‘Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight ’
– Albert Schweitzer
As I write, one of my beloved dogs, a golden Labrador named Star, is under my desk. A gentle stroke of her head and she falls into a secure slumber. Meanwhile, countless dogs across Asia are trapped in fear-filled cages. A family pet stolen from its home is being electrocuted; another beaten unconscious with a metal pipe then bled out from a slit throat or cut to the groin. Dogs taken from the street are being hung until their last breath leaves their body. Waking from her sleep, Star wags her tail. Her world is safe.
In dog meat farms, soulless places of no hope, countless dogs bred to be eaten are living in fear. Yet if you or I walked towards them they would probably wag their tail. Instead, they watch, as the dogs that they have huddled together with for comfort are thrown, while still alive, into large drums of boiling water. They watch, and they hear, as the sickening cries of a barbaric death fill the air. Their world is hell on earth. This is the reality of the cruelty of the dog meat trade.
Across several regions of the world, dog and cat meat is consumed daily including Europe, Russia, Africa and Latin America. In China, it is estimated that 20 million dogs are consumed each year; 2 million in South Korea and approximately 5 million in Vietnam. Those figures are equal to three times the entire dog population in the UK.
Dogs destined for the meat trade are sourced in several ways. Some are stolen from the streets or from families, some are sold by their owners to meat vendors, with the majority mass-produced on intensive farms. Across Asia, with little or no legislation to protect animals, the conditions the dogs are kept in are appalling; deprived of adequate food, water, and humane contact. The transportation of the dogs offers no respite. Packed into tiny cages they are unable to move, many are sick or injured. Their journey can last for days with many dogs dying from suffocation, dehydration and heatstroke. Those that survive stay crushed amongst the rotting bodies of their companions until they reach the destination of a live meat market or slaughterhouse. Totally unregulated, the slaughter of these beautiful sentient beings is undertaken with unspeakable cruelty.
Yet amongst this heavy darkness, there are fireflies of hope. These come in the form of extraordinary individuals and charities that are dedicated to working to regulate and ultimately end this trade. It also comes from the rapidly growing concern for animal welfare from Asia’s native populations.
A group of like-minded people, led by British actors Peter Egan and Dame Judi Dench, both patrons of International Wildlife Coalition Trust (IWCT) gathered recently at the House of Commons to present the shocking facts about this trade to the Foreign and Commonwealth office. Representatives from the Asian Canine Protection Alliance (ACPA), formed of Soi Dog, Animals Asia, Change for Animals Foundation and Humane Society International, sat alongside celebrity supporters and MP’s to hear the facts. A short film by Ella Todd featuring Dame Judi Dench and Ricky Gervais rendered the entire room silent as they watched and listened to the horrors of the dog meat trade play out before them. Peter Egan told me:
“I was drawn to become involved in exposing the horrors of the dog meat trade because it is disgusting, it embodies everything that is horrible about animal slaughter. I believe all animal slaughter is horrific. It is why I don’t eat meat. However, the torture that the dogs experience is just terrifying. It is always difficult to put the case for one animal over the other. As I say it, I hear myself thinking, but what about pigs and other livestock? Yes, I’d love all slaughter to stop. Perhaps one day it will, when we have all departed, future generations, more in touch with compassion will realise how uncivilised we all are. They will say do you know they used to breed animals for slaughter and then eat them! Dogs are our companions. They don’t deserve to be beaten, humiliated, skinned alive, boiled alive, blow-torched the horror just goes on. It must be stopped.”
Each charity has its own story to tell. The IWCT has spent fifteen years attacking the dog meat trade in the Philippines. Working with the government to strengthen the laws on banning the trade, assisting the police in enforcement and prosecution alongside education of local people, has helped see over a 50% decrease in the trade in the Philippines.
Lola Webber is co-founder and programmes director for the Change For Animals Foundation and works as a consultant for Humane Society International (HSI). An animal lover as far back as she can recall Lola shared with me some of her experiences of working on the frontline of the dog meat trade in Korea.
“I grew up with dogs, they were my best friends and I knew that the unconditional love that a dog gives you is something that we – as people – could learn a lot from! The thought of dogs being raised and slaughtered for meat felt like the ultimate betrayal. When I was 21, I saw a documentary on TV about the dog meat trade in China. That was it! I had to do something about it. I was warned by a good friend of mine that once I went to a dog meat market and saw what Man was capable of, that I would never be able to look at people the same way. But I had to see for myself. In February 2011 I made my first trip to Seoul, to its biggest meat market. It was a day that changed my life. I went in with utter dread. The smell was nauseating, flesh and burning hair of freshly slaughtered dogs. The dogs just lay there, some sleeping, others staring out through the bars. Knowing that the dogs were just waiting to die, their fate sealed, made my heart physically ache, and my grief and shame suffocated me. I had to walk away but not without making a vow and a promise to those pleading eyes that I would dedicate my life to ending this industry.”
