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Behind the scenes of the dog meat trade

Dog-meat-200Every year, billions of animals endure fear and pain in the meat industry due to their status as food. Susannah Waters spotlights the trade in dog meat and the legal inadequacies that help it to continue.

24 April 2014

Panicked cries cut through the rancid and humid dusk air. Rusty cages stacked four deep detain the noisy and terrified cargo.

From the far corner, Sunny howls in pain. Her tiny frame is being crushed under the weight of several writhing bodies, and she struggles to breathe.

Her cries go unanswered.

The sky darkens. Sunny falls quiet. The truck accelerates into the night…

Market of misery

In Thailand alone, it has been estimated that 500,000 dogs are slaughtered or trafficked live over borders each year to supply the dog meat industry.

In Asia more widely, as many as 20 million dogs suffer the same fate. Vietnam presents one of the most lucrative marketplaces for the doomed canines, where several million are consumed annually. 

The dogs endure a gruelling journey to market. They are often deprived of food and water, and overcrowding can see more than 15 dogs crammed to a cage – a fate similar to cows and sheep in the live export trade and the billions of animals in the western factory farming system.

Unsurprisingly, deaths and injuries en route are common. Those who survive the ill-fated trip face abuse, torture, and an excruciating death. Soi Dog Foundation reports that dogs are often skinned or boiled alive in the belief that it enhances the flavour of the meat.

Soi Dog Foundation has been at the forefront of the campaign to eradicate the dog meat trade since 2011. Co-founder and President of Soi Dog, John Dalley, says that witnessing dogs waiting to die in cages is a “horrendous experience”.

“Dogs are brutally killed in front of others, and seeing them trembling in fear is an image that will always remain with you”, he tells The Scavenger.

Dalley says the dog meat trade is a business steeped in greed and corruption. In Thailand, the majority of dogs sold into the industry are stolen companion animals and community dogs, rounded up and traded by criminal syndicates thirsty for profit.

“The trade is about money. It involves high profits from the dogs, and bribes to officials”, Dalley says.

Those operating the trade in Thailand admit that the industry rakes in one billion Thai Baht – or 30 million US dollars – annually.

Lax laws

In Vietnam and China, where dog meat is considered a delicacy which bestows healing and aphrodisiac benefits, it is legal to slaughter and consume dogs.

In Thailand, dog smugglers can be prosecuted under laws prohibiting the illegal trade and transportation of animals, with a maximum penalty of two years’ prison time and a 90,000 Baht (USD $2,800) fine. But lax law enforcement means traffickers rarely see the walls of a prison cell.

With no direct animal crueltyDog-meat-250 legislation in Thailand, a charge of animal cruelty under Criminal Code laws is one other avenue that prosecutors could potentially – but rarely do – pursue. However, with a maximum penalty of one month in prison and/or a fine of 1000 Baht (USD $30), it doesn’t deliver much of a deterrent.

A proposed Animal Welfare Bill, which would offer the dogs some genuine protection under the law, has stalled in legislative channels despite a dedicated campaign by animal activists to keep the bill alive. Dalley concedes that the current state of Thai politics may thwart the prospect of it being enshrined in law.

In frustration, animal advocates have urged Thailand’s Prime Minister to clamp down on the operatives behind the trade.

Sunnier future?

Soi Dog employs a multifaceted strategy in its efforts to ban the trade. It has embedded undercover agents in Thailand and Laos who gather intelligence on the movement of dogs, and of the operations of tanneries and butchers.

The organisation has installed thousands of posters throughout north east Thailand offering rewards for information leading to arrests, offers monetary rewards for successful interceptions, works with police and other authorities, and also provides shelter and ongoing care for dogs rescued from the trade.

Dalley does believe there is cause for hope that the trade in dogs will one day cease, but he acknowledges that it won’t happen overnight.

“I believe the trade will diminish. As more people within countries where it operates become aware of the incredible cruelty involved, they will put pressure on their own governments to act. That is why education is so important”, he says.

He also believes that the recent surge in companion animals in Asia may help to change attitudes over the longer term.

Public health concerns may also have a lasting impact. A pledge by ASEAN nations to eliminate rabies by 2020 has sparked cooperation between governments to attempt to tackle the illegal smuggling of dogs across borders.

Recent developments indicate that the industry is becoming increasingly untenable in Vietnam. Soi Dog has already made solid progress to halt the smuggling of dogs there.

Demand for dog meat in Vietnam is also slowing amid health concerns over the spread of rabies, and debate by a public who is questioning the ethics of a practice which doesn’t actually have firm roots in the country’s history.

Also, recent closures of numerous dog meat restaurants in Hanoi, a city considered the hub of dog meat cuisine, signal change may be on the horizon.

Change will come too late for dogs like Sunny, who have been sold, subjugated and commodified at the behest of a ruthless trade. But the unwavering compassion and commitment displayed by animal advocates such as Dalley provides hope that this brutal industry will soon disappear.

Visit the Soi Dog Foundation website for information on how you can help end this cruel trade.

Susannah Waters is Associate Editor at The Scavenger.

Images: Courtesy of Soi Dog Foundation

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