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My investigation focused on the cruelty and illegality of the dog meat trade in Thailand and its associated components in Lao PDR and Vietnam. It carefully avoided any criticism of the cultural choice to eat dogs. My own vegan lifestyle makes eating any animal impossible for me but I am used to working between the lines and being impartial was not a problem.
There are three main Thai elements to eating dogs: a) the export trade; b) the commercial domestic market; and c) home killing. Although the export trade has grabbed the headlines and TV coverage, the domestic trade probably kills more dogs.
The Department of Livestock Development, the border security units and the police have gradually reduced the export trade amid political pressure. New anti-cruelty legislation is going through the Thai parliament and, if it becomes law in its present form, all three elements of dog eating will become illegal.
Recently, government officials from Vietnam, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Thailand said at an anti-dog meat trade conference in Hanoi that they would clamp down on the international transportation of live dogs. Vietnamese officials tied it to a five-year period to monitor any change in rabies outbreaks in Vietnam. We need to assess any action if it happens. You may have seen various figures for the Thai trade in dogs over the past year or two. There are no official estimates. Unbelievably high figures have been being circulated by some of those with interests in campaigning and raising donations. Figures for dogs rescued can be pinned down more accurately. These [Next page] are the Department of Livestock Development figures presented at the Hanoi conference for dog ‘rescued’ in Thailand. However, they do not tell the full story.
We can see in these figures hope for ending the trade’s cruelty – but not the cruel tragedy that ends the lives of most dogs ‘saved’ and sent to shelters. Shelter heads and staff do their best, local officers from the Department of Livestock Development do their best. But there is no government funding for the care of the dogs, no vaccination against the biggest killer – distemper – or adequate vet provision or even food. In the first year of my investigation, about 5,000 dogs died in shelters – three in four. Examination if this situation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WSQExWtFVM
My investigation involved a lot of good people trying to counter a relatively few who wanted to make money from the dog meat trade – a few who caused appalling misery for hundreds of thousands of dogs over the years. Politicians, police, officials, dog collectors, activists, welfare groups, vets and local journalists were among the huge number of people who have helped me uncover what was happening.
These images illustrate what we are talking about. Dogs as food. (Images and video shown of dog and dog parts being barbecued and Hanoi man eating dog) People involved in the Thai export trade say Thai dogs taste better than Vietnamese dogs. In Hanoi, they say the past glut of Thai dogs meant a cheap source of food but they preferred Vietnamese dogs if they could afford them. Thai and Vietnamese tastes in dog meat consumption differ. In Vietnam, the consumer wants the fur removed but the skin left on; in Thailand, the skin is stripped off and sold to dealers to make leather goods in Vietnam and Lao PDR, dog meat dishes are openly sold in eateries specialising in that trade; in Thailand, consumption has been forced into the home with very few places – I found only one, at San Patong – where dog meat can be bought and eaten publicly.
Vietnam is the main dog eating country. A Vietnamese journalist specialising in the dog meat trade told me that seven metric tons of dogs were eaten each day in the city – that’s about 350 dogs. Dog is also eaten widely throughout Vietnam but consumption peaks at the end of the lunar month and, especially, at Vietnamese (Chinese) New Year.
In Vietnam, dog carcasses are sold openly in markets. In Thailand, only Ban Tha Rae, the dog meat trade’s organising centre near Sakon Nakhon in northern Isaan, has the nerve and the protection to sell fresh dog meat and dried meats at roadside stalls and shops. Even there it has become controversial. Only the protected minority kill the dogs. Many other people regard them as pets but are not powerful enough to stop the trade.
Consumer demands lead to different ways of killing and preparing the carcasses. In Vietnam and Lao, the blood has a value – I was offered a ‘special’ of dog blood soup in Vientiane – so it is carefully collected; in Thailand it is not wanted, so the killing places run with blood.
