TORONTO – An animal protection organization says more than 100 dogs who were destined for a Chinese dog meat festival have landed in Canada to begin new lives.
Rebecca Aldworth, the executive director of Humane Society International Canada, said 110 dogs landed in Toronto on Thursday night after being rescued from an annual dog meat festival in Yulin, China earlier this year.
Under the Yulin tradition, eating dog and lychee and drinking liquor on the solstice is supposed to make people stay healthy during winter. An estimated 10 to 20 million dogs are killed for their meat each year in China, and the event has come to symbolize cruelty and a lack of hygiene associated with the largely unregulated industry.
It’s become a lightning rod for criticism in recent years, as celebrities like Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix and Kate Mara have teamed up to protest the tradition.
HCI Canada’s Rebecca Aldworth said the dogs were rescued in June, but stayed at an emergency shelter in China receiving medical care until their transport could be arranged. Dozens more found new homes in China.
Sixty-three of the dogs are heading to a rescue organization in King City, Ont., while 10 are going to Ottawa and 32 were taken in by the Montreal SPCA after they arrived in the city Friday night.
They were found by activists just before the festival, Aldworth said.
“We saw horrific things. Dogs were crammed together in rusty iron cages so tightly that they couldn’t move. They were gasping for air. Their bodies were covered in open wounds,” she said.
The dogs were emaciated, and activists believed they hadn’t been fed in days.
Since 2014, the local government has sought to disassociate itself from the event, forbidding its employees from attending and limiting its size by shutting down some dog markets and slaughter houses. But local businesses say that eating dog meat is traditional in Yulin in the summertime.
The government has denied the formal existence of such a festival, saying it is a culinary habit practised only by some businesses and people.
Public pressure stopped another dog meat festival, in eastern Zhejiang province, which was cancelled in 2011 despite dating back hundreds of years.
Aldworth said many will soon be available for adoption and can serve as “ambassadors” to help end the global dog meat trade that is responsible for 30 million canine deaths each year.
“These dogs have endured a level of cruelty that most people can’t bear to watch on video and they need time to regain their trust of people, but I’m confident every one of them will make amazing companion animals,” she said.
—With files from The Associated Press.