This photo taken on June 16, 2012 shows Nguyen Bao Sinh, owner of Hanoi's first private five-storey all-service hotel for pets, standing next to an altar with incense stick pots for customers' dead pets inside the compound of his pet hotel in Hanoi. Photo: AFP
Canines are big business in Vietnam and as the demand increases for dog meat (often sold at restaurants as chicken or pork) the supply within the country has reduced.
Enter Thai gangs! To supplement the thieves in Vietnam we now have a bustling new trade between Thailand and Vietnam, with Thai gangs transporting dogs into Vietnam.
While it is incomprehensible to Westerners, dog meat is relished in China, South Korea and Vietnam. But the public's view of dogs here is changing. Dogs are now being seen as an integral part of the family and valued as companions. People are risking life and limb to both steal and protect the animals.
The law has done nothing to protect the owner's property and it is claimed that the police can do little to stop the criminals on motorbikes snatching the defenseless animals. Although there is no specific law regarding dog-napping in Vietnam, there are fines for theft of property valued at VND2 million or more. But how do you put a value on your pet? Clearly, these animals have much more value than what they can be sold for at the local BBQ restaurant. And the thieves know this very well.
Not long ago, my beautiful pet "Lucky" was stolen from my wife when she was taking him for a walk in Phu My Hung. Two men on a motorbike waited for the right moment (as they were parked nearby looking for the right victim), snatched him, pulling his head out of the leash, and sped away. My wife, already in shock, tried to chase them down the street to no avail. She was devastated by the loss. She told me what had happened and we began in earnest the search for our "son." Yes, we call Lucky our son because he is the emotional equivalent to a son or daughter.
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We spent the day searching every place in Ho Chi Minh City where they might be selling dogs with no luck. The next day, after a night of listening to my wife crying in desperation, we again contacted many known dog suppliers. Later that day, we received a call back from a woman in District 10 who said she knew where the dog was and for a substantial fee (greater than VND2 million) we could be reunited with Lucky. We considered contacting the police and organizing a sting operation, but decided against it for fear of losing Lucky permanently. The woman was so kind that she suggested we also buy another dog for VND1 million to seal the deal.
We agreed and went to her location in District 10 and waited only a few minutes when a young man drove up on motorbike with a bag. When we opened the bag our Lucky jumped out with tears in his eyes, and, of course, there were tears in my wife's eyes and mine as well. The poor little guy was afraid to go outside for several days and when he did, he was constantly looking around in fear. Everyone was traumatized. And the kind pet dealer was a bit richer as were the thieves.
We moved shortly after that to a new location in District 1 where many neighbors' dogs had also been stolen. Fortunately, not ours again. I understand very deeply why people in the North are turning into vigilantes to protect themselves and their pets. I would love to catch one of these thieves red-handed myself he would not be stealing anyone's pet again. In the absence of help from the police, these people must protect themselves from both the loss of the dog and attacks from the thieves.
On the other hand, if the thieves injure anyone, including the vigilantes, while committing a crime, they must be punished to the full extent of the law.
By John Soular
The writer is an American expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City