The Chinese government has just gotten closer to a national ban on dog meat consumption.
China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has announced that dogs are now officially recognised as "companions". The move comes just weeks before the annual Yulin dog meat festival due to take place in June.
Last month the Chinese government published draft guidelines of Directory of Genetic Resources of Livestock and Poultry - a long list of animals allowed to be commercially bred, raised and traded. The list reclassified the dogs as "companions" not "livestock".
The majority of people who consulted the draft opposed classifying dogs as livestock, explaining that dogs have long been domesticated and included in family life as "companions" and "pets".
The government decision comes ahead of the Yulin dog meat festival due to take place next month in the Guangxi province, where thousands of dogs are killed, skinned and cooked with blow-torches.
Humane Society International (HSI) estimates that 10 million dogs are killed for meat in China every year. Many of them are stolen from homes and taken off the streets.
According to different surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017, the majority of people in China don't eat dog meat and want the Yulin festival shut down.
Dr Peter Li, HSI's China policy specialist, told Independent that the Yulin festival was a "bloody spectacle [which] does not reflect the mood or eating habits of the majority of the Chinese people".
He said: "Now that the Chinese government has officially recognised dogs as companions and not livestock, we are hopeful that China will take stronger steps to hasten the end of the dog and cat meat trade for which millions of animals continue to suffer every year.
"The announcement presents cities across China with the perfect opportunity to act upon the government's words by protecting dogs and cats from the meat trade thieves and slaughterhouses."
The coronavirus outbreak is believed to have originated in a wet market in Wuhan and passed to humans via an intermediary species. In response to the outbreak, the Chinese government temporarily banned trade and consumption of wildlife.
Last month, Shenzhen and Zhuhai were the first cities that officially banned the consumption of cat and dog meat.
The city of Wuhan has officially banned the consumption of all wild animals for five years and announced it plans of becoming a "wildlife sanctuary".