Some 150 dogs destined for the chopping block at a Guangzhou meat market were seized by officials in Sichuan this week following a tip-off from a Chengdu animal-rescue centre. The Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation said it was the first time a mainland authority had taken the initiative to save dogs from markets. Jill Robinson, the foundation's founder and chief executive officer, said that following Wednesday's rescue, its staff took 149 dogs back to its Qiming rescue centre in Chengdu for medical care and quarantine. One dog with distemper was put down. Ms Robinson said the animals may have been starved for days in cages. Many had been tied up with rusty wire. 'I hate to think how long they had been in those cages,' she said. 'We heard terrible screams coming from some of the cages, where terrified dogs were biting each other ... a couple of dogs were extremely thin - they are like skeletons,' Ms Robinson said. She said some of the dogs may be stolen pets because they were wearing collars. There were several purebreds, including two Dalmatians and a Labrador. Ms Robinson said that even though the number of dogs saved in the operation was 'a drop in the ocean' compared to the estimated 20 million killed on the mainland for food each year, the government's effort against the unlicensed trader was a 'good omen'. Mainland animal welfare groups were also launching campaigns in cities to stop the transport of cats to Guangzhou markets and to ask people not to eat cats and dogs, she said. 'It's a shift towards animal rights,' Ms Robinson said, referring to changing public attitudes towards eating dog and cats. 'People protest on streets to appeal for animal rights and we can conduct animal therapy programmes in hospitals and schools ... it's changing.' She said that with more education in schools, eating dog meat would become a thing of the past. Animal-rights activists have tried to educate Guangdong diners to wean them off eating cats, dogs and wild animals - for which they are notorious - and to get them to change their inhumane cooking methods. In mid-December, Beijing cat lovers handed in a petition at the southern province's office in the capital calling for cats to be taken off the menu. The petition was in response to reports that netizens in Nanjing , Jiangsu province , had tried in vain to stop 5,000 cats being transported to Guangzhou markets from the Jiangsu capital because the transport company was able to produce permits and licences. The news prompted protests in Nanning , capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region bordering Guangdong. Dozens of members of a group looking after stray cats displayed banners and chanted slogans in the city centre seeking a ban on eating cat meat. Some Guangdong residents have taken up the anti-cat meat cause. According to Guangzhou's New Express, 100 cat-loving netizens sneaked into a railway station last month to protest after they had heard 1,000 stolen cats had been delivered for slaughter and consumption. 'I have a dream that Guangdong people will never love eating cat meat again,' the newspaper quoted one protester as saying.