BEIJING – On the eve of the Lunar New Year, preparations were in full swing as China brings in the Year of the Dog, with activists hoping to take the opportunity to increase the general population’s awareness of canine rights and of efforts to protect the animals from falling prey to the country’s dog meat trade.
In Beijing, performers reenacting an imperial sacrifice ritual typical of the Qing dynasty era (1636-1912) were putting the finishing touches to their spectacle during a dress rehearsal ahead of Friday’s celebrations, an epa photographer reports.
The show will be performed on Friday and over the weekend, where hundreds of onlookers are expected to gather to watch the reenactment at Ditan Park, also known as Temple of the Earth, which was built in 1530 and was considered sacred by emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties as a place of worship.
While the performance is held every New Year as a celebration of China’s cultural heritage, the Year of the Dog has presented a unique opportunity to help develop and improve the protection of dog rights in a country that continues to be closely associated with canine cuisine; up to 20 million dogs are slaughtered annually, and the annual Yulin dog meat festival, launched in 2009, continues to be held every summer.
Canine rights activists and dog lovers across the country have seized on the Year of the Dog as a chance to raise awareness of the animals’ continuing plight and the culture of consuming dog meat which persists in the country, despite efforts both inside and outside China to fight the dog meat trade.
“There will be many people talking of dogs. All brands will feature the dog and will receive a lot of attention,” Chris Lau, founder of the nonprofit Think Adoption Shanghai, told EFE.
China, unlike other countries, has not passed laws protecting the pooches, which are increasingly popular as pets among the growing middle class.
According to the NGO Animals Asia, up to 100 million animals, mainly dogs and cats, were registered as pets in China in 2015.
“I’m sure that laws for protection will come soon. For example, in Hong Kong and Taiwan they are very advanced and there are laws to protect pets. China is a very large country, everything takes a lot of time,” Lau said.
Recently, the country has taken a small step in this direction, with the Ministry of Education introducing a new curriculum which will allow high-school students to pick a subject on animal well-being.
The optional paper will deal with ethical treatment of animals, the wellbeing of pets as well as wild animals, and is a necessary step towards positive change, Lau said.
Through his organization, founded seven years ago, Lau has used social media to promote animal adoptions, with the help of celebrities and fashion brands.
“I started working on saving dogs and helping in adoptions, until one day I realized it was important to influence more people for the adoption movement to grow, as it is an attitude and a way of life,” he said.
Lau’s sentiments are echoed by Soi Dog, an NGO based in Thailand which has successfully tackled the industry in the southeast Asian country.
China has “provided substantial financial assistance to activists working on the ground to rescue, medically treat, and care for hundreds of dogs saved from the country’s dog meat trade,” Soi Dog says.
The biggest challenge, however, remains helping change people’s attitudes towards the animals, and successfully turn public opinion against the consumption of dog meat.
As China’s middle class continues to grow, canine rights protectors and activists hope that so too will the prevalence of these creatures as pets and companions rather than as food on menus.