A truck loaded with dogs stuffed in cages seen at an undisclosed location in Thailand's Nakhon Phanom Province on August 12. Thai authorities have rescued more than a thousand dogs, which were found stuffed into tiny cages and being smuggled out of the country to be cooked and eaten in Vietnam.
Experts say the consumption of dog meat is increasing in Vietnam following the bust of a suspected dog smuggling ring that attempted to bring nearly 2,000 dogs into the country from Thailand.
On August 4, Thai police arrested four people, including a Vietnamese man, who were allegedly trying to bring the dogs here to sell them for their meat.
The problem is not necessarily Vietnam's hunger for the meat as eating dog is not illegal here. But regulations like those that govern the beef, poultry and pork trades have never been issued for dog meat in Vietnam, and the unregulated trade means not only more misery for the animals, but also unclean butchery and unhygienic cooking conditions that have both led to severe cases of rabies and cholera in dog meat consumers.
Rerngsak Mahawinijchai-montree, governor of Nakhon Phanom Province, said Thai police arrested Montree Thanklang, 45, a Nakhon Phanom resident, and Hai, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, as they drove a truck containing 600 dogs through the province's Na Thom District.
Four other trucks containing 1,200 dogs were seized while they traveled through Si Songkhram District, where police arrested Noppadon Chaiwangrot, 40, a Sakon Nakhon resident.
The dogs reportedly fetch up to 1,000 Thai baht (US$33) each.
"I feel this is the evidence that confirmed the dog meat trade in Vietnam is still flourishing even with many previous outbreaks of diseases associated with the trade, such as cholera," said Tuan Bendixsen, Vietnam director of the Hong Kong-based animal advocate Animals Asia Foundation.
"The 2,000 dogs that have been seized is the tip of the iceberg of the illegal dog meat trade happening between Thailand and Vietnam," Bendixsen said. "I have been to Nghe An Province and on Highway 1. Almost every day you would see trucks of dogs coming across the border from Laos into Vietnam and these dogs would come from dog farms in Thailand."
Bendixsen said he was sure that none of these dogs coming from Thailand have animal heath certificates showing they have been vaccinated against rabies and that they're healthy and free of any other diseases, as required.
Ban or regulation?
An official from HCMC Animal Health Agency, who wished to remain anonymous, said the problems of dog meat trading and consumption were difficult to fix because banning the practice would only create criminals while regulating the issue could draw the ire of dog lovers.
Last year, the agency proposed that the central Animal Health Agency issue regulations for dog meat trading in an effort to better manage the field and protect human health. However, the proposal received no feedback or approval, after passing through many central agencies.
Truong Thi Kim Chau, deputy director of the HCMC Animal Health Agency, said her agency has yet to receive any official instructions from higher authorities about the dog meat trade.
"We don't know what to do with dog meat trading because we have no legal basis," she told Thanh Nien Weekly on Tuesday.
The latest survey by Chau's agency, conducted in 2009, identified around 175 restaurants and eateries in HCMC that served dog meat daily. The agency found up to 350 dogs were being slaughtered in the city per day.
Bendixsen of the Animals Asia Foundation is pushing for a complete ban on dog meat. He pointed out that many Asian countries and territories have banned dog meat trading, like the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Thailand.
"I do not know why Vietnam has not introduced such a ban when there is growing evidence that Vietnam does not need dog meat for consumption and that there is a huge potential outbreak of diseases such as rabies and cholera associated with the killing and eating of dog meat."
However, Heiman Wertheim of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in HCMC said the trade should be regulated to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and a ban didn't make any sense.
"All animals not only dogs that are raised for consumption need regulation to ensure the safety of those eating it. I would not know why there needs to be a ban on trading dog meat. Why a special ban on dogs and not chickens or pigs? They are all animals," he told Thanh Nien Weekly in an email.
Wertheim said he would advise people to use hygienic food practices and protective clothing when butchering animal, and to not eat raw or undercooked animal meat of any kind. "Do not kill, butcher, or eat a sick animal or those that have died of unknown causes," he said.
Early this month, health authorities in the northern mountainous province of Yen Bai warned that many locals were ignoring a regulation requiring them to keep dogs from roaming outside. The province warned of the increased risk of rabies as many people were slaughtering sick animals and didn't know any better.
According to the Yen Bai Preventive Health Center, rabies has killed 65 people in the province since 1999, including six so far this year.
In June, the local government of Lao Cai Province, also in the northern mountains, suspended the trade and slaughter of dogs after an outbreak of rabies.
More than 20 people have been bitten by dogs in the province since June and tests have shown that many dogs have contracted rabies viruses. By June this year, 17 people in Vietnam had died of rabies nationwide.
In July last year, local media reported the closure of 60 dog restaurants and slaughterhouses around Hanoi. Reports said several of the facilities lacked proper health certificates for the animals. Others were selling meat that tested positive for cholera.