Much of the controversy over the Yulin Dog Meat Festival has continued because no government authorities have felt confident enough to step in on such a sensitive topic. No current law forbids the eating of cats and dogs as a criminal act, nor does the government condone it with official recognition of the festival. Without dog eating being outlawed, animal welfare activists have tried to approach the issue by changing the way society sees dog consumption.
Then there’s people like 65 year-old retired schoolteacher Yang Xiaoyun. With no way to stop the Yulin Dog Meat Festival or the consumption of dog meat, Yang takes the last option available to her: she buys live dogs from dog vendors so they can’t be sold to local restaurants to be consumed.
On June 20, Yang rescued over 100 dogs by paying vendors RMB 7,000. On Monday, the total was raised to 500 dogs and cats for RMB 10,000. Last year, Yang paid RMB 150,000 to save 360 dogs over the entire course of the Yulin festival.
Yang has come to symbolize the protest movement against dog meat eating when she was featured in an iconic photo during last year’s protests, kneeling in front of a dog vendor to plead for a dog’s life. Her impact continues to be felt this year, too, as dog vendors contacted her to say “they had a lot of dogs waiting for her to buy”.
Yang said much of her money comes from donations from people around China, but wouldn’t disclose how much. Unlike last year, the rescued dogs will be raised and given a home in the local area instead of being taken back home to Tianjin.
Despite claims made by dog vendors that the dogs are bred for the purpose of meat, Yang says the vendors are lying. “I am pretty sure that most dogs were not raised in a dog farm,” she said. “They were stray dogs brought from other provinces.”
“Local authorities also assigned police officers to protect me from vendors who may try to harm me,” she added.
Yang has been rescuing stray dogs and cats for 20 years after her husband died in 1995. She remains estranged from her only son Dayang after she sold off two properties after using up her life savings to continue rescuing stray animals.
Yang operates four kennels in Tianjin that house about 3,500 rescuded dogs and cats.
For all her contributions to animal welfare, Yang remains aware that her work only provides a temporary solution to a ongoing problem. “At the moment we don’t have the ability to change people’s habits, [but] this is the government’s responsibility, isn’t it?”
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