Actor and comedian Ricky Gervais is urging people to get behind Humane Society International’s campaign to shut down China’s cruel dog and cat meat trade, including the infamous Yulin dog meat festival that takes place this week, on June 22.

Despite officials denying that the Yulin dog meat festival will happen, mass dog slaughter will occur on that date, and Humane Society International filmed festival slaughter preparations underway in Yulin late last month. Writing a heart-felt message to HSI’s supporters, Gervais warned that thousands of terrified dogs and cats—many of them stolen pets still wearing collars—are being taken from the streets in China, miserably packed into wire cages without food or water and driven on trucks for hundreds of miles to be brutally killed for human consumption. HSI is asking supporters to sign its petition to China’s Guangxi Party Secretary Peng Qinghua.

Gervais wrote: “My friends at Humane Society International are working tirelessly to end this cruel trade all over Asia, and they desperately need your help. I’ve seen the footage that HSI has captured on video, and it breaks my heart. I will never forget the look of bewilderment and fear on the faces of these poor animals—the dogs and cats await a horrible fate. No animal deserves to be treated like this.”

Up to 10 million dogs are believed to be killed for their meat in China every year, as many as 10,000 alone for the Yulin event. Often wrongly assumed to be a Chinese tradition, the Yulin festival was in fact invented as recently as 2010 by dog meat traders as a way to boost business. Dog meat in China is very much a culinary sub-culture and not part of the mainstream.

Dog eating has become increasingly controversial in China, and the domestic and international campaigns to end it are having an impact. In 2011, a dog meat festival in Zhejiang's Jinghua was shut down as a result of protest by Chinese campaigners, and in Guangzhou a dog meat restaurant that had run for 51 years was recently closed. Ten years ago, dog slaughter on the streets of Beijing's suburbs was a common sight, but it’s unheard of in the city now. However, we have a long way to go before this cruel trade is ended for good.

As the Yulin slaughter approaches, HSI brought Ricky Gervais a much-needed sign of hope. During an undercover trip to Yulin’s dog and cat slaughterhouses last month, HSI had an unexpected opportunity to save the lives of four terrified animals next in line for killing – two cats and two dogs. In honour of Ricky’s efforts to stop the Yulin cruelty and shine a spotlight on animal abuse, HSI named one of the rescued dogs “little ricky”. The ‘Yulin Four’ are being nursed back to health before being adopted to loving, forever homes.

Gervais said: “I want you to know I have hope. HSI is at the forefront of saving animals from the butcher’s knife, lobbying to get Yulin and other dog meat markets closed for good. And they’re making progress. HSI managed to save the lives of two dogs and two cats who looked as though they’d given up all hope of rescue. Little ‘Ricky’ and his pals were next in line for killing, until HSI stepped in. One of the cats was so frightened that she climbed the wall of her cage to try to escape. I cannot imagine anything so dreadful happening to my cat Ollie—I would do anything to protect her. Little Ricky and his pals are the lucky ones. They’re now safe thanks to HSI, but thousands of others won’t be saved unless we do more to stop this.”

Sign the petition here.