Vietnam agrees to five-year suspension of dog imports to control rabies

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2013: (Actually published on October 8,  2013)

HANOI––“After two days of sometimes difficult negotiation and discussion,  representatives from the governments of Thailand,  Vietnam, Laos,  and Cambodia meeting in Hanoi,  Vietnam,  have agreed to a five-point program, to end the dog meat trade and eliminate rabies, including a five-year ban on the import of dogs from other countries into Vietnam,”  Soi Dog Foundation president John Dalley announced on August 29,  2013. The agreement was brokered by the Asia Canine Protection Alliance,  including Soi Dog,  the Animals Asia Foundation,  Change For Animals,  and Humane Society International. “The government of Thailand sent representatives from the Ministry of Health,  the Ministry of the Interior,  and the Department of Livestock Development,”  Dalley said,  “and made clear that Thailand is strongly against the trade and doing all it can to eliminate it.” Said Pornpitak Panlar,  chief of the Department of Disease Control within the Thai Ministry of Public Health,  “We cannot change culture or habit,  but we should stop the smuggling of dogs.  This meeting was important to urge government agencies to see the problems caused by the dog meat trade and discuss a platform to stop the spread of rabies.” “While the dog meat trade is not illegal in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia,  the international trade in dogs is illegal if health and vaccination documents cannot be provided for each dog,”  said Animals Asia Foundation Vietnam director Tuan Bendixsen.  “As the trade involves hundreds of dogs in each transport,  it is impossible to have proper documents for all of the dogs,  or properly check each dog as needed before crossing over the border.” This reality gave the Asia Canine Protection Alliance a basis for negotiation,  pursuing a strategy recommended in June 2011 by Beijing attorneys Lu Xun,  An Xiang, and Cai Chunhang, and China Veterinary Association Pet Clinic Branch vice president Liu Lang. Xun, Xiang,  Chunhan,  and Lang argued that the dog meat trade in China is illegal under existing rabies control laws,  and could be stopped immediately by stringent enforcement.  This argument has become the legal foundation for frequent activist interceptions and rescues of truckloads of dogs and cats en route from thieves and private animal control contractors in other parts of China to live markets mostly in the Guangdong area. Rabies control laws similar to those governing interprovincial animal trade in China also govern international animal trade in Southeast Asia,  but––as in China––have rarely been invoked.

Trumping “culture”

“We focused on the illegality of the trade and the threat it poses to rabies elimination in the region,”  Dalley said.  “Why the focus on rabies?  The Vietnamese representatives in particular are extremely defensive regarding dog meat being part of their culture.  In reality this is not the case,”  Dalley noted,  “as it was introduced during the Vietnam War by military personnel trained in China.  But to attack the cruelty involved in the trade simply does not work,  and could lead to them saying they will regulate the industry,  which would be a disaster. “However,  Vietnam has committed to eliminate rabies in the country by 2020,”  Dalley continued,  “and currently the incidence of the disease is on the rise.  Rabies does not respect culture.  While they allow the import of dogs,  none of them with official documentation, rabies will never be eliminated.” Agreed Vietnamese deputy director of animal health Nguyen Thu Thuy,  “The [rabies] situation has become more severe,  especially this year.  One of the main reasons is the illegal cross-border trade of dogs.” A direct relationship between the dog meat traffic and the spread of rabies in Vietnam was documented in 2009 by Herman Wertheim, M.D.,   and colleagues from two Vietnamese medical research agencies,  the National Institute of Infectious & Tropical Diseases and the National Institute of Hygiene & Epidemiology.   Their findings,  reported in the March 18,  2009 edition of the peer-reviewed online journal PLoS Medicine,  are believed to have influenced a March 2009 Vietnamese government decision to stop work on a draft set of standards for dog slaughter and meat preparation,  and to reiterate a lightly enforced 1999 edict against eating cats. That history notwithstanding,  Dalley said,  “Lola Webber of Change for Animals Foundation and I are currently drafting a risk assessment requested by the Vietnamese government to provide clear evidence of the link between the dog meat trade and rabies.” The suspension of dog imports into Vietnam “does not mean that the trade will end,  nor be immediately affected,”  Dalley noted. “Through our undercover investigators we know the smugglers are already looking at alternative measures including slaughtering dogs in Thailand and shipping carcasses,  as opposed to live animals.”

Population control

Meanwhile,  Dalley explained,  “The agreement requires each government to enforce the ban,  and for the Asia Canine Protection Alliance to provide guidance and aid in the elimination of rabies,  as well as dog population management planning in each of the countries.” Several days after the Hanoi agreement was reached,  Dalley said, representatives from the Thai Department of Livestock visited the Soi Dog sterilization and vaccination clinic in Bangkok “with a view to implementing a nationwide sterilization and vaccination program. Nationwide sterilization will result in a reduced stray population and a dramatic reduction in the suffering and persecution these animals endure,”  It is the overabundance of dogs in Thailand that has led to the dog meat trade and tolerance of it,”  Dalley believes. Dogs are rarely eaten in most of Thailand,  and dog-eating by Vietnamese refugees who were resettled in Thailand after the Vietnam War has at times become a flashpoint for ethnic violence.  However,   tens of thousands of dogs are illegally exported to be eaten in Vietnam and Laos,  and possibly China,  though most dogs eaten in China are believed to come from within China. Soi Dog since July 2012 has fed and housed more than 4,000 dogs who have been seized from traffickers in a sustained governmental crackdown,  after previous seizures ended in dogs either dying from lack of care or “escaping” to be recaptured by the traffickers.  The effort costs Soi Dog $46,000 per month. “We are currently building 10 new shelters,”   Dalley said.  “Each shelter costs around $40,000 and will provide accommodation for up to 500 dogs.” Adding shelter space for cats may also be necessary.  The existence of a formerly little known Thai export traffic in cats to be eaten came to light on July 11,  2013 in the Ban Phaeng district of Nakhon Phanom,  when police arrested  Sodsai Ampawa,  26,  as he approached the Laotian border in a pickup truck carrying six plastic cages filled with 92 cats. Sodsai reportedly confessed that he had been hired to take cats from Maha Sarakham province to Laos,  for relay to Vietnamese restaurants.  Sodai was charged with animal cruelty and illegal animal export. The Nakhon Phanom Animal Quarantine Center already housed 1,432 dogs from recent seizures.

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