When you think of South East Asia in the 21st century, it’s generally in the context of gap years, white sands, gorgeous sunsets and luxury holiday resorts. Sadly, the glossy brochures don’t mention the terrible things that happen to dogs in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, China and Japan once the tourists are tucked up in bed.
It has been estimated that over 25 million dogs are eaten annually by humans across the world.
Bangkok, Thailand, is a major source location for the awful activity that is the dog meat trade. Here, dogs are rounded up by mafia like trafficking gangs and then trapped in tiny, cramped cages, left to howl and cry in their own filth.
The dogs are then transported to docks by long truck journeys before being transported to their final destination: slaughterhouses in Vietnam, Korea, and Taiwan and across Southern China. The dogs are brutally killed and then eaten in the belief that their meat will bring healing properties, heat up or cool down the blood, or even improve the libido.
The History of Trafficking Dogs for Their Meat in South East Asia
Trafficking dogs across South East Asia for meat has long been an issue in this area of the world. The tradition of eating dog meat dates back four or five hundred years in China and South Korea.
Crass jokes have long been made about the populations of Thailand and Vietnam and their eating habits, with people in western countries questioning the provenance of the protein in their takeaway dinners since takeaways were first invented.
However, these stereotyped generalisations were based on a few poor farmers trying to eke out a living in rural areas. Since the early 1990s, trafficking dogs has become a full blown, big business concept. Large scale dog meat trafficking emerged from the capture of thousands of wild dogs in the north east of Thailand, which were turned into a money making commodity by entrepreneurs attracted by the risk free, tax free business of dog meat smuggling.
Improved trade relations with Laos and Vietnam in the 1990s opened up the waterways for dog trafficking on a much larger scale and the multimillion dollar empire found its feet, with dogs moving across the rivers and oceans to China, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Timor Leste, Hong Kong, India, Taiwan, Korea, and Uzbekistan.
In Hanoi, perhaps the epicentre of consumer demand, dog meat fetches almost three times the price of pork. The dog meat business makes big, big bucks for farmers, businessmen and politicians without a conscience.
Dog Trafficking In the 21st Century
Dog trafficking for meat is now no longer just a case of a farmer smuggling five or ten dogs across the river borders to Vietnam and Southern China every once in a while. In 2009, an investigation led by a global media outlet discovered an operation based in a Thai hamlet called Tae Rae, now also known as ‘Butcher Town’. In Tae Rae, over 1000 dogs are led to their death each night by smugglers operating under the radar and in contravention of rules regarding the transportation of dogs without vaccination papers. The fact that dog trafficking is illegal and widely vilified in Thailand makes no difference to the smugglers, who command a high price for dog meat in other South East Asian countries.
Following the Thai floods in 2011, there was an uplift in pet dogs being stolen from people’s homes, rather than the traditional collecting and corralling of strays and wild dogs. The trend in stealing family pets has continued unabated. Dog traffickers are routinely attacked by Thai citizens during their ‘rounding up’ of dogs for meat. Incensed pet owners try to sabotage the smugglers, but the monetary incentives involved in the dog meat trade appear to be worth a beating every now and again for the persistent traffickers.
Despite country wide crackdowns on the practice in 2011 following the intervention of the non-profit SOI Dog Foundation, and their globally publicised ‘Trade of Shame’ campaign, the dog meat trade isn’t going away. Smugglers have become sneakier and smarter, moving operations further into the seedy underbelly of the dog trafficking world, utilising technology and improved organisation to escape detection.
According to the Asia Canine Protection Alliance, prior to 2014, more than 5 million dogs were killed for meat each year in Vietnam alone.
Thus far in 2015, approximately 300,000 dogs have been illegally smuggled out of Thailand to face a heart-breaking end in a dirty slaughterhouse, resulting in profits of between $1.9 million and $2.4 million for the mafia behind this abhorrent trade.
Why Are Dogs Trafficked For Their Meat?
In modern times, dog meat was eaten by Chinese and Catholic refugees from Vietnam, following the war in their home country. As their economic status improved in the 1980s and 1990s, so did demand for dog meat for eating.
The Vietnamese, major consumers of dog meat, believe that it is a healthy, protein-rich alternative to pork, chicken and beef. Dog meat is also thought to have other benefits; it supposedly increases a man’s virility, warms up the blood on cold nights and provides medicinal cures for a variety of ailments.
Dog meat is tax free and provides a profit of 300% to 500% to traffickers. For this reason alone, there is no end in sight for the suffering of dogs involved in this cruel trade.
The Fate of Dogs Trafficked For Meat
The dogs that are trafficked from Thailand to the slaughterhouses of South East Asia don’t end up with happy ever after stories.
Dogs are mostly stolen from the streets of villages and kidnapped from the front gardens of the families they belong to as pets. The dogs are firstly lassoed by gangs travelling on motorbikes at night through villages.
