Thousands of dogs seized from Thai meat traffickers have no safe place to go

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  November/December 2012:

NAKHON PHANOM,  Thailand— Police Colonel Sakchai Sadmarerng, chief of Ban Phaeng station in Nakhon Phanom province,  Thailand,  on November 7,  2012 described to media the seizure of yet another truckload of dogs from smugglers hauling them to Laos across the Mekong River.  From Laos,  most would have been trafficked on to markets in Vietnam and southern China.

The truckload increased the dog population at the Nakhon Phanom livestock quarantine center to 1,253,  said center spokesperson Pairat Pratumsuwan.

Those dogs will not be tortured to death in front of others to serve buyers who believe that the meat of dogs who die in fear and pain will taste better,  or have increased medicinal value as treatment for male erectile dysfunction.  But the dogs taken off of the trucks and out of cages where they have been crammed so tightly that they cannot move are still far from “rescued.”

Of 5,257 dogs who arrived at the Nakhon Phanom livestock quarantine center in 2012,  Pairat Pratumsuwan said, 2,262 dogs had died–substantially more than the 1,742 claimed as pets.

The situation at Nakhon Phanom was scarcely unique. “Approximately 100 dogs currently at Thong Pha Phum are the sole survivors of 1,968 dogs seized from a holding area in Ban Tharae in January of this year,”  e-mailed John Dalley,  chief executive of the Bangkok-and-Phuket-based Soi Dog Foundation,  describing “a remote shelter in [a part of] northwest Thailand that hosts the hottest summers,  coldest winters,  and heaviest rainfall” in the region. Unlike at the other centers,  where at least the majority of dogs are excited to see us,  at Thong Pha Phum the dogs simply lie there,” Dalley said,  “clearly depressed,  as if knowing their fate.

“At Khemmarat, where conditions are somewhat better,”  Dalley continued,  “dogs are dying at the rate of 3-6 per day according to the director,  and up to 12 per day when the weather is bad.  It is not difficult to see the problems.  Lack of adequate shelter from the elements, minimal skilled veterinary care,  shortage of staff,  and the staff that are there having no experience in handling dogs,  as well as non-existent or inadequate drainage,  so that the dogs have to lie in their own waste.

In Thailand there is no SPCA or the equivalent. Soi Dog Foundation is a small local charity,  and although we have ambitions to eventually become a national organization, at present tackling and financing everything that is required at these centers is simply beyond our means.  But to put it bluntly,  there is nobody else. The large international charities have little or no interest.”

Since August 2011,  when the Soi Dog Foundation initiated a globally publicized “Trade of Shame” campaign against the Thai dog meat trade,  “More arrests of dog smugglers have been made than in the preceding 15 years,”  recounted Dalley.  “Our Thai colleagues put the pressure on,   and the smugglers respond.  They are now having to use better disguised trucks,”   but are still getting caught increasingly often.

Livestock quarantine stations near the Laotian border have in consequence become the de facto dog pounds for much of Thailand. Thai Buddhists have historically not eaten dogs,  but dogs were on the menu for ethnic Chinese and Catholic refugees from Vietnam who settled in Thailand after the Vietnam War.  As their economic status improved in the 1980s and 1990s,  the Viet immigrants became a market for dogs impounded–or stolen–by for-profit dogcatchers.  Later, after trade relations with Laos and Vietnam normalized,  the Thai northern frontier became a conduit for dog exports.

Free-roaming dogs are abundant and often easily caught throughout Thailand. Thefts of pet dogs have triggered ethnic riots, sometimes leading to human deaths,  but Thais who consider dogs a nuisance have tended to ignore dogcatchers working for the meat trade–or to hire them and not ask questions.  Public pounds,  loathe to kill stray dogs,  may surreptitiously allow dogs to “escape” when meat trade trucks arrive.  Sporadic government crackdowns on the dog meat trade have until recently focused on ensuring that the dogcatchers work only in neighborhoods where they meet no resistance, not on saving dogs’ lives.

The “Trade of Shame” campaign has rocked that status quo, building public support for stopping the dog meat trade and reforming the treatment of dogs throughout Thailand–but meanwhile the Soi Dog Found-ation is challenged to demonstrate that more can be done than just letting dogs die from deprivation,  if not butchery. Soi Dog’ relief coordinator Khun Toom  and Soi Dog president Suchon Jittan-onta have lobbied for increased government allocations to feed and house confiscated dogs.

“The Department of Livestock has agreed to allow volunteer overseas vets to assist,”  said Dalley,  welcoming teams from Britain and mainland Europe in November 2012.  Dalley hoped Soi Dog would soon “be sending additional overseas vet teams on a regular basis both to Thong Pha Phum and to Khemmerat.”

Personnel from Mahidol University and the activist group Dog Nation have helped in the interim to treat many of the confiscated dogs’ injuries and to improve sanitation at the quarantine centers. Soi Dog–whose main project in Phuket and Bangkok is operating dog and cat sterilization clinics–in October 2012 sterilized 348 dogs at the Khemmarat and Buriram quarantine centers.

Soi Dog has been asked to build a permanent dog shelter at Buriram,  “which would be a huge investment,”  Dalley observed.  “We will only do so after a thorough review of the plans and assurances that the shelter would be used for dog meat trade dogs and not as a local dog pound,  which is contrary to Soi Dog’s policies.”

Soi Dog favors neuter/return of street dogs,  in part because allowing impoundment often amounts to bunching dogs for clandestine transfer to the meat trade.

Larger issue

While the dog traffic interdictions awaken the Thai national conscience about the treatment of dogs,  the much publicized seizures also have potential to rouse concern on behalf of other species who are eaten.  Only India and Sri Lanka have historically eaten less meat per capita than Thailand.  Between 1980 and 1995,  however, Thai consumption of animal products more than doubled,  before leveling off at about 75% of the world per capita level,  40% of the U.S. level.  Thais still eat much less meat than the people of China, Japan,  Malaysia,  and South Korea,  but Thailand has become one of the top 10 poultry-exporting nations worldwide.

The dog meat trade involves more deliberate cruelty than the poultry,  pig,  and cattle industries,  but poultry and pigs are typically confined for life in conditions as cramped as those endured by dogs en route to slaughter,  and cattle too are often transported in abusive conditions.

U.S. and European donors to anti-dog meat campaigns tend to include both people who are concerned about all animal suffering, and people who are concerned about dogs,  but eat other animals.

People who care intensely about dogs are leading the Thai anti-dog export effort,  but Thai online opposition to dog meat exports as a national disgrace is often linked to statements encouraging a revival of national pride in the Buddhist vegetarian tradition.

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