Dame Judi Dench has backed a campaign to stop China's Yulin Dog Meat Festival.

The 'Skyfall' actress has lent her support to a petition which is calling for an end to the event - which was started in 2009 to boost flagging sales of dog meat - because it sees thousands of canines and cats painfully slaughtered for consumption.

She said in a statement: ''It fills me with sadness to think that the Yulin Dog Meat Festival is just around the corner again.

''So I wanted to send this message as a symbol of my solidarity with all the thousands of people in China against the dog meat trade, who love their dogs and cats just as much as we do, but who go through the awful heartache of having them stolen by dog thieves. I cannot imagine the suffering of those poor dogs, and I hope very much that one day soon this cruel trade will end.''

The petition was created by Care2 and Humane Society International (HSI) and carried 1.5 million signatures when it was delivered, along with Judi's message, to the Chinese Embassy in London on Thursday (20.06.19).

HSI have branded the dog meat trade ''unspeakably cruel''.

Their executive director, Claire Bass, said in a statement: ''The dog meat trade in China is first and foremost about crime and cruelty. The Yulin festival is one small but distressing example of an unspeakably cruel trade run by dog thieves and sellers who routinely steal pets in broad daylight using poison darts and rope nooses, defy public health and safety laws, and cause horrendous suffering, all for a meat that most people in China don't consume.''

Simon Cowell, Ricky Gervais and Lisa Vanderpump are among the stars who have previously spoken out against the festival.