​Three ways you can protest China's notorious dog meat festival

What can Americans do to protest the notorious annual dog meat festival in the southern city of Yulin, China, which took place again on Tuesday?

The answer is a lot, according to the Humane Society International, one of the key groups working on the ground to save dogs from being slaughtered at the festival and dismantle the larger dog meat trade throughout Asia.

Apply political pressure

Earlier this month, the Humane Society International received 11 million signatures on a petition calling for China to ban the annual Yulin festival. Partnering with a local group called Beijing Mothers Against Animal Cruelty, the organization presented that petition to Yulin and Chinese government officials.

"The Beijing authorities had a full understanding of the breadth of concerns expressed by the international community," Kelly O'Meara, director of companion animals and engagement for Humane Society International, said.

Today, Matt Damon, Rooney Mara, Minnie Driver and Joaquin Phoenix were among several high-profile celebrity names in a new, graphic video criticizing the dog meat trade.

The political pressure might be working. The death toll from the Yulin festival dropped from 15,000 dogs in 2010 to 2,000-3,000 dogs in 2015, according to the Humane Society International. This year, the Human Society's team on the ground said there's significant evidence pointing to less killing and less visible dog meat eating than in previous years. The festival, founded by dog traders in 2010, is a relatively new phenomenon in China.

"We're still seeing market stalls and mopeds piled with the typical brown blowtorched bodies of dogs, but as yet nothing like the scale we feared," Peter Li, HSI's China policy specialist, said in a statement from Yulin. "It's a muted Yulin for sure. The authorities seem nervous and are warning dog and cat traders not to engage with us and alerting government employees to stay away from the dog meat restaurants."

ax04464549.jpg

This Yulin slaughterhouse is still in operation. It's located next to a dog warehouse.

Peter Li/Humane Society International

Sixty-four percent of Chinese citizens want the Yulin festival to end, saying it blackens their country's image globally, according to a new poll commissioned by the Humane Society International, Avaaz and the China Animal Welfare Association.

Consider adopting one of the rescued animals

In the days leading up to this year's festival, the Humane Society International rescued 54 dogs and cats on their way to being slaughtered at the event. The animals are currently being transported to local shelters for veterinary treatment, where doctors will look for eye infections, skin diseases, lacerations, etc. After treatment, the organization plans to place all rescued animals in new homes.

Though most of the placements will be local in China, a small number of dogs and cats will soon be headed to the U.S., Canada and perhaps the U.K. for adoption, O'Meara said. She encouraged interested adoptees to go to the Humane Society's website to check out the organization's list of shelter partners. These groups will handle matching the dogs and cats with suitable owners.

Stay plugged in

Now that the Yulin festival -- always a lightning rod for criticism -- is over, the dog trade will almost inevitably fade from international headlines. But O'Meara emphasized that China's dog meat trade is hardly limited to this one event. An estimated 10 million dogs are killed annually for the country's dog meat market, she said.

"We are concerned that people following Yulin may be under the misconception that this is the end of the dog meat trade throughout the year. That's certainly not the case in China," O'Meara said. She encouraged those concerned individuals to stay plugged in to activism throughout the year, not just festival time.

"We specifically line up approaches that are culturally sensitive but also very effective," she said. "We are wholeheartedly putting ourselves in a position not only to see a major reduction in the dog meat trade, but ultimately a ban in Asia."

  • Shanika Gunaratna On Twitter»

    Shanika Gunaratna covers science and technology for CBSNews.com