Most Americans recoil at the thought of eating dog meat--not meaning canned for meant for the consumption of our canine companions that has been cited as a possible source of nutrition for poor senior citizens on Social Security. I mean the actual consumption of dog flesh for food. Yet eating dogs is the norm for some cultures and it can have international implications, but also reveal something about animal cruelty.
A recent British article describes the trade of dogs for food in Vietnam. Vietnam, like China, Korea and the Philippines, has a tradition of eating dog flesh. Americans have resisted this custom although there have been cases where dogs have been slaughtered privately, presumably for human consumption, if discovered, these cases are prosecuted.
According to the Guardian article just published today, the slaughter of dogs has become a big business in Vietnam, but this presents a problem for its neighbors such as Thailand.
What's striking about this article is the portrayal of cruelty. The 42-year-old Vietnamese butcher, Nguyen Tien Tung, is described as "frenetic and filthy." He smokes not far from the hanging white carcasses of slaughtered dogs. Yet how does Nguyen treat his charges?
Just two steps away are holding pens containing five dogs each, all roughly the same size, some still sporting collars. Nguyen reaches into one cage and caresses the dog closest to the door. As it starts wagging its tail, he grabs a heavy metal pipe, hits the dog across the head, then, laughing loudly, slams the cage door closed.
This treatment is somewhat explained further down in the article. The writer, Kate Hodal, hasn't chosen the best butcher in terms of hygiene nor the most honest. Nguyen means to cheat his fellow Vietnamese. While some canine meat butchers increase the weight of dogs by force-feeding them rice and water, he simply puts a stone in the stomach of a dog.
Are there no honest dog butchers in Vietnam? Or would that make the topic too gray, where we could see a poor honest man just trying to make a living instead of a dishonest torturer of dogs?
The article isn't about the industry of raising dogs for meat because apparently there aren't enough dogs in Vietnam to feed the consumers who believe that dog meat will "increase a man's virility, warm the blood on cold winter nights and help provide medicinal cures, and is considered a widely available, protein-rich, healthy alternative to the pork, chicken and beef that the Vietnamese consume every day." Dog meat is more expensive than pork in Vietnam. That leads to another problem.
The problem is dog-napping, a crime that has become common place. "Dog-snatching – of strays and pets – is so common now that thieves are increasingly beaten, sometimes to death, by enraged citizens." The trade has gone beyond the Vietnamese cities and country side. It now involves a black market run by criminals who bribe officials and there's an estimated annual trade of 300,000 dogs brought across the Mekong to Laos and finally ending up in Vietnam.
There is, Hodal also writes, a belief that suffering makes for sweet meat. She writes, "Some diners believe the more an animal suffers before it dies, the tastier its meat, which may explain the brutal way dogs are killed in Vietnam – usually by being bludgeoned to death with a heavy metal pipe (this can take 10 to 12 blows), having their throats slit, being stabbed in the chest with a large knife, or being burned alive."Reading this, I couldn't help but think of Puppy Doe in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Even when these dogs are saved, they might not find their way home, or to any home at all. Many end up languishing in overcrowded public facilities. One of the private institutes quoted in the article is active in promoting animal welfare in Thailand. Soi Dog Foundation is in Thailand and does attempt to save dogs from the illegal meat market as well as sterilizing and sheltering homeless dogs.
Animal activists are quick to point out the cruelty faced by domestic animals before they get to the slaughterhouses here in the United States, but here there are laws meant to promote a more humane death. There's something disturbing about a food culture that promotes the suffering of an animal. This might explain some of the opposition that animal activists face in other cultures as well as in diverse societies with members of many cultures. Does torture make meat tastier? Or does it encourage behavior that is anti-social and chillingly came also bleed over to human to human interactions? Torture for tenderizing may replace human tenderness toward more than just dogs.