SKY NEWS:- Animal rights activists have rescued dozens of dogs from a slaughterhouse in southern China ahead of a controversial dog meat festival due to be held next week.

The frightened animals – 21 dogs, eight puppies, and five cats and kittens – were crammed into small cages together.

Some were wearing collars, suggesting they may be stolen pets.

Chinese activists found the warehouse in Yulin, Guanxi province, and managed to negotiate the animals’ release.

Dr Peter Li, from Humane Society International, who led the rescue, told Sky News: “We came to this slaughterhouse to find it shut, but there were dogs barking inside.

“The place was very dirty and horrendous. When we saw the dogs, especially the puppies jumping and fighting to get our attention, it was very hard to leave them in that place and in Yulin.

“We negotiated their release to us and took them immediately out of Yulin.

Two of the dogs wore collars. Two other dogs had some kind of a leash on them, but, they were all scared when we unloaded them.

“They behaved like owned dogs and close to people. None of the dogs displayed aggression to us.”

He said they rented a truck to transport the animals away from the city to local animal hospitals.

“The dogs and cats were clearly afraid, especially the older dogs who looked very fearful, but once they realised we weren’t there to hurt them, but in fact we would make their suffering stop at last, they very quickly responded with licks and wagging tails,” he said.

Photos released by the group showed the animals being cared for at a shelter, where they are being examined by vets and prepared for adoption.

Some 11 million people have signed an international petition demanding an end to the festival, which campaigners say will mean the slaughter of 10,000 dogs over the next 10 days.

Actress Carrie Fisher brought her dog, Gary, to a protest outside the Chinese Embassy in London last week.

She said: “These poor dogs need us to fight for them. Every single one of them is as precious as my dear Gary, every one of them is someone’s best friend.”

Dr Li said he wanted to stress that their campaign was not targeted at the people of Yulin, or even the dog meat traders there, but at the dog meat industry in general, and the dog theft, poisoning, and other activities he says that sustains it.

The popularity of dog meat in China has decreased in recent years, with many users of social media site Weibo posting messages against it.

“I don’t eat dog meat, not just because I love them but also because they really love me,” one user said.

“Dogs trust humans more than any other animal, they rely on humans and love humans. So all my friends, please use your mobile phone to re-post this message: ‘stop eating the dog meat’. I oppose the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, you can dislike them, but please don’t hurt them.”

Supporters of the festival, however, believe dog meat is good for people’s health during the hot summer months and no different to eating other animals.

Weibo user HuzhenjiangNice said: “I don’t think it’s necessary to boycott the festival, it’s only local tradition, like the Spring Festival and Christmas. Anybody boycotting them? Stop criticising others on moral grounds. You can stop eating dog meat but you don’t have the rights to stop others eating.”

Despite the international campaign against the festival, China’s state media has said the government.