Every year, when it's time for the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, we at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and our global affiliates get calls and e-mails from outraged people around the world who are appalled at the sight of thousands of dogs being caged, bludgeoned and butchered while screaming and desperately struggling to escape.
We, too, are appalled by these atrocities, which is why we work to stop the slaughter of dogs in China all year long, not just for meat but also for fur and leather, which is mislabelled and exported to unsuspecting buyers abroad. This slaughter occurs every day.
But does an animal have to be easy to imagine curled up on our sofa for us to determine whether it should be spared the butcher's knife? There is no rational reason for making a dog your friend and a chicken your dinner -- the distinction is simply down to prejudice and cultural norms.
Today, thanks to the work of ethologists, we now know that chickens' cognitive abilities are in some ways more advanced than those of dogs, cats and even some primates. Chickens can complete complex mental tasks, learn from watching each other, demonstrate self-control, worry about the future and pass cultural knowledge from one generation to another.
We now know that chickens' cognitive abilities are in some ways more advanced than those of dogs, cats and even some primates.
Like dogs, chickens are also very social and have impressive communication skills. Behaviourists have identified more than 30 types of vocalizations -- there may be far more -- to distinguish between threats approaching by land (eg, snakes) and those by air (eg, hawks), and a mother hen begins to teach calls to her chicks even before they hatch. Chickens also look out for their families and their friends.
Each chicken is an individual with a distinct personality, just like dogs. Some are shy, others bold, some friendly, others more cautious. And most importantly, like all animals, they value their own lives.
It has been reported that by the end of this year's 10-day Yulin Dog Meat Festival, some 10,000 dogs will have been killed. But in India, an estimated 1 million thinking, feeling chickens are killed to be eaten every four hours.
Dogs killed in China are transported in cages so small, they can barely move. Here in India, chickens used for eggs spend their entire short lives, about 18 months, in a space roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper before being sent to slaughter. Many dogs die while being transported to slaughter and endure hunger, thirst, illness and broken bones, just like India's chickens.
Yes, let's be outraged by the cruelty that takes place during the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, but let's not be hypocrites about it.
Dogs who survive transport are bludgeoned and stabbed and may even be skinned or cooked alive while still aware of what is happening to them. Chickens used for meat in India typically have their throats slashed with dull knives in front of other flockmates, and around the world, they are punched, stepped on and thrown when they try to break free. In slaughterhouses in the United States, where chickens are supposed to be stunned prior to slaughter, videos show that many evade the stunner and their throats are cut while they are still conscious. Chickens are also often immersed in tanks of scalding-hot water while still alive and able to feel pain. Whether it's a chicken or a dog, a fish or a sheep, no animal (including this writer!) wants to suffer and die.
Recent news out of China may give us reason for optimism: in 2014, its vegetarian population reached 50 million, and just this week, the media reported on the Chinese government's plan to reduce its citizens' meat consumption by 50% in order to improve public health and cut greenhouse-gas emissions. In India, too, there is a growing national concern over environmental problems with drought and flooding as well as over human health. PETA has sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to follow China's lead by promoting plant-based eating to the Indian public through a government initiative.
Pointing a finger at other cultures is easy -- what's harder is facing the faults in our own behaviour and correcting them. Yes, let's be outraged by the cruelty that takes place during the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, but let's not be hypocrites about it. We must extend our compassion to all animals, not just dogs, by leaving them off our plates.
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