Lets the Dogs Out, but Meat Lobby Fights Back: 'Respect Our Customs'
By JAMES HOOKWAY And WILAWAN WATCHARASAKWET
from China to Thailand, and a spreading fondness for pets, have put a crimp
on an old practice still prevalent in some parts of Asia--eating dogs.
In China, some 200 animal-rights activists recently intercepted trucks
filled with nearly 1,000 dogs bound for slaughter, and paid the dog traders
about 80,000 yuan ($12,500) to secure the animals' release. Several of the
dogs were sick or badly injured, according to animal-welfare organization
The operation by activists in China last month echoed a
similar push in Thailand's northeast, where locals are attempting to block
the roaring, illegal trade of local dogs to restaurants in nearby Vietnam.
In Vietnam, roasted or stewed dog meat is in hot demand. Entire streets
in Hanoi are lined with restaurants with signs offering thit cho, or dog
meat, often alongside logos of Western soft-drink brands.
presents an opportunity for dognappers in Thailand's arid Isan region.
Villagers there don't eat much dog meat. Thailand's Buddhist culture frowns
on killing stray animals, though, so street dogs are bountiful. Dognappers
who are willing to break Thai law--which prohibits buying or selling dogs for
food--have found opportunity selling dogs to Vietnam.
in the trade say a contraband dog will sell for 1,000 baht, or around $30,
twice the price of a couple of years ago.
Among those pushing back
against the business is Rerngsak Mahavinitchaimontree.
58 years old, is the governor of Nakhon Phanom province, a major
transshipment point for the dog trade where smuggled animals are whisked
across the broad expanse of the Mekong River into Laos and then onto Vietnam
or even China. Mr. Rerngsak organized a string of checkpoints with local
police, and in August broke up a network of smugglers, rescuing some 1,800
Another smuggling gang was intercepted at a river jetty on
Sept. 6, and two men--one Thai and one Vietnamese--were arrested for allegedly
trying to smuggle 120 dogs into Vietnam.
Since the August bust,
animal-rights campaigners have raised around 20.7 million baht, or $690,000,
to help keep the dogs at a special refuge. Mr. Rerngsak, a tall man with a
slight stoop, hopes the dogs' rightful owners will step forward to collect
them and that local residents will adopt the others. In other parts of the
country, activists have rushed to rescue stray dogs from the devastating
floods that have inundated large parts of central Thailand in recent weeks
and which are now entering Bangkok.
"We raise dogs to obey us, not
for food," Mr. Rerngsak said. "We must treat them well."
Rerngsak's campaign reflects Thailand's growing self-confidence.
Animal-rights activists say that as Thailand has grown wealthier and trade
links with its neighbors have multiplied, tolerance for the dog trade has
eroded, thanks in part to the growing numbers of Bangkok residents who now
The dynamic is similar in the Philippines, where
dog-eating is now largely confined to a few mountainous areas, and in
increasingly affluent China, where more people are embracing dogs as pets.
Dog-eating persists and is sometimes celebrated in many pockets of the
world. In China, consumption of the meat is believed to boost men's sexual
performance. Wealthy South Korea has an active dog-eating lobby, whose
members point out that the dogs raised for meat on dog farms are a different
breed than those raised to be household pets.
"People rely on this
trade for their livelihood," says Sawong De-chalert, a retired English
teacher in Sakon Nakhon who represents local traders who are lobbying the
government to legalize the dog-meat trade.
Then there is the issue of
what anthropologists call cultural relativism. Humans in one part of the
world often consume things, from grubs to pigs, that others find taboo or
simply inedible. Just try explaining the Scottish art of deep-frying pizzas
to an Italian.
"It's very simple," said Dao Van Bien, a 66-year-old
Hanoi man. "Each country has its own culture and here we eat dog. Other
people should be more broad-minded and respect our customs instead of trying
to disgrace us."
In Bangkok, several hundred dog lovers and other
animal-rights campaigners marched around the city's center on Sept. 4 urging
people to stop eating dogs or selling them to countries where they are
Roger Lohanan, chief executive at the Thai Animal Guardians
Association says Thailand needs to go further and enact specific laws to
prevent animal cruelty. The Sept. 4 march, he said, was "just the
Nearly 1,000 of the dogs that Mr. Rerngsak rescued have
since died of diseases or injuries stemming from their chronic mistreatment.
Some, Mr. Rerngsak said, were recovered after smugglers tossed them out of
the back of their pick-up trucks but later succumbed to their wounds despite
volunteer veterinarians' efforts.
With the help of local campaigners,
he has set up a website where dog owners can see photos of recovered dogs
and reclaim their lost pets. People can also click on the photo of an
unclaimed animal and apply to adopt it. So far, he says, three people have
found their lost or stolen dogs on the site.
Mr. Rerngsak hopes the
plan works. Until more pets are claimed, his rescue mission has another
unforeseen problem--a large dog-food bill.
Mr. Rerngsak initially
tried feeding the canines dried dog food like the kinds found in most pet
stores. But the Thai dogs wouldn't eat it, preferring rice and chicken or
pork--a taste they acquired by polishing off human leftovers.
to buy quality rice for them," Mr. Rerngsak said. "They won't eat cheap rice
because it is too mushy when cooked, and they won't eat poor-quality meat
either. I think our donations will run out sooner than we thought."
--Nguyen Anh Thu in Hanoi contributed to this article.