November 8, 2023
BANGKOK – Paul Kennedy, Trinh Nguyễn & Trang Trinh
On a busy day, Kiều Việt Hùng would slaughter more than 100 dogs, some of them puppies he’d been feeding to make sure they reached a profitable weight.
As well as a puppy fattening farm, he also had a slaughterhouse, and he also used the meat he had butchered to feed his family and sell to other restaurants.
For the past seven years, business has been good – with Hùng earning between VNĐ50 and 60 million a month.
But, making a living doing something most people find abhorrent, Hùng was faced with a crisis of conscience.
The 38-year-old from Thái Nguyên said: “Previously, we sold fertiliser at home. Because I had many children and my family was in poverty, I had to raise dogs to earn more income and cover family costs. So I opened a dog farm.
“I bought dogs from people in the neighbourhood and neighbouring communes to raise and slaughter. Depending on the number of customers ordering, each month we slaughtered from 50 to 60 dogs.
“When I slaughtered dogs, I felt sorry for them. Many dogs are very docile. When I was about to kill them, they often begged me. I didn’t want to kill them, but for the sake of my life, I had to kill them to earn money to support my family.”
But it was all too much for Hùng, and he decided to give up his profitable business, even if it meant a struggle to feed his family.
“After seven years of slaughtering dogs and cats, I now want to advise people not to do it, it’s very sinful,” he added.
“We can choose other dishes to eat. As for cats and dogs, which are animals close to you, let them be cared for and raised properly.
“Previously, on average I slaughtered three to four dogs each day but at its peak, anywhere from 100 to more than 100 were slaughtered each day.
“Shutting down the dog farm, my family’s economy will definitely be affected at first, but I will try to overcome it.”
Hùng had had 44 dogs on his farm when he decided to shut up shop, with one heavily pregnant.
Having already taken the decision to no longer kill these animals, he needed support to remove and rehome the ones he had left.
A friend told him about the animal rescue centre at Thái Nguyên University of Agriculture and Forestry, who in turn, contacted their partner, Humane Society International (HSI) to facilitate the rescue.
Through their ‘Models for Change’ programme, HSI lobby authorities to not only make commitments to end dog meat consumption for good, but also to work with those who give up the trade and support them in finding alternative professions.
Thẩm Hồng Phượng, Humane Society International’s Viet Nam country director, said: “Hùng is the second trader in Việt Nam to participate in our Models for Change program, which we hope will encourage the authorities to commit to a strategy to provide industry workers with alternative and economically viable livelihoods, while also supporting government efforts to eliminate rabies.
“While dog meat remains prevalent in some parts of the country, there is also increasing opposition to the practice among the rising pet loving population in Việt Nam who are frustrated by the lack of action taken against unscrupulous dog thieves and traders who steal people’s beloved companions. As the role dogs play in society changes, so too must legislation to protect them from cruelty and exploitation.”
Lola Webber, HSI’s Director for Campaigns to End Dog Meat, knows her organisation has a tough road ahead, but she’s in it for the long run.
With every dog rescued, many more are slaughtered, when farms are closed, others remain in business.
“The dog meat trade is a huge problem here in Việt Nam as it is in other parts of the region,” she said.
“The change has to start somewhere and what things like this do is they represent a model for change. They show a way out where we are working with the industry that we are trying to change while also saving those animals that we can.
“What we are seeing in Thái Nguyên is, we are seeing evolution toward change. We are signing a MoU with the provincial Government and we are working with the University. We are bringing those stakeholders together, and together we can really address the whole process throughout the province.”
At the University of Agriculture and Forestry, a centre has been created to give dogs a better home, and hopefully find families willing to adopt.
The latest batch of rescued canines will be given thorough health checks and receive all necessary vaccinations, before finding their forever home.
Phan Thị Hồng Phúc is the Head of Department of Veterinary Animal Husbandry, and openly admitted that in the past, she too would often eat dog meat. Not anymore.
She said: “Twenty years ago, I was also a person who consumed dog and cat meat, but after learning and interacting a lot with dogs and cats, those animals which are close to humans, I developed a love for them.
“I no longer use them for food and also spread the word to everyone to stop eating dog and cat meat. Currently, many young people, and actually my children do not eat dog or cat meat, and actively spread the message.” – VNS
SIDE BOX – A bitter taste
University of Agriculture and Forestry student Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Mai believes fewer and fewer people in Việt Nam are eating dog meat. A study by Humane Society International revealed that around 40 per cent of the country’s population still do, but Mai feels the younger generation are shunning this dish.
She said: “The act of eating dog and cat meat changes through years and generations. Before, there were many dog meat shops along the road, but now they have decreased a lot because people have high awareness of their health and understand that dogs are close companions to humans, not just a food we can use every day.
“We really hope to be able to bring about a change in the culture of eating dog and cat meat.”