Animal-rights groups are trying to stop a solstice festival in Yulin, China, where they say thousands of dogs and cats are eaten each year. The so-called Yulin Dog Meat Festival has come under intense scrutiny with the rise of social media. Reuters

Animal-rights groups across the world are calling on Chinese officials to put a stop to a solstice celebration in which thousands of dogs and cats are supposedly killed for their meat and eaten. The so-called Yulin Dog Meat Festival, in the Guangxi region of China, was reportedly banned by the local government, but advocates say the ban has not stopped the slaughter of the animals, according to numerous press reports.

One California group, the Duo Duo Welfare Project, launched a petition calling on the Yulin city governor, Chen Wu, to “act in the interest of public health.” The petition has gained more than 250,000 supporters since it was launched last month. Andrea Gung, a representative of Duo Duo, told the U.K.’s Independent she witnessed the dog meat festival last year. “Some dogs were still wagging their tails when they were being killed in the slaughterhouse,” she said.

In a video posted on YouTube, Gung said an estimated 90 percent of the dogs killed at the festival each year are stolen from urban households and farmers by thieves who then turn around and sell them. “Stealing and selling a dog is easy money,” she said.

As the BBC reported, opinions are divided about how widespread the practice is. The Yulin festival has come under intense scrutiny in recent years with the rise of social media. Gung told the BBC her group is specifically targeting Western activists as a way to bring more global awareness of the issue.

Activists in North America, Europe and Australia have been mobilizing on Facebook and Twitter, and through petition sites like Since May, almost 250,000 tweets with the hashtag #StopYulin2015 have been sent. The campaigns have gotten the attention of some celebrities, including the comedian Ricky Gervais -- an avowed animal-rights advocate -- who tweeted a petition last week from activists in Canada.

The Yulin festival is set to take place on June 21. Local officials have reportedly said that they will investigate and shut down any section of the festival that includes dog meat.