Odessa Gunn of Forestville packs for a trek to southern China in advance of a food festival, the mere thought of which makes her sick.
The retired bike racer and former wife of retired racer Levi Leipheimer leaves Monday on a mission to help rescue dogs from the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in the city of Yulin. Each year since 2009, thousands of dogs are butchered for festival guests, at least some of whom expect healthful results from the meals.
“I can’t believe human beings do this stuff,” said Gunn, a dog lover and veteran animal-rights activist who believes the reports she has read that say many of the dogs consumed each summer solstice in Yulin are stolen pets and are intentionally abused.
“I want to bring more attention to the whole dog torture situation,” she said. “I can’t sleep at night knowing it happens.”
Gunn intends to film her trip. She has posted an online crowdfunding appeal at gofundme.com/theunsungheroes.
She hopes not to attend the 10-day festival in Yulin but instead stay at a shelter some distance away that will house dogs rescued from the festival and slaughterhouses by activist Marc Ching.
“I’m trying not to go to the festival,” Gunn said, “but I will if Marc needs help.”
Protests and appeals from people around the world have prompted government officials in Yulin to ban the sale of dog meat there a week before the festival, which begins June 21.
Some of those outraged by dog-meat fest say they suspect it will go again this year despite the ban. Gunn figures more pressure is needed to assure the Yulin festival will stop killing dogs, and she feels called to help apply that pressure.
An official of Humane Society International, Peter Li, said Thursday the ban on the sale of dog meat in Yulin is encouraging.
“The government is doing something, that’s important,” said Li, the animal welfare group’s China policy specialist. In San Francisco on Thursday for a press conference on the Yulin festival, Li noted that Chinese officials have announced that anyone violating the order will face steep fines.
Li said he expects that Chinese authorities will attempt to enforce the ban, but it is yet to be seen how effective those efforts will be at halting the butchering and cooking of dogs prior to and during the festival.
Representatives of Humane Society International will be in Yulin to verify how well the ban works, Li said.
In Sonoma County, Gunn said she knows the trip to China could be perilous and she’s grateful that friend Clint St. Martin, a Marine Corps veteran, will travel with her.
She plans to bring home as many dogs as she can, which looks to be about 20. Other dogs rescued from China will be taken by rescuers to other parts of the world.
Gunn intends to deliver dogs to Compassion Without Borders in Santa Rosa for observation, any necessary medical care and then adoption by local families.
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Odessa Gunn has set up a GoFundMe page to help save dogs from the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. To donate go here.