Animal cruelty in any form is abhorrent; and when it is regularly carried out on a large-scale and with the implicit permission of a country's national government, then it should be publicly highlighted and condemned by any right-thinking person, especially if we consider ourselves to have even a shred of human decency or feeling for our fellow creatures.
The actual morality of meat eating aside, be that the flesh of beast, fish or fowl, as the most advanced predatory animal on the planet, we have the experience and the means to ensure that any and all creatures that we choose to eat should meet their end in the most efficiently painless way possible, so that they suffer the minimum amount of suffering and pain, as they make their way to the dinner table.
In most civilised countries, the vast majority of food animals are bred, raised and culled in the most humane way possible, with severe penalties levied against those individuals or businesses that fail to meet the required high standards of care, which is as it should be in a modern industrialised humane society. Clearly there will always be exceptions to be made, where certain religious lobbyists insist that their individual faiths require the slaughtering of conscious animals, as opposed to the norm of pre-stunning creatures prior to their deaths. Mercifully though, more and more countries are beginning to insist that animal welfare should always take precedence over religious dogma; and have strengthened their own national legislation in order to ensure that animals do not suffer simply because of often questionable theological arguments.
I make no apologies for featuring some highly distressing images as part of this particular blog post. As an animal lover generally and as a former dog owner specifically, I too find them distressing, upsetting and uncomfortable to look at, but generally take the view that not showing them, or avoiding the subject entirely does nothing to help highlight the inhumanity, barbarity and sheer foolishness that is clearly evident within many so-called modern Asian societies, China, Vietnam and Korea included. Their general animal husbandry standards aside, this post deals particularly with their national practice of killing and eating animals that most of the rest of the civilised world regard as pets or companions, as opposed to the more usual traditional food animals such as cows, pigs, sheep, etc, which are bred, raised and culled for that specific purpose, to feed the human population.
Supporters and defenders of traditional dog meat festivals, such as that which is held in Yulin in China would argue that the flesh of dogs and cats represent a legitimate human food source, one that has been exploited and enjoyed for hundreds of years, as "fragrant meat", a source of nourishment that helps sustain people through the long hard months of autumn and winter; and that offers a range of health benefits to the consumer that no other meat can provide. Of course there is absolutely no scientific proof whatsoever to support these spurious claims, as is the case with rhino horn, tiger parts, bear bile, or any of the other multitude of animal parts that are claimed to offer some sort of medicinal benefits to an increasingly gullible Chinese population. Ultimately though, virtually all such natural cures are simply a means to deprive a largely uneducated public of their hard earned money, ignoring the obvious fact that often such tainted meats, skins, bones, offal, etc. are far more likely to cause illness and disease, rather than cure it. Bearing in mind that dogs especially can carry and cause Cholera, Trichinellosis and Rabies, the fact that thousands of people in Asia would deliberately risk their personal health purely to maintain a purported cultural tradition is staggering, given that it is the responsibility of modern governments to educate their native populations, rather than allow people to put their health at risk.
Obviously, if the people of China, Vietnam, or Korea want to put their personal health at risk, if they want to decimate their own native animal populations, or if they want to guarantee the antipathy and resentment of large swathes of the international community, then they are perfectly at liberty to do so. It is their country, their personal health, their cats and their dogs and their national reputations to waste, as they choose! But let us be clear here, cats and dogs are not the same as traditional food animals, such as the sheep, pigs, cattle, chickens, etc that virtually every country in the world raises to feed their native populations. For thousands of years humans have bred, raised and exploited food animals for their own benefit; and for the most part that has not included cats and dogs, which have only ever shared our towns and cities as guards, pest-controllers, companions and pets, being used as a food source only in the direst of circumstances such as famine and/or war. Typically, we do not share our living spaces with pigs, chickens, sheep or cows, but neither do we require them to protect our homes or our valuable livestock, or indeed to limit rodent populations, as we have dogs and cats to undertake those particular roles. Generally we do not rely on pigs, cows, sheep or chickens to offer us personal companionship, ostensibly because they lack the intelligence and the ability to fulfil that role, whereas cats and dogs do not.