The skin is treated differently, too, with fur being scraped from carcasses in Vietnam but the skin being cut off in Thailand for sale to the skin trade.
There had been a rumour for more than a year that someone in Thailand was preparing carcasses in the Vietnamese style and sending them to Hanoi frozen. Finally, just a few months ago, the border security unit near Bueng Kan found it. When I first saw this killing place, I doubted if dogs were killed there because it was so free of blood. But digging around in the masses of fur, I could see the terrible toll – I had no reason to disbelieve the border unit’s assessment of 200 dogs a week being killed, their carcasses scraped Vietnam style before being bagged, chilled with ice, smuggled across the Mekong west of Nong Khai Friendship bridge, frozen in Lao and trucked to Hanoi. That’s around 10,000 dogs a year. A lot of money and suffering. Six men were arrested and fined 20,000 baht each, two trucks were confiscated. Some of the tools of their trade, cheap sharp-edged soup spoons used for scraping, were left at the site.
There is no law in Thailand at the moment that makes it illegal to eat dogs, although they are not listed as food animals. An array of laws effectively make it illegal to commercially transport, keep and kill dogs but there is no specific law to combat the dog meat trade.
The animal cruelty laws are very difficult to apply in specific cases and the penalties are too low to make it worthwhile. As far as I know, there has been no cruelty law prosecution in regard to killing dogs for food. Some small cases have involved successful prosecution for theft of individual dogs.
The authorities have not used the export regulations either. Their weapon of choice to combat the trade is the law which says it is illegal to commercially transport or to keep dogs which have not been vaccinated against rabies. The penalties for this can include confiscation of dogs as well as jail and fines. Even the confiscation has legal doubts surrounding the right of the state to take private property. Traders could apply to the court to have the dogs returned but their costs, including vaccinations, would have been higher than the value of the dogs in the dog meat trade chain.
There is new legislation going through the Thai Parliament at this time. It was drafted by the Thai Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and forced on to the parliamentary agenda by 10,000 people signing to say that it should be introduced as proposed legislation. This legislation increases the penalties for cruelty and it specifically bans the killing of dogs and cats for food. It has had its first reading in the Lower house and now awaits its second and third readings before going to the Upper house. If parliament is dissolved, say another change of government, the legislation could be lost. And, of course, there are many parliamentary interests that could help, hinder or change it. It has a long way to go through the parliamentary system but, if all goes well, it could be law by the end of next year. Food animals will not be protected by the legislation and their cruel slaughter will not be changed.
Government agency representatives at an NGO-led conference in Hanoi recently agreed to combat the commercial transportation of live dogs. Vietnam will regard it as a five-year experiment aimed at reducing rabies. With such a cultural demand for dog meat in Vietnam, the government there has to tread carefully and this may be an internally acceptable way of combating the trade. We await to see if words are translated into action by the authorities in Thailand, Lao, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Thai dog meat trades
A decade ago, even five years ago, the dog trade was booming in Northeastern Thailand, the poorest region in the Kingdom. At its height, 1,000 dogs a day were being trafficked to Vietnam. Both the dog-eating culture and the Vietnam contacts came from the ethnic Vietnamese associations at Ban Tha Rae. The dog trade was so open that Lonely Planet told travellers where they could eat dog, a provincial police chief went on Global Post to say that exporting dogs was like selling Thailand’s rubbish to someone else and a local priest pointed out that it was a way of making a living for Ban Tha Rae people. Ban Tha Rae was known as The Butcher Village.
Protests and bad publicity led to opposition at a political level and tighter controls. There were counter protests from dog traders, many of whom had invested in trucks they could not finance without the trades’ income. One demonstration in Sakon Nakhon saw collectors from all over Isaan demanding time to wind down their businesses. My investigation showed that in the following year, collecting was still widespread and persistent.
The trade has dropped off steeply. 18 months ago the Sakon Nakhon provincial chief vet told me that only 300 men and women were involved in the trade at Ban Tha Rae (a vast reduction on previously) and that his office, the Department of Livestock Development, was offering help with alternative ways to earn a living.
