Eating Dog Meat in Asia and What You Can do About It
Birth of The Dog Meat Trade
It all began when a few ambitious men came up with a scheme to profit off of the wild dog population in northeast Thailand. Then they put it into action. They began trapping and smuggling canines across the border and on to butcheries in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, where locals consider dog meat a rare and delectable treat. Unfortunately, they were very successful and well-rewarded for their efforts.
Vietnamese officials have declared trafficking dogs for meat illegal. However, since its advent in the ‘90s, the practice has only continued to grow, and smugglers have only become more adaptive, elusive, and technologically savvy. The profits of between 1.9 and 2.4 million each year are highly motivating. But they require that the boats and trucks that cart up to 300,000 dirty and malnourished animals to their deaths reach their final destination.
Animal Abuse in Asia
While being transported from Thailand to Vietnam, dogs are held in large metal cages so jam-packed they bulge outwards from every side. A single vehicle may carry as many as 1,000 animals, and after multiple days, many die of suffocation.
If they do survive, mafia handlers subject the dogs to terrible cruelties. They do this in the belief that hormones released through fear and pain make their meat more tender. Some put dogs in "stress cages" so small that they can barely move. Others are beaten to death, requiring several blows--as many as 10 or 12. Still others have their throats cut, or their hearts stabbed with a knife while in full view of other dogs. Torture can proceed for hours. For the very unlucky, it ends only after being skinned or burned alive.
More alarming is the fact that modern practices target not just wild dogs, but domesticated ones. These are often beloved pets, as they are more trusting and easier to get a hold of. John Dalley from the Soi Dog Foundation believes that 98% of the dogs sold for meat are domesticated. Some even wear identifying collars and understand and respond to commands.
Dog Meat Dishes
Quan Thit Cho Chieu Hoa is one of the most well-known restaurants in Hanoi and boasts a menu comprised entirely of dog. A dog meat stew features blood as its liquid base and chefs toss barbecued canine with ginger and lemongrass. Steamed dog served alongside shrimp or seasoned kabobs well-marinated with coriander are also available options. And for those who want a simple finger food: dog entrails, sliced thin, and wrapped in basil leaves is a popular choice with customers.
Somewhat strangely, patrons of this restaurant may be dog-owners themselves. As the eating of dogs has been a long-held tradition in Vietnam, they don't view them as only friends or companions. Those who do have furry pets see nothing wrong with greeting them when coming home after dining upon their less fortunate relatives.
Such dining is commonplace not only in restaurants but at many informal social gatherings. More than just an enjoyable treat, canine meat is believed to enhance a man’s masculinity, provide medicinal benefits, and provide a good source of protein.
As a further incentive for pet-snatching, dogs with a pedigree sell for a higher price than wild strays. In the markets of Vietnam, the right animal can be worth $60. This means that in addition to wild Asianic dogs there are breeds such as golden retrievers and long-haired terriers stuffed in mafia owned cages. Some are even believed to be taken directly from people’s backyards.
The practice wouldn’t exist without demand, and demand is on the rise. Over one million dogs are consumed every year in Vietnam.
Members of the Soi Dog Foundation have received footage of abuse so graphic that those with access to it cannot broadcast it. They describe it as “literally hell on earth.” And it's done to some of the most loyal and trusting animals.
Efforts to Fight Illegal Trafficking
In 2009, an investigation launched by the GlobalPost identified an area in Thailand, known as “Tae Rae,” as a dog trafficking headquarters. Investigators followed smugglers from this location to ports where they witnessed over 1,000 dogs packed in metal cages floating over the border with mafia assistance. Unfortunately, efforts to dismantle this network in 2011 only chased the culprits further underground.
Now, operations are spread throughout the northeast, making them harder to pinpoint. The vehicles used for animal transport have fancy GPS devices and fake license plates. And, unfortunately, officials such as the police chief of Nakhon Phanom province, an area known for a strong trafficking presence, often deem the search for dog smugglers less crucial than other problems.
