A caring Swindon couple are travelling to China to protest against the barbaric Yulin Festival which sees dogs and cats brutally tortured, skinned alive and slaughtered for their meat.

Dan, 30, and Helen, 33, of Beaufort Road, will fly out on June 19 and spend three days in the country.

Helen, who works at the National Trust and is a passionate supporter of animal rights, is raising money to buy as many dogs as possible and send them back to the United States to be re-homed.

The couple volunteered after organiser Marc Ching, founder of The Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, California, requested word wide help in trying to save the animals.

“I’m not attacking them for their culture because every culture is different. The problem is the way they go about it, the senseless cruelty,” said Helen.

“I passionately believe in the protection of all animals and it’s awful how they’re tortured and skinned alive.”

The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, also known as the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, is an annual event in which an estimated 10,000 - 15,000 stolen dogs and cats are mutilated and killed.

It takes place on June 20 in the poor and deprived city of Yulin, southern China.

Helen, who has never been to China before, said: “This has been rattling around in my brain for a few weeks now and I just thought it’s something I have to do.

“It’s a huge thing because it will be mentally and emotionally draining but I’ve always been hugely passionate about animal welfare. It’s an issue that’s really close to my heart and I felt as though I couldn’t just sit by while this was going on.”

She added: “The dogs they steal are family pets that still have their collars on.”

Slaughtering dogs for their meat is a common practise in China but the festival has been condemned by animal charities and celebrities for being unnecessarily cruel and unhygienic.

Many people in China oppose the festival too. Earlier this year more than eight million citizens signed an online petition calling on the government to ban it outright. There has also been an increase in protests against eating dog meat.

“The festival has only been going for about six years so it’s not even as if it’s part of a tradition that goes back hundreds of years,” Helen said. “And in the last six months or so people have started to realise.”

People on Twitter have started a hashtag #StopYulin2016 in a bid to raise awareness and put pressure on the Chinese government to step in.

Helen said: “I am a massive dog lover. I have two dogs, Shadow who’s 16-months-old and BB who’s five-months-old. They really are man’s best friend.”