The figure is probably lower now but the trucks and killing places are still there. Less than a week ago, a truck was stopped on its way to Ban Tha Rae. It had a cargo of 46 dogs. When they were taken from the truck at Nakhon Phanom shelter, 20 were already dead.
Ban Tha Rae, on the shore of one of Thailand’s biggest lakes, has an elegant lifestyle for the better off as well as its share of the very poor. It was – and still is – a centre for the Catholic church with a cathedral and a convent. The cathedral and the nearest of the dog killing places are five minutes drive apart.
I visited Ban Tha Rae many times and spoke to the bishop, who said there was no church connection with the dog meat trade and refused to be drawn into any discussion relating to it. One of his priests helpfully pointed me in the direction of a local resident who was involved in the trade. At that time, there were five family-based groups involved in the dog business. One of the names, a prominent local politician, was known very widely.
The first big police raid on an export trader netted about 1,800 dogs on 12 August 2011. That was the moment, surrounded by political determination in Sakon Nakhon, when the trade was given notice that it would no longer be tolerated.
The export trade started to drop. The next big busts were mounted in January and February of 2012, ahead of the market boom at Chinese New Year in Vietnam, and they forced the traders to go mobile, as one key player at Ban Tharae told me. Smaller consignments were moving all through Isaan and the while the nerve centre was still at Ban Tharae, the holding areas, routes and Mekong crossing points rapidly widened.
Gradually more dog trucks were being stopped on the roads and the border security units were scoring well with local intelligence. Many of the stopped trucks were not supplying the export trade: they were taking dogs to be killed for the domestic meat and skin trade.
I joined the police for one such night operation at Somdet, south of Sakon Nakhon, where a truck with more than 60 dogs was stopped. Two men and their woman boss, a butcher at Ban Tha Rae, were held at the police station overnight and the next day men from the Department of Livestock Development drove the dogs to Nakhon Phanom shelter. They went within a few hundred metres of where the dogs would have been killed in Ban Tharae for domestic consumption. As they were unpacked from the truck, it was clear that distemper was already going through them – it is unlikely many of them survived.
When the truck was stopped police took all the mobile phones … but the woman held one back and later I saw her making a call. It is common practice for Ban Tha Rae collectors to work together and warn each other about police action. On that night, we had expected two trucks but caught only one.
Through last year and this, the export trade has become increasingly difficult and costly. Successful smuggling operations have been relatively few. No one expects the trade to be stopped completely, any more than smuggling has been stopped for illegal logs, drugs, guns and people. But, unlike five years ago, the costs are far higher and may include very big bribes. It is hard to put a figure on the number of dogs getting through. Maybe a few thousand a year, although you will see unreliable figures much higher than this. The value of a smuggled dog is determined in the marketplace of Vietnam, which means that rises in supply costs (say, for example, a big bribe or the loss of a whole consignments grabbed by the authorities) may not be open to being passed on, thus reducing profits and making the trade and the risks less attractive to smugglers.
Thai activists have played a key role in apprehending dog traffickers. They have been ready to face real personal risks in finding the dogs and getting the police and DLD to act. I was with one such activist when we had to run for the airport after the danger level rose suddenly.
The domestic trade consumes many thousands of dogs a year, probably far more than the export trade. This film, which is an edited version of a longer film I made to explain it, outlines the main points: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQQF4TQsD_s (full film) Neither Khun Na not Khun Mo were prosecuted. They just promised not to do it again.
Current laws do not say it is wrong to beat your dog to death and eat it. I spoke to people who have either witnessed this or taken part in it. The dogs were eaten as special meals or a meal shared among friends who liked to drink beer with it.
Most people here will find this quite shocking but I recall, as child, how the post World War 2 generation kept chickens in their back gardens in the UK and killed one every now and again to eat. There was no emotional involvement and this seemed to be true of people who wanted to kill and eat dogs.
