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Eating Dog: the Asian Dog Meat Mafia
Birth of The Dog Meat Trade
It all began when a few ambitious men came up with a scheme to profit off the wild dog population in northeast Thailand. 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, these men were 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, technologically savvy, and elusive. Earning profits of between 1.9 and 2.4 million dollars each year, the dog meat mafia goes to extraordinary lengths to protect the boats and trucks that cart up to 300,000 dirty, emaciated, and malnourished animals to their death.
While being transported from Thailand to Vietnam dogs are held in large metal cages so jam packed they bulge outwards from every side. Up to 1,000 animals are crammed into a single vehicle for multiple days. Many die of suffocation before they reach their ultimate destination.
If they do survive, the dogs are subjected to terrible cruelties in the belief that hormones released through fear and pain tenderize their meat. Some are placed 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 throat cuts or are stabbed in the heart in sight of other dogs. Torture can proceed for hours. For the very unlucky, it ends only after being skinned...or burned...alive.
More alarming still is the fact that modern practices target not just wild dogs, but domesticated ones, 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 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 meat. A stew features blood as its liquid base; barbecued canine is tossed with ginger and lemongrass, steamed meat is paired with shrimp, and kabobs are well-marinated with coriander. And for those who want a simple finger food: dog entrails, sliced thin, and wrapped in basil leaves is a popular choice.
Interestingly, patrons of this restaurant may be dog-owners themselves. As the eating of dogs has been a long-held tradition in Vietnam, unlike the viewing of them as friends or companions, those who do have furry pets see little problem with greeting them after dining upon their relatives.
Such dining is commonplace not only in restaurants but at many informal social gatherings. Considered more than an enjoyable treat, canine meat is believed to enhance a man’s masculinity, provide medicinal benefits, and constitute a healthy source of protein.
As 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 the abuse that is so graphic it is not even allowed to be aired. They describe it as “literally hell on earth.”
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 being floated over the border. 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 are affixed with 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. In fact, the Soi Dog Foundation has had to resort to payoffs 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, as the dog meat trade is known to transport sick and diseased animals and spread rabies and cholera. Vietnam and Thailand are both working towards the eradication of rabies so this strategy is believed to be more effective.
In addition, the practice of processing and selling products created from deceased animals is not unheard of. By burying and then barbecuing long-dead dogs their meat appears to be of good quality to those who would know no better. To protect unsuspecting individuals against ingesting rotting, tainted meat organizations again urge a crackdown on illegal dog meat distribution networks.
However, it remains legal to eat dog in Thailand and the laws in place that target their smuggling are usually ignored with little to no consequence. Legislation meant to target smugglers on tax evasion or for the transport of unvaccinated animals are hardly enforced and virtually meaningless.
A Failure in Legislation
When the Thailand authorities do crack down on this practice, instead of simple arrests, fines, and/or 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 clearer; there is, in fact, no legislation in Thailand regarding animal cruelty which would most obviously fit the meat trafficking crime. Because of this, most smugglers who are caught 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 but, for now, most members of the dog meat mafia get a few months of jail time, if anything, when caught. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the dogs confiscated from them may end up back on streets and 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 their streets every year. Uncared for, they are often unhealthy and covered with open wounds and fleas. Ironically, the government’s “legal” method of population control is hardly more humane than trafficking .
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 to death beforehand, sparing them money and effort.
Thailand’s dog problem is America’s cat problem; owners decide not to spay or neuter their pets and abandon them when they become too difficult or expensive to take care of. To combat this vicious cycle, Lohanan has created an 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 provides no assistance whatsoever. 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, virtually on its own. Donated buildings and medical supplies make their job a little easier, but it is still overwhelmingly daunting.
In environments like this it may be that the government is letting the dog meat mafia take care of its own problems, free of charge, but, unfortunately, at the expense of hundreds of thousands of animals.
What Can You do to Help?
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