Asian countries and their canine delicacies are often the target of many jokes. While I can't judge anyone for their dietary preferences (I still can't give up hamburgers despite the inhumane beef industry we have in our country), I was horrified to learn about the Trade of Shame, smugglers that steal pets in Thailand to supply a black market for dog meat in Vietnam.
Pets are targeted because they are easy to catch since they are friendlier than your average stray dog. Many are taken in the middle of the night, straight from people's backyards. It's a cruel practice made worse by the fact smugglers believe instilling fear and stress in the dogs release hormones that flavor the meat.
The Soi Dog Foundation and the Thai Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have been fighting for years to get an animal welfare law through parliament. While not exactly what they were hoping for, an alliance formed last week between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos is a big step in the right direction.
The four countries pledged to stop the trafficking of pets for meat by establishing a five-year ban on importing dogs into Vietnam and planning incentives to motivate law enforcement to tackle smuggling.
The collaboration is a breakthrough even though the true motivation is to stop the spread of disease rather than organized crime or animal cruelty. Vietnam has one of Asia's worst rabies problems, which is exacerbated by canine trafficking.
Trying to end a lucrative illegal market will certainly be an uphill battle. Each dog can fetch 5,000-7,000 baht ($155-215) and it's estimated that 5 million dogs are slaughtered annually. Some fear that managing the border between Thailand and other countries will just force smugglers to find new routes and tactics.
This debate is not about whether it's right or wrong to eat dogs, but about ending a cruel and unethical practice. Similar to preventing stolen pets from becoming research subjects or dog fighting bait, there is no magic solution to ending these criminal activities. However I'm glad that the four Asian countries are taking a step in the right direction, even if stopping trafficking isn't the main goal.