Attitudes to dog eating
Most people in Thailand – 95% according to an international NGO’s survey – oppose the killing and eating of dogs. However, the hidden minority is large enough to account for an enormous toll in dogs.
Those who trade in dogs or eat them believe there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of this cheap food which has many perceived benefits. It is just the way they live. Some people here tonight will eat other kinds of animal without care for the killing or the method of killing.
Dog traders, butchers and consumers share the same attitude that only ‘bad dogs’ are killed and eaten. My inquiries easily established this was totally untrue. The ‘bad dog’ assertion forms a key justification element for those involved: to them, it is quite acceptable to subject dogs to the cruelty and death associated with the trade if they are ‘bad’ – “they eat the chickens, bite the kids, chew the belongings” in one butcher’s words.
One man told me how his puppies would be delicious when he killed them in a couple of months. He sounded as I might sound when contemplating the ripening fruit on my fig tree. Or, put another way, he had no emotional connection to the puppies. They were just food to look forward to eating.
Many believe in the medicinal or magic qualities of dog meat: they say it can ward off illness and help weak children, it keeps them warm in winter; and in Vietnam they think that eating dog at the end of the lunar month or at new year will change their luck for the better.
An underlying cultural attitude in Thailand may be at the heart of the shelters’ failure to prevent the death of thousands of dogs. One of the members of the Informal Northern Thai Group recently read an article at a Writers Without Borders meeting in Chiang Mai – it included how an elderly woman would not kill fish to eat but left them without water and they died naturally. Dogs are never killed in government shelters but they are not given medical and nutritional help necessary for their survival and they die naturally.
Animals in Thailand, especially in the rural areas, are slaughtered in terrible conditions. Here we need to acknowledge the stage of development in Thailand rather than make direct comparisons with the West. However, animals are sentient creatures whose welfare should concern us all. Food animals will receive no slaughter protection under the new anti-cruelty legislation.
Where do the dogs come from?
My investigation began after animal welfare interests in Thailand suspected that the dogs were coming from government shelters. This was not generally true, I found after many months of inquiries including late night stakeouts at one shelter. However, we will come to an interesting case later.
The system was working in the same way that the rubber and recycling industries work. The source material, in this case dogs, came from the grass roots; small collectors start the gathering; the collected dogs were passed to people further up the chain to build the numbers for smuggling or butchering.
Free dogs are scooped from streets and temples. It is an error to regard these as strays. Many are part of communities with people feeding them – in a sense, community pets. However, some other people regarded them as a nuisance.
The well-documented swapping of dogs for plastic buckets still goes on, but has been widened to include purchases for between 50 and 150 baht per dog, depending on size, in many cases the theft of well-fed, healthy pets has grown as restrictions and costs for collectors have increased. In all the cases of people searching the length and breadth of Isaan for their missing dogs, only one – the famous Tau Tau – was reunited with his owner. Pets can be the first to succumb to the harsh and violent life in a shelter. They do not have the toughness associated with street dogs.
Who makes the money?
The dog meat trade is all about money, of course. It has grown into an industry that includes far more people that you would normally associate with it.
But it is not just money, is it? A slice of dog has personal, social and career benefits too. They include: the prestige and profit of heading trading groups, leading the fight against it, running programmes for it, winning political popularity, going to conferences around the region to combat it, making films about it, accruing the personal merit of kind actions, perceived medicinal benefit, nutritional benefit, meeting new networks of people, providing vet services, the psychological gain at expressing horror at the cruelty, travelling around the country to investigate it, and the opportunity to use it to demand illegal payments.
Structural gains include: community and trade cohesion, economic organisation, national cultural evaluation of a missed situations, re-evaluation of values and attitudes, adding to the laws of the land, organisation among agencies of the state, development of state facilities.