Local Thailand authorities are known to be resistant to efforts intended to bring down dog traffickers. Many believe this is because of its high profitability and payoffs by those involved to local politicians and police forces. Sadly, the Soi Dog Foundation has had to resort to bribes of its own to see any favorable results.
Activist groups have been forced to change their appeals from emotional to rational. Instead of urging law enforcement to act on the grounds of compassion, activists now demand that they act in the interest of public safety. The dog meat trade is known to transport sick and diseased animals and spread cholera and rabies. Vietnam and Thailand are both working towards the eradication of disease, so this strategy is believed to be better.
Also, the practice of processing and selling products from long-dead animals is not unheard of. After burying and then barbecuing dog corpses, their meat appears to be of good quality to those who wouldn't know better. To protect unsuspecting individuals against ingesting rotting, tainted food, organizations again urge a crackdown on illegal meat distribution networks.
However, it remains legal to eat dog in Thailand, and the laws in place that target their smuggling are useless with little to no consequences. Legislation meant to target smugglers on tax evasion or for the transport of unvaccinated animals is also virtually meaningless. While on paper, it may look like there has been progress, there has been very little in reality.
A Failure in Legislation
When the Thailand authorities do crack down on this practice, instead of simple arrests, fines, and jail time, things get complicated. Smugglers often defend themselves, protesting that existing laws lack clarity and organize rallies in their defense.
Laws could be made more explicit. There is, in fact, no legislation in Thailand regarding animal cruelty, which would most obviously fit the crimes. As a consequence, most smugglers are held and prosecuted according to laws concerning the unsanctioned trade and transportation of animals.
Efforts are being made to change this so there is an animal welfare law. For now, most members of the dog meat mafia only get a few months of jail time, if anything, when caught. As if that wasn't bad enough, the dogs confiscated from them may still not be safe. They may end up back on the streets and then back in their trucks awaiting transport to Vietnam’s slaughterhouses, yet again.
The Root of the Problem
It would be easier to crack down on illegal dog trafficking if there wasn’t such a huge dog overpopulation problem in Thailand. Roger Lohanan, the man in charge of the Thailand SPCA in Bangkok, calculates that an excess of 68,000 puppies are born on the streets each year. Uncared for, they are often unhealthy and covered with open wounds and fleas. Ironically, the government’s method of population control is hardly more humane than trafficking practices.
In 1999 over 50,000 strays were collected and killed with cheaply obtainable poison in favor of more humane and expensive methods of euthanasia. Some officials even deliberately failed to feed captured animals before having them poisoned in hopes they would starve and spare them the money and effort.
Thailand’s dog problem is America’s cat problem. Owners decide not to spay or neuter their pets and then abandon them when they become too difficult or expensive. To combat this vicious cycle, Lohanan has created the Animal Friendly Project program that teaches school children pet responsibility and promotes spaying and neutering.
Unfortunately, the SPCA’s resources are slim, and the local government does not assist. On any given day, hundreds of dogs requiring medical attention roam the streets of Bangkok, and the small animal welfare organization does its best to combat this problem. However, it's virtually on its own. Donated buildings and medical supplies make their job a little easier, but it is still overwhelmingly daunting.
This situation also points to a sad possibility. Some believe that the government is letting the dog meat mafia take care of its problems, free of charge, and unfortunately at the expense of hundreds of thousands of animals.
What Can You do to Stop the Cruelty?
Add your name to the petition for Thailand's Prime Minister to stop the dog meat trade:
Donate to or volunteer for the Thai SPCA:
Sponsor a dog with the Soi Dog Foundation:
Smugglers Drive Thailand's Grim Trade in Dog Meat by Peter Shadbolt for CNN. Accessed at http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/02/world/asia/thailand-dogs.
The Stray Dogs of Thailand And How Travel Can Help Them by Wendy Diamond of the Huffington Post. Accessed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-diamond/thailands-dog-day-afterno_b_1004136.html.
Inside Southeast Asia's Dog Meat Trade by Patrick Winn of the Global Post. Accessed at http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/thailand/130614/dog-meat-trade-trafficking