Paws up: Indonesia tackles the dog meat trade
Fien Harini still remembers when Ireng, her mongrel pet dog, disappeared and never returned home.
"I cried for days," the resident of Solo in Central Java told Asia Focus. "In Solo, when a pet dog doesn't return home, you can be sure it has been stolen to be slaughtered for meat and will end up in one of those dog meat satay stalls.
"Dog meat dishes purported to boost virility and have healing qualities are popular delicacies in Solo. But there is not enough supply so pet dogs, especially mongrels, are highly targeted by poachers."
In Jakarta, meat derived from dogs is served in dishes offered by specialty eateries called lapo. Customers can identify such establishments if they see the number B1 -- a code for dog meat -- on the signage.
The trade of dog and cat meat remains rampant in some parts of Indonesia, where dog meat dishes are traditional delicacies for some ethnic and cultural groups. However, dog and cat meat are not included among consumable meat products regulated by the country's food law.
Roughly 7% of Indonesia's 260 million people consume dog meat, according to an estimate by Dog Meat Free Indonesia (DMFI), which has investigated the illegal trade. It is campaigning to abolish the dog meat trade, end animal cruelty, promote animal welfare and halt the spread of zoonotic diseases.
Its effort appears to be gaining ground, as the government has said it plans to issue a regulation that will ban dog meat and other meat derived from cats and exotic animals.
A national forum on animal welfare held in Jakarta earlier this month agreed that dog meat is not for human consumption and its commercial distribution should be banned. Syamsul Ma'arif, director of veterinary public health at the agriculture ministry, said a ministerial regulation to that effect was in the pipeline.
"The regulation will emphasise banning practices that are violations of animal welfare. It will not regulate consumption so much for those whose cultures that recognise it," Ma'arif told Asia Focus.
He added that it would take some time to finalise the regulation since it will have to accommodate many interests, but he expects the ministry to issue it within this year.
DMFI representatives who attended the forum played a video made during their country-wide investigation into the cruelty behind the dog meat trade, which shows just how badly the dogs are treated.
Ma'arif acknowledged the way dogs are handled in the trade amounts to "torture". He also said the government clearly forbids consumption of dog meat.
He told officials of veterinary and livestock agencies attending the forum that animal cruelty and the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks from the illegal meat trade could drive animal rights-conscious foreign tourists away from their regions if they continue to allow the practice.
This could be detrimental to the government's efforts to lure more foreign tourists to improve state revenues.
The prospect of a government crackdown was hailed by DMFI, which comprises local and international animal rights groups including Animal Friends Jogja (AFJ), Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), Four Paws, Change for Animals Foundation and Humane Society International.
"This is a huge leap for animal welfare in Indonesia. We really appreciate that government has finally acknowledged our concerns," AFJ director Bobby Fernando told Asia Focus.
JAAN co-founder Karin Franken said it was high time that the trade was abolished since its existence undermines the government's pledge to eliminate fatal zoonotic diseases such as rabies by 2020.
While Jakarta has been declared rabies-free, the disease is endemic in 25 out of Indonesia's 34 provinces.
She said, however, there is a steady supply of dog meat to lapos in the capital city. They source the meat from a supplier who goes twice a week to catch stray dogs and kidnap pets in neighbouring towns in West Java.
As the meat trade is illegal, the whole process of preparing dog meat dishes in those restaurants goes unchecked without proper health screening, slaughter process and carcass disposal.
"The supplier can bring 30 to 40 dogs per trip into Jakarta. This could put the city at risk of a rabies outbreak," she said.
A dog meat supplier in East Jakarta who goes only by one name, Rudi, said he priced dog meat by the kilogramme. He declined to say what he charged but said it was competitive with prices quoted by another supplier in Central Jakarta.
Wiwiek Bagja, a senior veterinarian and former chairwoman of the Indonesian Veterinary Association, told Asia Focus the government should stress to regional governments that they have an obligation to enforce national legislation on animal welfare.
Despite the absence of specific regulations banning inter-regional dog meat distribution, she said local administrations should strictly supervise such movements to curb the spread of zoonotic diseases.
"Unstipulated and unspecified movement of dogs is proven to have contaminated rabies-free regions," she said.
"There is a much bigger risk of a zoonosis epidemic compared to the mythical benefits of eating dog meat. We can't let the interests of a small fraction of people to spoil the country," she added.
Dog meat consumer Kristian Purnomo opposes the pending regulation, saying dog meat dishes are a long-standing tradition and part of Indonesia's diverse cultures that should not be abolished.
He eats dog meat dishes, which he says warm his body and have a softer texture. He also consumes other exotic foods such as snake meat from time to time, especially when he travels to regions where they are part of the local diet.
"We just have to be discreet about it. I understand that people object to it because dogs are cute and cuddly pets and are not livestock. I love dogs and have a pet dog, too," he told Asia Focus.
"But what about chickens, cows and other livestock? Will people campaign against eating them when someday they are not categorised as livestock and considered as cute pets?" Purnomo said, adding that to him a dog meat dish when served is just like any other dish from chicken or cattle.
The campaign against dog meat consumption, he said, could undermine deeply rooted local traditions, citing efforts by one NGO to abolish centuries-old traditional whaling in Lamalera, a coastal village on Lembata Island in East Nusa Tenggara province.
The island's land is mainly vast savanna and not suitable for farming, so villagers have turned to the sea for subsistence. Whaling there is steeped in a set of customary rules, such as a restriction on hunting pregnant whales.
"Let's just appreciate it with discretion accordingly as a local tradition," he added.