Hundreds of dogs crammed into tiny cages on trucks or boats travelling across the border and the Mekong River have been a common sight over the past few years. They were on their way to dog meat markets and restaurants in Vietnam via Laos.
Signs advertising dogs for sale are not hard to find in some provinces.
Fortunately, a ray of hope is shining to save many more dogs since the public sector and animal rights groups in Thailand will soon push for a national agenda to stop the trade in dog meat and skin.
Participants of the "Directions to Ending Dog Meat and Skin Trade in Thailand" seminar, held on Nov 23 at the Royal Navy Auditorium, agreed to request that the prime minister declare a national agenda against the trade in dog meat and skin. They also suggested education programmes and campaigns to instill a sense of responsibility and social conscience in Thai people.
Participants included representatives from the Royal Thai Navy, the canine police force, the Culture Ministry, the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, the Public Health Ministry, the Livestock Development Department and the Local Administration Department.
They also came from the Society for the Promotion of Animal Welfare under Royal Patronage, the network of dog lovers under the patronage of HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha, the Thai Veterinary Medical Association, Thailand Pet Rescue, the Thai Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the SOS Group.
From August 2011 to August 2012, a total of 9,042 animals were saved from dog-smuggling rings. However, the number is low when compared to the estimated 30,000 dogs taken out of the country each month.
Each year, more than 16 million dogs worldwide are butchered and served as food in certain countries. These dogs were either captured from the streets or raised in farms.
Dog meat is considered a local delicacy and usually eaten near the end of each lunar month in the belief that it will bring good luck in Vietnam, where the meat fetches around 300 baht per kilogramme, according to the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
However, a survey conducted in 2009 by the WSPA among 900 Thais nationwide found the consumption of dog meat was unacceptable.
South Korea is ranked first in the consumption of dog meat, followed by China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand (only in Sakon Nakhon province). But Thailand is more notorious for its dog meat trade, said a representative of the Public Health Ministry's Disease Control Department.
Pranee Panichpong, a veterinarian with the Livestock Development Department's Bureau of Disease Control and Veterinary Services, recently wrote an article about the dog meat trade and found that people have different feelings about dog smuggling. Some expressed sadness and anger, some were opposed to it, while others were indifferent or supportive. Those in favour claim it reduces the number of stray dogs.
Dog flesh is among the 10 kinds of animal meat Buddhist monks are forbidden to eat. Some people eat dog meat because they think it tastes good or believe it keeps the body warm in winter, or that it brings good luck. This is probably because dog meat was easily found or cheap in the past. A meeting was told that the whole body of a dog is useful: the meat for food, the fat for oil, the skin for drum skins and the bones for fertiliser.
About 550 dogs kept in 55 cages were rescued from a gang preparing to smuggle the animals across the Mekong River in Mukdahan’s Wan Yai district in April this year. Some of the dogs died from starvation and fatigue. The suspects fled when they saw the police arrive.
According to the article, dog eating is more common in Hanoi than other Vietnamese cities. Hanoi boasts many dog meat restaurants as well as the country's largest dog meat market. Each day, about 100 dogs are brought to the city by trucks. The Vietnamese like to eat dog meat in winter to keep themselves warm and also at the end of each month to bring good luck.
Ms Pranee said that a Vietnamese vet friend of hers explained that dogs have to be brought in from Thailand because the supply from dog farms in Vietnam can't meet demand.
Nirandorn Eungtrakulsuk, former chief of the Livestock Development Department and chairman of the Thai Veterinary Medical Association, has long been leading the fight against dog smuggling. When he was the chief of Don Muang Animal Quarantine Station, he led teams of livestock officials to apprehend dog smugglers.
According to Mr Nirandorn, in the past licenses were issued for the export of salted dog skin to other countries, especially Japan, as a raw material for musical instruments. However, the trade tainted Thailand's reputation and led to trade barriers against the country.
Since 2003, the Bureau of Disease Control and Veterinary Services has banned the trade in dog meat and skin and required sellers to get permission for exporting more than five dogs. As a result, the export of dogs has become illegal.
Mr Nirandorn supports the idea of making the issue a national agenda and suggested specifying each agency's responsibilities. To mobilise support from all parties, the group must explain the damage caused by the inhumane trade to the country, especially trade barriers.