The dogs are then placed into cages packed to the brim with other canines and are force fed through funnels to add weight and therefore value. The lucky ones are given rice and water; others, stones.
The cages are piled high on trucks moving their cargo to the docks and ports of Bangkok. Some of the dogs die on the journey, but even then, that is not the end of their story. These dogs are buried in soil, exhumed and then barbecued to make them look and taste like ‘fresh meat’.
The dogs that survive the journey are stored in deep, dark, freezing cold pits before being plucked out ready for transport over the water to countries including Vietnam, Korea and China, where they will meet their brutal end.
The deaths are bloodier than they need to be, thanks to the belief that the more a dog suffers in its death, the tastier its meat will be.
Once the dogs reach the slaughterhouse, they are usually bludgeoned to death over the head with a metal pipe, are stabbed or have their throats slit.
Others are burned alive.
Why Is Dog Trafficking Still Happening?
Simply put, the people in authority don’t appear to want it to stop.
The world of dog trafficking is full of backhanders, bribes and extortion. The eating of dog meat is not illegal in the countries where it occurs, it’s just the trafficking without vaccination papers that is.
Even though eating dog meat is looked down upon in Thailand, the government has not yet done anything meaningful to prevent it. Dog syndicates have become so powerful and influential that even the Thai government was pushed into not approving a draft law that would have made dog slaughter illegal on animal cruelty grounds. All reference to the dog trade was removed from the bill.
Saithong Lulan, the Mayor of ‘Butcher Town’ Tha Rae, is believed by many to profit directly from the dog trade. His newly built mansion suggests a level of luxury usually not attained on a public servant’s wage. Lulan refused to speak to a Guardian newspaper journalist investigating the dog trade back in 2013, but a disgruntled colleague anonymously stated that “Of course the mayor knows the trade is going on: he’s involved in it”. The source also had reservations about other authorities; “The police and governor of Sakon Nakhon also have the capacity to end the trade, but they haven’t.”
Ultimately though, the dog meat trafficking business is still operating because of the age old supply and demand cycle. If people didn’t want to eat dog meat, the trade wouldn’t exist.
But people DO want to eat dog meat.
As Le Duc Chinh of the Asia Canine Protection Alliance states, “As long as there is demand for dog meat, there will be supply. And if Vietnam cannot supply the demand, there will always be illegal imports from neighbouring countries”.
What is being done to stop the Dog Meat Trade?
The Yulin Dog Meat Festival in south-west China, where over 10,000 dogs are slaughtered to mark the summer solstice, has attracted global attention in recent years. Celebrities including comedian Ricky Gervais, Chinese pop star Chen Kun, actor Yang Mi and animal rights activists have raised awareness of this horrific event and an online petition to stop the blood fest has gained over 3.8 million signatures.
Mrs Yang Xiaoyun is a well known name when it comes to taking direct action to prevent the needless slaughter of dogs for their meat. This amazing woman is singlehandedly having a positive impact on the lives of many dogs destined for an early end. A widower, Mrs Xiaoyun runs the Common Home For All Dog (sic) shelter in north-east China. She has paid more than £45,000 in order to save over 800 dogs from their fate at the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, in spite of death threats. She travelled over 1,500 miles each year, sold her family’s two houses and overcame provocation from dog meat traders, who throttled dogs in front of her to try and make her buy more, in order to save as many dogs as she could. In total, she has taken in nearly 3,000 animals into her rescue centre since the first one was established in 2002.
The bloodshed continues, because people believe the dog meat wards off the hot summer heat.
Thanks to celebrity focus on the dog meat trade, people are becoming more aware of dog trafficking across South East Asia and beyond. Organisations such as the SOI Dog Foundation are working collaboratively with authorities to rescue and rehome dogs being transported for slaughter in other countries. Animal rights activists have started petitions and protest at dog meat festivals.
The public is slowly starting to realise the horrors of the dog meat trade, and it is having a largely positive effect. It has strengthened the animal rights movement in lobbying governments afraid of negative global press to introduce comprehensive animal rights laws to prevent cruelty against all animals.
In addition, some authorities are slowly coming around to the idea that dog trafficking is a bad thing, although not for entirely unselfish reasons. Most trafficked dogs have not been vaccinated against diseases including rabies. Port authorities are taking a stricter approach in investigating cargo to reduce the chances of infection.
There are also indications that the desire to eat dog meat may be in slow decline, particularly in Vietnam. The adoption of dogs as family pets as incomes have increased in the past decade has led to a change in thinking amongst the wealthier Vietnamese citizens, who now see dogs as domesticated companions and friends, not food.
Ultimately though, dog trafficking is still a huge business, spanning not only South East Asia, but across the world.
To find out more about dog meat trafficking, or to donate funds to assist in its prevention and help dogs rescued from a terrible fate, please go to SOI Dog Foundation
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