When images of the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, China hit the internet in 2013, there was no closing the Pandora’s box. Shock, anger and outrage at the brutality inflicted on what most Westerners view as humans’ best friends spurred millions around the world to sign petitions, write letters and share widely on social media in desperate attempts to do something about the horror.

The photos were haunting. Dogs squeezed by the dozen into tiny cages, smashed together so tightly they could barely breath. Dogs and cats electrocuted, burned or boiled alive in the (mistaken) belief that torture enhances the meat. Rows of dog and cat corpses dangling from meat hooks in the streets of Yulin to entice festival-goers, who could later be seen toasting over their bowls of dog meat stew.

Korea dog farm (image: Last Chance for Animals)

Last Chance for Animals was among the first to expose the brutal suffering at Yulin and around the world, and is working to end the dog and cat meat industry. With a team of undercover investigators, we’ve documented numerous slaughterhouses and dog meat markets in China, the Philippines, South Korea and more, exposing cruelty unfathomable to many and often unbearable to watch. Thousands of animals die in Yulin each year, but it’s just the beginning. An estimated 10 million dogs and 4 million cats are slaughtered for meat annually in China alone, many of them stolen pets, still wearing their collars when they arrive at the slaughterhouse.

Looking within

But as Westerners so vehemently point the finger at Asia for their barbarism, it’s all too easy to ignore what’s happening in our homeland. For dog meat is still perfectly legal in most of the United States. In fact, just six states – Virginia, California, Hawaii, New York, Georgia, and Michigan – have outlawed dog and cat meat. In the other 44, there is no law standing between your family dog and the dinner plate.

Yes, people in the States do kill dogs and cats and eat them. The evidence is usually hidden, but the practice does go on, as multiple Last Chance for Animals investigations have revealed.

In a particularly disturbing case in Wisconsin in the ‘90s, Last Chance for Animals got a tip that a class B animal dealer – one licensed to sell “random source” animals that could come from virtually anywhere –was also a dog butcher. The dealer’s name was Ervin Stebane and he would reportedly steal dogs from people’s yards, grab them from the streets or obtain them from well-meaning families who naively posted “free to good home” ads. Stebane would tie a dog tightly to a post, shoot it in the head, slit its throat and then, once the blood had drained, sell it to customers seeking fresh dog meat. He charged $25 to $75 a dog, depending on size.

Last Chance for Animals caught Stebane on hidden camera, leading to a conviction for “improperly killing animals.” He became the first B dealer to ever have his license revoked. But Stebane was never charged for selling dog meat. He couldn’t be, because there was no law against it.

However, things have changed since the explosive outcry over Asia’s dog and cat meat trade, and the US government is finally taking action. On March 7, four House representatives (Alcee L Hastings, Democrat-Florida, Vern Buchanan, Republican-Florida, Dave Trott, Republican-Michigan and Brendan Boyle, D-Pennsylvania) introduced HR 1406, the Dog and Cat Meat Prohibition Act of 2017, which would ban the slaughter and trade of dogs and cats for human consumption in the US. Those who violate the law could receive a fine of up to $2,500 and up to one year’s jail time.

Following a familiar pattern, the US initiative started with a focus on Yulin. On May 25, 2016, Rep. Hastings introduced H Res. 752, Condemning the Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, China, and urging China to end the dog meat trade. The resolution was referred to the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in September 2016, with no further action since.

Dogs with collars on truck, photo by Guangyuan Bo'ai Animal Protection Center, June 2013 (Animals Asia/Flickr)

Slow change

Back in Asia, dog and cat meat is on the decline. While it was once illegal to own pets in China, now many people share their homes with companion animals, and cringe at the thought of seeing them slaughtered. The younger generations do not eat dog and cat meat; it’s reserved as a “special occasion” food that is quickly losing favour as the cruelty and health risks – like rabies infection – are revealed.

Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines have now banned dog butchering outright. Sadly, China and South Korea, two major dog meat markets, are doing little to stop this lucrative trade – only to shield it from public eyes. Dogs are no longer sold on the streets of Yulin at festival time. And South Korea’s largest dog meat market, Moran Market, no longer displays dogs in cages for customers to select. (Not coincidentally, Korea is gearing up for the heightened scrutiny that will come with the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.) But the slaughter still happens behind closed doors, and is just as brutal as ever.

While the bipartisan HR 1406 is unlikely to meet much opposition – the pro-dog-meat lobby simply doesn’t exist in the US – things are much more complicated in Asia, where farming or selling dogs and cats for meat is a livelihood for many. Dog meat traders protest prohibition just as loudly as activists denounce the cruelty. But they are on the wrong side of history. You can’t un-educate people who learn the true evil of this industry.

Last Chance for Animals encourages anyone who stands against the brutality to speak out. Please add your voice: sign the petitions at StopDogMeat.com urging Chinese and Korean officials to finally outlaw the slaughter of dogs and cats.

Nina Jackel is campaigns director of Last Chance for Animals, a non-profit organisation dedicated to exposing and eliminating cruelty to animals.

This article first appeared on AlterNate.