One could more easily sympathise with the culinary practices of China, Korea and Vietnam, were those countries still afflicted by widespread famine and poverty, although that is clearly not the case any longer. China specifically is only too happy to tell the world how wealthy and successful it has become in the past few decades, yet continues to allow its citizens to act as though they exist in abject poverty, indulging in practices that are hundreds of years out of date. Similarly Korea is one of the world's leading economies and yet tens of thousands of its citizens continue to act as though they're struggling to feed themselves. So if money, or wealth is not the main reason for these countries continuing to practice these largely unpleasant culinary traditions; and there is no evidence to support the idea that dog and cat meat provides any sort of obvious health benefits to the consumer, where does that leave the argument?
Perhaps the truth of the matter lies in the means and the methods of the dog meat trade that continues to exist in these three wealthy Asian neighbours. Although a significant number of dogs and cats are specially bred for the purpose, often in the most horrendous circumstances; and afflicted by the most dreadful diseases, there is a lot of supporting evidence that homeless street dogs from throughout Asia are captured and transported to dog meat centres such as Yulin, where they meet the most grisly ends possible. Having been transported in the most cruel conditions, large numbers die from asphyxiation or dehydration enroute, or suffer numerous broken bones such are the cramped conditions that they're held in.
Upon arriving at the meat markets, it appears that in most cases the cages containing the living and dead animals are unloaded and then weighed, so that a price can be agreed for the cargo between the dealers who acquire and transport the dogs; and the butchers who want to buy them for slaughter. Those that are still alive are then unloaded from their cages and have their legs and muzzles bound, often so they can be displayed for sale, or to make them easier to handle for the slaughter men.
Studying some of the pictures taken at the meat markets would suggest that different traders/ butchers / slaughter men have different techniques for handling the dogs. In one disturbing picture, it appears that a defenceless dog is tied to a post before being beaten to death by men wielding pipes or clubs, with the intention of making the dog bleed internally, which according to some sources makes the dog's meat more tender and succulent. In another, a man ties a small dog in a sack, to restrict its mobility, before beating it to death on the floor, presumably for exactly the same reason. Other dogs are raised and suspended by their necks using a pole, which helps keep the dog safe and compliant, whereas others are held down on the floor by the butchers foot, before having its throat cut. There is no evidence of the dogs being pre-stunned, except of course when it happens accidentally whilst they're being deliberately beaten to death. Other dogs are less fortunate again and have to experience being boiled alive, or beaten to death in a machine designed to remove their fur. The boiling in water is believed to be a method for not only helping to remove the dogs coat, reducing the chance of disease, but also to bloat the dogs bodies, which are generally thin due to their not having been fed on a regular basis. The few pictures contained within this blog post certainly doesn't do justice to the horrifying practices that go on in the Yulin dog meat market, but provide more than enough evidence that for some dealers, butchers and slaughter men involved in the trade, the act of killing is a sick kind of reward in its own right.
Depending on which source you choose to believe anything from 10,000 to 100,000 dogs and cats are killed every single year for this gruesome trade, with a reported 10,000 killed in Yulin alone. Not only are most slaughtered in the most criminally cruel way, but the fact that no attempt is made to pre-stun the animals prior to their being placed in boiling hot water, a fur removing machine, or before having their throats cut, just makes the horrifying spectacle of it all more brutal, more inhumane and more barbaric. But then, maybe that's part of the reason why such atrocities continue to be celebrated in Asia, that such barbarity places into a part of the Asian psyche' that other more civilised countries cannot comprehend.
The Chinese, Vietnamese and Koreans can argue as much as they like about the cultural and supposed health benefits of eating cats and dogs, but ultimately they are myths based on old wives tales, told in a time when food, education, commonsense and human decency were to be found in equally limited amounts. These three Asian giants might choose to believe that they have cultural histories that are worth celebrating, although if their treatment of other sentient living creatures is anything to go by in Yulin, celebrating the unspeakably cruel is nothing much to brag about.