Animal rights

Asia for Animals: education and grassroots collaboration help to end the dog and cat meat trade

An estimated 30 million dogs and ten million cats are killed for human consumption each year across Asia and the largest-scale slaughter is in China.

At the 2023 Asia for Animals conference, held in the Malaysian city of Kuching on the island of Borneo, delegates heard about the importance of education and grassroots collaboration in campaigns to end the trade in dog and cat meat.

On Day 2 of the conference, Julia de Cadenet, who founded World Protection for Dogs and Cats in the Meat Trade, better known as the NoToDogMeat foundation, told delegates that she had been travelling to China since 1999, but it was only in 2009, in Guangzhou in Guangdong province, that she first came across one of China’s horrific dog meat markets.

“My experience made me realise that it took more than just donating to animal charities; I needed to do something more,” De Cadenet said.

“What shocked me the most was seeing a torture market right next door to a market selling pet dogs. And what saddened me the most was, when I turned round, I saw a boy who could have been no more than seven or eight years old, clutching a puppy his dad had just bought him.

“The two of them watched silently with me with me as almost identical dogs were being dragged out of their cages and killed right in front of us.”

In China, annually, close to 10 million dogs are skinned alive for food and fur.

“Frequently, this barbaric cruelty takes place in front of children. Dog meat festivals, such as in Yulin, are commonplace and there is no regard given to health or sanitation,” the NoToDogMeat team states on its website.

“Cats in Vietnam are boiled alive to make soup and elixirs. In Indonesia, dogs are burnt alive in open markets just minutes from tourist attractions. This epidemic of cruelty, which extends throughout Asia and beyond, can have no place in any modern society.”

De Cadenet (pictured left) told AfA delegates: “The more I researched the taboo subject of using dogs and cats for food and fur the more I saw how widespread the problem was.

“It’s hard to believe that over 30 million dogs and cats will have been tortured and killed this year in Asia. I’ve now witnessed a decade of terrible suffering.”

The dogs and cats used for food and fur are often strays or stolen pets, De Cadenet says, but they can also come from dog farms.

“They can come from pet breeding farms, and we’ve even found this year they come from grooming parlours,” she told delegates.

“They’re all killed in a really cruel way. In some regions people believe that, if the animal suffers, the stress or the torture makes cortisol rush through the body, which will then tenderise the meat …

“I don’t eat meat, so I don’t think any animal should suffer. However, seeing someone’s pet dismembered, plunged into boiling water, or barbecued after being skinned alive is a living nightmare.”

The NoToDogMeat foundation lobbies the UK and other governments and supports grassroots campaigners to run animal shelters in countries with a dog and cat meat trade. In January 2018, the charity was granted United Nations special consultative status.

De Cadenet is a lawyer so knew that she could help in pushing for animal welfare legislation to be created or amended.

“But then I soon realised it was human attitudes that needed to change,” she told AfA delegates.

“We have created a unique series of education and outreach programmes that our partners can adapt to suit their own circumstances.”

The charity, which was established in 2013, works in China, Cambodia, and the Philippines. At its shelter in Hebei, China, the NoToDogMeat team is helped by volunteers who range from students to retired women who come to help prepare the dogs’ food.

“We find that engaging with animal lovers across generations helps us to spread the message to communities who hold false beliefs about the benefits of eating dogs or drinking cat tonics,” De Cadenet said.

‘I truly believe that, if we work together locally to nurture empathy and compassion towards our companion dogs and cats, if we can help everyone understand the meaning of animal sentience, this in turn can bring change.”

At the Hebei shelter: Felicity, a Samoyed who was seconds away from being skinned when De Cadenet rescued her from a Chinese meat market. In 2022 Felicity was invited to the Cannes Film Festival and she has appeared in TV coverage of the Crufts dog show.

De Cadenet said the shelter in Hebei was housing more than 500 dogs and cats and, in the charity’s shelter in Beijing, there were more than 260.

One member of the NoToDogMeat team has taken the charity’s education project to businesses and gives lunchtime awareness talks about the dog and cat meat trade and lets people know about the charity’s adoption programmes.

She also hosts meet-and-greet adoption events in shopping malls. “Previously, it was frowned upon to bring dogs, especially dog meat trade survivors, to such public venues,” De Cadenet said. “But slowly they’re being more and more well received.”

Felicity before she was freed.

Humane Society International (HSI) points out that most people in China do not eat dog meat. According to opinion polls in 2016, 69.5 percent of those questioned had never tried it.

Eating dog meat is not part of mainstream Chinese culinary culture and there is a growing animal protection movement in the country that roundly opposes the dog meat trade, HSI says.

De Cadenet told delegates at AfA 2023 about the recent landmark statement by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that children must be protected from the effects of violence inflicted on animals.

The need for children to be protected from exposure to violence against animals has now been officially adopted into the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In its General Comment No. 26, published in August 2023, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child states: “Children must be protected from all forms of physical and psychological violence and from exposure to violence, such as domestic violence or violence inflicted on animals.”

De Cadenet said: “For us, this showed a significant step forward to lasting change. In Cambodia, we’ve made educating young children a big part of our local collaboration.”

The main reasons Cambodians sell strays or their dogs to dealers is economically driven, De Cadenet says. “When we set up a partner programme close to the Thai border, we at once saw how the so called pot-and-pan men would tour villages exchanging plastic buckets for hapless dogs.

“This gave us the idea to work with village officials to do things like building a small well so that everyone could have clean water.

“We found that working with the local community helped us build trust and gain support. We have also worked closely with school teachers and encouraged them to introduce animal welfare as part of the curriculum.”

De Cadenet pointed to some other positive developments. In China, in April 2020, for example, the government removed dogs from the approved livestock list.

Although there is not an outright ban on the consumption of dog meat, the sale of live dogs and dog meat for food is now prohibited. This means that any restaurants and markets where dogs are sold for food, and any slaughterhouses where dogs are killed, are now illegal throughout China.

The protection also extends to cats who are not, and have never been, on China’s Catalogue of Livestock.

In South Korea, there have been increasing calls for an end to the dog and meat trade.

In August this year Nielsen Korea conducted a survey about dog meat consumption that was commissioned by Humane Society International/Korea. A total 86 percent of those questioned in South Korea said they would not or probably would not consume dog meat in the future, 54% said they had never eaten dog meat and would not do so in the future, and 57% supported a ban on the dog meat industry.

Four legislative bills for a ban on the dog meat trade have been proposed in South Korea and 44 members of the National Assembly have supported a parliamentary resolution to end the industry.

“We know, however, that if a law is created, but not enforced dogs and cats will continue to suffer, De Cadenet told AfA delegates.

The Philippines, De Cadenet says, has had an Animal Welfare Act since 1988 and there is also a special provision to exclude the use of dogs for food, the only exception being the ritual slaughter of animals.

NoToDogMeat team members in the Philippines accompany police to enforce legislation, give lectures at police stations about animal welfare, and go with the police into the community to engage with local people.

‘It has been amazing to see the caring side of the police and, through the medium of animal welfare, they too have improved their own community engagement,” De Cadenet told AfA delegates.

“Our activities have included donating food and veterinary supplies and guiding villagers on how to care for their companion animals, and all the while reinforcing our message that dogs are not food.

“Our work in Asia is ongoing and requires dedication and a flexible approach, and needs to be tailored to the unique circumstances of each country.”

The 2023 AfA conference was held under the banner ‘Education and Engagement Bring Change’ and the organisers were the Asia for Animals Coalition and the Sarawak Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA).


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