Benefits for the dogs? None. They are just turned into economic objects. They cannot protest at this. They cannot block roads and occupy airports. They cannot complain to the media. They are cruelly robbed of their lives in their environments and ultimately of life itself.
The most influential of the campaigners is the Thai Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which forced new anti-cruelty legislation on a busy Parliament facing multiple crises. It organised, under the leadership of its General Secretary, Khun Sawan Sanbunglang, a carefully legal 10,000-strong petition that ensured under Thai law the proposed legislation would have to go before Parliament.
Many other organisations and individuals have fought against the dog meat trade and they still do. Some individuals have taken enormous personal risks to stop the traffickers at local levels or to help dogs, traumatised and suffering, in the shelters.
Stop Dog Meat Trade in Thailand has done a great deal of excellent work to combat the trade while drawing in officials and praising their efforts.
Foreign-led organisations play a part. High-profile Soi Dog Foundation organises foreign adoptions and it has campaigning and welfare roles; Care for Dogs, near Chiang Mai, is among those that focus on welfare and has taken some of the rescued dog meat dogs.
Many good-hearted people try to help the dogs. After the first big bust, in 2011, the shocked nation gave more than 20 million baht but that did not stop the dogs dying. Many people in Thailand and abroad give donations or offer a new home to a rescued dog. One Bangkok hospital doctor has started her own shelter and supports it with her own earnings.
Animal Activist Alliance, while a grouping of all the welfare organisations, is Thai-led and staffed in its fight against the dog meat trade. It has carried out a number of risky raids on traders.
Khun Bee, who runs the Bitter Brownie Facebook group, has single-mindedly rescued dogs from the shelters regardless of the difficulties. She rehomes them in Thailand. Her risks include handling the dogs. After the Somdet truck was taken into Nakhon Phanom shelter, the men there wanted to use metal tongs to get the dogs out. She refused to let them and I have video of her squirming into the truck in the highly dangerous work of getting the traumatised dogs out without hurting them further.
At an international level, the relatively new Asia Canine Protection Alliance is trying to stop the trade across the Mekong region. The alliance comprises Change For Animals Foundation, Humane Society International, Animals Asia and Soi Dog Foundation. Dogs Trust in London links with other organisations to combat the dog meat trade in other countries.
Dogs in shelters
I started this talk with the point that once a dog enters the meat trade, it has only cruelty and death ahead. This includes most of the rescued dogs, though some are saved by rehoming them in Thailand or abroad.
I have edited the film, mentioned earlier, made at the height of the conflict between the dog traders, the campaigners and the government agencies. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WSQExWtFVM). This revealed the scale of dogs being left to die and how nearly 700 dogs disappeared between Sakon Nakhon, where the local DLD officials counted them on to two trucks, and the DLD dog shelter in Buriram province. Other trucks carrying dogs from the same bust did arrive and were logged on the shelter records.
So how many dogs did get to Buriram? I filmed the shelter head saying he received 1,900 dogs. But later I got his official report to his Bangkok HQ and that said 1,303 arrived in the first two trucks. The careful, high-powered operation to save the dogs in Sakon Nakhon counted 1,968 dogs leaving of official trucks. Somewhere, nearly 665 dogs disappeared. The Department of Livestock Development later disputed my figures but I had copies of all the official reports and the Bangkok Post took up the story. The department admitted to them that the figures were right but blandly wrote off the missing dogs as having died.
The purpose of releasing the film was to show the government and Thai people what was happening but, in the end, it did not produce a change in policy. Dogs are still dying in the shelters today, although volunteers have become more organised and this is helping.
This concludes my talk. Thank you for staying the course with such a distressing subject.
FACEBOOKBitter Brownie, Animal Activist Alliance, Stop Dog Meat Trade in Thailand
Supplementary note by LG.
Those interested by the phenomenon of dog meat eating on a broader scale could simply begin by reading the article on this topic in Wikepedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_meat.
