply go underground. The law of supply and demand still exists here, and it is in this demand where the problem truly lies. The practice of capturing, slaughtering and eating dogs remains rife in Yulin and other parts of China, with the illegal transportation of dogs occurring frequently, because people still want to purchase and eat dog meat. While only a minority of Chinese people still engage in eating dog meat, an approximated 10 million dogs are eaten each year - 10 million too many.
In a post-Coronavirus world, where the dog meat trade is condemned by the Chinese government and goes underground, how do we campaign and continue to work towards saving dogs from this unjust fate? What do we work towards in order to create real, positive change and rescue our best friends permanently from this cruel fate?
The very tactile image of blatant brutality against dogs motivates a lot of attention and drive for action, but the passion for change cannot end there. While our human nature tempts us to treat this issue like an item on a to-do list - an awful practice we can ‘cancel’ in absolution, and ‘cross off’ that list - cultural conventions and deep-rooted attitudes are far from being quickly eradicated. The very nature of them is that they are strengthened over time, their legitimacy extended by each continuing year, and solving these issues is a long-term dialogue that needs to be engaged in with care and seriousness.
There are many reasons why dog meat is still eaten in Asia. Sometimes it is chalked up to myths and old wives’ tales, other times it is said that the meat has restorative or medicinal properties. The Duo Duo team visits Yulin several times each year, talking to the local community in an effort to engage meaningfully with them, and one thing is abundantly clear - at the end of the day, it all ties back down to cultural customs. If anything is to change, there needs to be a deeper understanding of these communities.
In an ideal world, we would love to snap our fingers, and with the wave of a wand remove all the misery and tragedy dogs have to endure. However, ending the dog meat trade is a long game - it takes time, strategy and patience. It will not always present in the form of Hollywood-esque rescue missions to intercept illegal dog transportation. It will not always be represented as heart-flutteringly sweet unions of rescued dogs with new families. Often, it will be a lot of sitting down. Listening. Engaging. Understanding. Creating a dialogue with people whom we may be fundamentally opposed to connecting with otherwise.
The Duo Duo Project reaffirms its vow to continue this essential work in the world.
Leaving moral drama, hysteria and demonization to the side in favour of constructive conversation.
Replacing fear with compassion, patience and commitment, to educate on why dogs really are man’s best friend.