An Ontario man’s petition to end the annual Yulin dog meat-eating festival has exploded online after receiving celebrity backing.
British comedian and writer Ricky Gervais, who is in Toronto filming Netflix movie Special Correspondents, promoted the petition on his Facebook and Twitter accounts Tuesday, helping it reach close to 100,000 signatures.
Douglas Atherton, from Elliot Lake, started the petition hoping to raise awareness and “open people’s eyes” to the cruelty of the festival.
He had no expectation that it would reach nearly 100,000 people across the globe.
Hundreds of thousands of social media users have shown their support for Atherton and other groups’ petitions against the festival in China’s Guangxi province using the hashtag #StopYulin2015.
“When Ricky Gervais picked it up, it kind of made my heart jump,” said Atherton, 38, who runs Canadian not-for-profit group Raise Your Paw. “I thought wow, what I’m trying to say has got to a celebrity. I couldn’t believe it.”
The South China Morning Post reports that Yulin residents believe dog meat “will dispel evil ghosts and disease.”
The local government said the festival was banned in 2014, but numerous reports indicate the tradition continued last year and will happen again in 2015.
Other organizations such as Duo Duo Animal Welfare have been fighting the event for years without much success in preventing it.
“With enough people, we can cause a stir and pressure the government,” Atherton said. “When Blackfish came out about SeaWorld, it started off with just a couple of people talking, then more and more people spoke about it.
“This is about more than the festival. The dog and cat meat trade happens all year round. On the black market, pets are stolen and raised at cat and dog farms.
“The more people we can reach, the more chance we have of making an impact and stopping 10,000 dogs suffering each year because of an old tradition.”
Closer to home, Atherton also hopes to fight for the lone orca left at Marineland. The Toronto Star’s long-running campaign to end the breeding and sale of orcas in the province recently got action, but Marineland’s sole orca, Kiska, remains in captivity.