This time last year I momentarily regretted getting involved in campaigning for a better world for dogs. As my newsfeed filled with gruesome, stomach churning images of dogs being butchered in China I was overwhelmed by the horror. It was the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival and much as I berate others for turning away from the brutality of the puppy farming industry, I found myself unable to cope with the barbarism I was seeing and turned away from the string of atrocities filling my screen.
Well, here we are, a year on and it's déjà vu: same horrific festival is about to happen, despite an international outcry last year that swept through social media resulting in the local authorities claiming it would be banned. They may not be calling it a festival, it might be trying to slip underground but according to investigators from Humane Society International, preparations are well underway for another mass slaughtering of tens of thousands of dogs and cats, many of them stolen pets.
This disgusting activity reflects an attitude towards animals that is not unique to Yulin, or China. Across Asia, dogs are tortured in the dog meat trade. It's not enough they are killed, their suffering is intentional and detailed in the belief that with pain their meat softens. We are justifiably horrified by the dog meat trade itself, let alone the gruesome public spectacles of butchery and atrocities seen at Yulin. Social media is boiling with outrage with almost a quarter of a million tweets being posted since May using the hashtag #StopYulin2015. Globally, millions have joined the campaign to shut down the dog meat trade, boosted last autumn by support from UK stars Ricky Gervais and Judi Dench.
This year, I've toughened up and read my newsfeed, horrible as it is. I'm painfully struck by the same misery on the faces of the dogs, crammed into cages, destined for Yulin, that's seen in dogs in puppy mills. The tortured looks of bewilderment and agony are hauntingly familiar. Yet, I wonder how many people, outraged by Yulin and dog meat consumption generally, see any similarities in what is happening around the world, to dogs caught up in the massive puppy breeding industry. I can't help but question how many ordinary citizens will knowingly swallow the lies told by the puppy mills, and pet shops selling their 'stock', as they hand over cash for puppies, yet sign petitions to stop Yulin.
I easily equate the heinous cruelty to dogs at Yulin to that experienced in the many thousands of puppy mills aka factories supplying not the dog meat trade, but the global puppy trade.It's a specious debate as to which dogs suffer more or less. Millions of dogs are kept in cages their entire lives exposed to the elements, or in complete darkness in agricultural sheds whilst being tortured mentally and physically for years, as they are forced to supply the booming puppy business. Unlike Yulin where the barbarity is on display, breeding dogs are spared from public torture, but this secrecy also spares the public, the full and nasty truth behind the puppies they're buying.
Whether its dogs trapped in cages in the puppy mill industry, where federal regulations state a dog can live its entire life in a space with as little as six inches space around the dog in each direction; or dogs crammed into cages awaiting butchering in the dog meat trade; or young puppies being transported in vans across Europe to satisfy the insatiable demands of the puppy market, everywhere dogs are suffering at the hands of humans. There shouldn't be a sliding scale of suffering that elicits our concern, it all should.
All those outraged by Yulin should be as outraged by what is being done to dogs in the international puppy breeding industry and demanding an end to it. Thankfully many are, including Ricky Gervais and Downton Abbey star Peter Egan both high profile campaigners against puppy mills. But the buying public are still creating a thriving demand so the outrage is far from outrageous enough.
There's a hypocrisy closer to home than many might think, as individuals, agitated over Yulin, remain blissfully ignorant that in the state of Pennsylvania it's legal to eat cats and dogs despite efforts to ban it. Is it simply coincidence, that some of the nation's most infamous puppy breeding facilities are located in Pennsylvania?
If there is any consolation for the dogs in Yulin - and there is scant reason for thanks amid the savagery - their suffering will not continue for years. Their terror is monstrous but short-lived. Unlike those in the dog breeding industry. Granted, dogs in breeding facilities will not be boiled or skinned alive as they are in the streets of Yulin, but many will live for years with painfully infected eyes, ears, wombs, skin; with broken jaws, rotten mouths and poorly healed injuries. Some will be subjected to breeders performing "DIY ear crops" and tail docking, their misery being ended, one day, with a gunshot to the head.
Is Yulin any worse than this for the dogs caught up in the torment? But, while puppy buyers are complicit in the suffering inflicted by the puppy mill industry as they buy their puppies online and in pet shops, I'm certain they would balk at being tarred with the same brutal brush of Yulin.
Can we really argue that one is crueler than the other, or more or less acceptable? Both are created by demands made by individuals enjoying the results of indescribable suffering: whether it's puppies or dog meat. In each, the authorities show no real appetite for, or commitment to tackling the cruelty and ending it once and for all.
The only difference between the cruelty in the mass puppy breeding business and on the streets of Yulin is that the latter is on public display.