Unfortunately, the Wikepedia article is quite unfinished yet. However it gives an elementary view about the consumption of dog meat in the world and its history.
On the various countries where people eat dog meat, see also:
Those who manage Thai language and script can have a look at the following choice of Thai websites. Unfortunately, I have no time to check whether there is anything about the various “minority” groups in Thailand who do eat dog meat (for example Lua, Akha, etc. Many of these sites offer pictures which are not necessarily good for sensitive persons who want to have soft dreams the next night:
A. EATING DOG MEAT : GENERAL INFORMATION AND/OR DISCUSSIONS
B. EATING DOG MEAT IN CHINA (or among the Chinese)
C. EATING DOG MEAT IN INDONESIA
D. EATING DOG MEAT IN KOREA
E. EATING DOG MEAT IN MALAYSIA
F. EATING DOG MEAT IN THAILAND
G. EATING DOG MEAT IN VIETNAM
H. EATING DOG MEAT AND BUDDHISM
Too much to say about Buddhism and animals!
For a warning about the bad “KARMA” of those who eat dog meat, see:
H. EATING DOG MEAT IN THE WORLD: A Thai website lists the following countries or regions where mainstream culture favours or at least condones dog meat eating: 1. China; 2. Indonesia; 3. Mexico; 4. Philippines; 5. Taiwan; 6. Korea; 7. Switzerland; 8. Vietnam; 9. Polynesia; 10. Siberia; 11. Alaska; 12. North Canada; 13. Groenland — See: www.dogilike.com/board/view.php?id=2438—
In the same site, world dog population is evaluated at 500 M and dogs killed for consumption at 16 M per year, i.e. 3.2 %. Source: http://www.dogilike.com/board/view.php?id=2438
These figures can be compared with the following:
Some 21,000 children die every day around the world.
That is equivalent to:
1 child dying every 4 seconds;
14 children dying every minute;
A 2011 Libya conflict-scale death toll every day;
A 2010 Haiti earthquake occurring every 10 days;
A 2004 Asian Tsunami occurring every 11 days;
An Iraq-scale death toll every 19–46 days;
Just under 7.6 million children dying every year;
Some 92 million children dying between 2000 and 2010;
The silent killers are poverty, hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other related causes. Despite the scale of this daily/ongoing catastrophe, it rarely manages to achieve, much less sustain, prime-time, headline coverage.
Source: http://www.globalissues.org/article/715/today-21000-children-died-around-the-world [Last Updated Saturday, September 24, 2011]
3. NEXT MEETING: TUESDAY, October 8, 2013: 367th Meeting:
“A ‘Third Hand’: The Role of the Thai Military in Thai Politics Today”
A Talk by Dr. Paul Chambers
The Talk: Thailand’s military has long been a major political actor standing upon the political stage. Be it as junior partner to absolute kings, enjoying absolute power themselves, or currently, as the guarantors for security to the kingdom of Thailand, the armed forces remain a crucial opaque entity of enormous clout. The military leadership has, since 2006 been steadfastly opposed to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In 2011, the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai party won a landslide election. Then, from 2011 until 2013 an uneasy accommodation settled across civil-military relations in Thailand. At present, in 2013, as tensions rise between Thailand’s judiciary on one side, and Puea Thai and pro-Thaksin Red Shirt demonstrators on the other, the military finds itself at the center of a political storm. What is the likelihood of military intervention? What is the extent today of civilian control over the military? Will Thailand’s armed forces continue to exert enormous power or will Thailand see any demilitarization? These and other related issues will be discussed at this presentation.
The Speaker: Chambers graduated with a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northern Illinois University, has lived in Thailand off and on since 1993, and has written extensively about security and democracy issues in Southeast Asia. He was senior research fellow at Heidelberg University in Germany (2008-2011); and today is concurrently a research fellow at the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt, research associate at the German Institute of Global Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg, and Director of Research and Lecturer at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs, Faculty of Political Science, Chiang Mai University, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.