More than 100 dogs destined for butchers’ blocks in China are about to find new homes in Canada thanks to Humane Society International (HSI).

“I’m ecstatic,” HSI Canada executive director Rebecca Aldworth told CTV News on Friday.

“When we found these dogs, they were at a dog meat festival,” she said. “They were crammed into rusty iron cages so tightly together that they couldn’t move. They were gasping for air. They had open wounds and sores all over their bodies. They were dehydrated, emaciated. It was clear they hadn’t had food for days.”

Although the practice remains taboo in much of Europe, North America and the Islamic world, the consumption of dog meat is relatively commonplace, especially in Asian countries like China, Vietnam and South Korea. In China, moreover, the city of Yulin’s annual dog meat celebration sees thousands of the animals slaughtered for food every June. Aldworth describes it as a “horrific festival.”

These dogs’ journey to freedom began six months ago in Yulin, Adworth says. HSI representatives were at the festival to document animal rights abuses. While there, activists were able to secure the release of 170 dogs and five cats, which were then brought to an HSI-funded emergency shelter in northern China. The shelter was able to find local homes for the cats and 60 dogs. HSI decided to bring the rest of the animals to Canada.

“This is the very first time that China has done a dog export of this size,” Aldworth said. “Getting the paperwork from the Chinese government to export them and finding an air carrier that could have the capacity to move them has been so challenging. And, like a Christmas miracle, this week it all came together and we got them out.”

In a rescue operation that received most of its funding from The Eric S. Margolis Family Foundation, the animals recently landed in Toronto via an Air Canada flight from Beijing. They are now completing their trips and are being sent to shelters, sanctuaries and foster homes across Ontario and Quebec.

“They’ve gone through a pretty arduous journey to get here to Canada,” Aldworth said. “They’re also dogs that have suffered and witnessed a level of cruelty that most adult people can’t even watch on video, so they’re really traumatized. A lot of them are fearful and they require a lot of tender love and care to regain their trust in people.”

Despite the trauma, Aldowrth firmly believes that the animals will be able to fully adjust to their new and hopefully happier lives in Canada.

“I’ve rescued dogs from puppy mills, from hoarding situations, from some of the worst places you can ever imagine seeing a dog,” she said. “What amazes me each and every time is the resilience of dogs: the ability of dogs to forgive the worst things that we can do to them and to regain their love for humans.”

According to Aldworth, a staggering 30 million dogs are slaughtered for meat every year around the world, the majority of them in China. Thanks to the work of activists like Adworth, the practice has been waning in recent years. Still, groups like HSI would like to see the dog meat trade ended for good.

“Bringing the dogs over here can really help wake the world up to an ongoing urgent crisis,” Aldworth said. She says dogs like these serve as “ambassadors” for HSI’s global campaign.

“I know that the dog meat trade will end because human compassion is unstoppable and so is HSI and all of our partners.”

If you’re interested in adopting one of the dogs, get in touch with the Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary in King City, Ont., the Montreal SPCA or Ottawa’s Bytown Association for Rescued Animals.