I asked Lola if ending the dog meat trade altogether was a realistic ultimate goal.
“That’s an easy question! Yes! Absolutely! It is a difficult campaign, one that requires the socio-legal status of dogs to be redefined, but it is achievable. Throughout Asia, pet ownership is rising exponentially and with this comes greater compassion for animals and intolerance to animal cruelty. My dog Django was rescued from a dog meat farm just outside Seoul. He is the most beautiful soul I have ever met and his immediate willingness and desire to forgive and trust humans again is astounding. He represents why we will never stop until the last cage has been emptied.”
Animals Asia, founded by Jill Robinson MBE in 1998, is working to end the dog meat trade in China and Vietnam. “I was literally thrown into the deep end of egregious cruelty in Asia when I investigated live-animal markets and just about dropped to my knees. There was absolutely no going back. Animals Asia is proud to be a member of ACPA and, together, the groups are making substantial progress to end the dog meat trade from Thailand to Vietnam. A poster campaign similar to the one carried out in Thailand is currently being developed at the border crossing between Laos & Vietnam, to highlight the dog trade from Thailand through Laos, and into Vietnam. In addition, ACPA have published a Risk Assessment with the aim to describe and analyse the risk the dog meat trade poses to rabies control. Research also shows that sourcing, farming, transporting, slaughtering and consumption of dogs can assist in the transmission of cholera, trichinellosis and rabies in humans. Many researchers believe that SARS began its human transition in live animal markets in China.”
In 2011 when Soi Dog became involved in the dog meat trade in Thailand there were an estimated 500,000 Thai dogs per year being smuggled live to Vietnam in horrendous conditions. It is a complete fallacy that eating dogs is necessary for poor people to survive. Dog meat is a luxury food which even in Thailand costs three times more than any other meat product. Following successful conferences in 2013 and 2014 held with the Vietnamese, Thai, Laos and Cambodian governments, this trade has effectively been stopped. This has lead to new problems as the trade is driven underground. John Dalley, co-founder of Soi Dog Foundation explained to me what is next.
“Thanks to the generosity of thousands of Soi Dog supporters last year, we were able to buy and display posters on billboards telling the Thai people about the dog meat trade, offering a reward for information. In December 2014, following two years of petitioning by ourselves and other Thai organisations, Thailand introduced its first animal welfare bill. A major step forward, this effectively makes the killing of dogs for meat and skins illegal in Thailand. The poster campaign was extremely successful and we have a dedicated full-time team that work to uncover local butchers, restaurants and tanneries still trading in dog meat. Working with the police and military we are able to close them down and prosecute the offenders.”
There are currently around two thousand dogs in shelters in Thailand in need of homes. SDF build shelters and provide food for rescued dogs as the government has no funds to care for them. I went to meet Lorraine Hepburn, in the Home Counties, and the three dogs she has rescued from the meat trade. She talked about some of the ways people can get involved.
“We need people to take action to stop the horrific dog meat trade and to help the dogs rescued from the trucks. Please sign the petitions and write to your local MP asking them to work with government officials in Thailand, China and Vietnam to strengthen laws related to the dog meat trade. In conjunction with Soi Dog you can sponsor, foster or adopt the dogs rescued or buy billboards for as little as £15 to spread the word to the people in Thailand urging them to pass on information which could lead to the arrests of the dog traffickers. You can volunteer at the Soi Dog shelter in Thailand or become a flight volunteer to bring a dog to its new home. Please turn your anger at this vile trade into action.”
As I photographed Lorraine’s meat trade rescues Odie, Baki and Fay, no inherited fears from their past remained. It seemed that they had forgiven the unimaginable suffering endured at the human hand as they sniffed and licked me and sat on me, intrigued by the sound of the camera.
I spoke to veterinary surgeon Roger Bralow (BSc Hons, BVSc Hons, MRCVS) about dogs’ senses. He explained that a dog’s hearing ability is two to three times more powerful than a human’s which is why extreme noise hurts their ears causing physical and emotional distress.
“Their sense of smell is up to a million times more sensitive than a human’s and their sight superior to ours encompassing a much larger visual field. The consciousness of touch is the first sense they experience as mothers, almost immediately after giving birth, lick and nuzzle newborn puppies. Their entire body, including the paws, is covered with touch-sensitive nerve endings.”
Imagine then, the assault on all these senses that dogs caught or bred for the meat trade go through daily, throughout the desolate journey to their death. They need your voice to end their horror.
For more information on the many ways that you can help end the dog meat trade please visit acpagroup.org
By Maria Slough
Taken From May 2015 (Issue 5) Vegan Life Magazine