On Nov 5 this year, Agriculture Minister Yukol Limlaemthong announced the ministry's policy to combat dog smuggling.
Mr Nirandorn believes the anticipated new law to improve animal welfare and fight cruelty to animals will help tackle the problem at a certain level, though not eradicate it because corruption is rampant in Thailand.
"In the past, I led several raids and sent suspects to the police. But some local politicians lobbied for the release of the suspects. This discouraged the teams. The dog-smuggling networks are big and have local teachers, village headmen and local leaders as suppliers. Therefore, provincial governors must focus on tackling corruption," the vet added. According to Thailand Pet Rescue leading member CDR Panaree Cotchacote, major dog dealers in Thailand are primarily Vietnamese who hire Thais as employees. The problem can also affect national security and needs attention from relevant agencies.
A vendor in Chiang Mai’s San Pa Tong district turns grilled dog meat. Some people believe it helps keep the body warm.
"There are only two or three major dog traders in Nakhon Phanom who are Vietnamese holding dual nationality and support other dog sellers. However, no one has taken action against them even after we raised security problems. One of them is a woman who claimed the business earns them 1 billion baht a year. They don't pay taxes. They should have been deported," said CDR Panaree.
Captain Surasak Suwankesorn, commander of the Royal Thai Navy's Me Khong Riverine Operation Unit in Nakhon Phanom, noted that related agencies leave the duty to his unit to rescue smuggled dogs. Trucks carrying dogs are hardly ever intercepted on the way, but instead manage to travel further until reaching the Mekong River.
The unit has only about 100 officers overseeing a 250km stretch of river. Last year, its officers seized and saved about 9,000 dogs _ a fraction of the 30,000 dogs estimated to be taken out of the country across the Mekong each month. The crackdown has forced dog-smuggling gangs to take dog meat rather than living dogs out of the country.
Capt Surasak noted that the gangs have opted for smuggling healthy dogs rather than skinny dirty stray dogs.
On Aug 26, 500 dog traders from Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom, Kalasin, Si Sa Ket, Khon Kaen, Chaiyaphum, Maha Sarakham, Roi Et, Nakhon Ratchasima and Nakhon Sawan rallied at Ban Tha Rae, Sakon Nakhon, to urge for leniency until they find new jobs. They arrived at the rally in more than 100 pick-up trucks regularly used by them to gather dogs from villages.
Group leader Sawong Dechalert complained that the dog traders in the 10 provinces were badly affected, unable to earn a living and suffered business losses after the ban on buying dogs and selling and eating dog meat was enforced.
Sawong claimed that the dog traders have made Thailand clean and free of stray dogs which make streets dirty and bite chickens, ducks and cats.
They do not always steal pet dogs for their business.
The group called on the province to legalise the dog trade and eating dog meat, issue licenses for trade and delay the clampdown as well as find new jobs for them.
Ms Pranee of the Livestock Development Department suggested that the best way to protect dogs from falling victim to smugglers is to instill in people a sense of responsibility in order to control the population of stray dogs.
They should raise pet dogs in proportion with their ability, provide rabies vaccines for them and have them spayed. If they can no longer afford to raise dogs, they must not release them into temples or public areas but contact related agencies, such as the Livestock Development Department or the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, for help. This approach will gradually lower the number of stray dogs.
Pol Lt Col Chatchai Setthiphanlan, a canine police officer, suggested that relevant agencies seek to control the population of stray dogs without killing them and issue regulations on dog owners' responsibilities.
He added that the canine police are willing to help train strays to become patrol dogs.
And he proposed an amendment to the Criminal Code to impose harsher punishments against dog smuggling gangs.
Currently, there is no specific law on the issue. Arrested dog smugglers usually face charges for breaching articles 31 and 21 of the animal epidemic control law, for failing to provide rabies vaccines for the dogs under the rabies law and for torturing animals under the Criminal Code.
"As the price of dogs is high, dog smugglers will try every way to do business. But if officials and people pay more attention, the traders won't be able to gather dogs and then dog smuggling will decline. Therefore, public awareness campaigns are very important," said Kasichon Choungchot of the Bangkok Sea Port Animal Quarantine Station.
About the author
- Writer: Pichaya Svasti
Position: Life Writer