Countless dogs are huddled together, crammed on top of each other in cages, their bodies shaking vigorously out of fear. Their mouths are bound tightly with plastic; their whimpers cannot be heard as they struggle to breathe. Their frightened eyes follow the fate of each dog before them. As they wait for their turn, they watch as the others are bludgeoned, strung up to bleed out, and blowtorched.
This was what video footage, captured by Dog Meat-Free Indonesia (DMFI), revealed during an undercover investigation in Central Javan capital city of Surakarta, Indonesia. It was discovered that in Java alone, around 13,700 dogs are snatched every month from the streets for the meat industry. Taken on long journeys on bikes or in overcrowded trucks to the slaughterhouses, many die from suffocation, dehydration or heatstroke before they even reach their final destination.
In Asia, the dog meat trade involves an estimated 30 million dogs each year, while some one million dogs, and hundreds of thousands of cats are killed annually in Indonesia alone.
Lola Webber, Programme Director and co-founder of Change For Animals Foundation – a founding member of DMFI coalition – explained:
“Roaming dogs are stolen from the streets and unwanted dogs are being sold to traders for just a few dollars. What is also shocking is the number of reports we receive each week of people who have had their beloved pets stolen by dog thieves.
“We have visited the most soul-destroying of places. The markets and slaughterhouses the dogs are taken to are like scenes from a horror movie. The dogs sit in tiny cages or in hessian sacks, their mouths bound shut, making it hard to breathe. The terror in their eyes and their trembling bodies will forever haunt me.”
Furthermore, dog meat poses a serious risk to public health. Since there are no regulations to ensure it is safe for human consumption, mounting evidence links it to the transmission of rabies – a disease that is almost always fatal in unvaccinated humans.
“We know from our investigations and published data that rabies-infected dogs are being brought into densely populated cities from rabies-endemic areas, with potentially devastating consequences for human and animal health,” Webber confirmed. “The World Health Organization has explicitly cited the dog meat trade as a contributing factor to the transmission of rabies in Indonesia.”
The dog and cat meat trades operate in breach of existing laws and regulations pertaining to hygiene, animal welfare, theft and disease control, and elimination. The government’s lack of attention to the issue, however, has failed to properly address the situation.
Dr. Katherine Polak, International Head of Stray Animal Care Southeast Asia at FOUR PAWS, said:
“Since the campaign launch in November 2017, following nearly two years of nationwide investigations, a pledge from the Indonesian Government to take action to end the cruel dog and cat meat trades was made in August 2018 when the coalition’s representatives attended the ‘National Coordination of Animal Welfare’ meeting in Jakarta.
“All national participants agreed to issue a ban on the trade of dog and cat meat in Indonesia, and to prohibit the issuance of health certification for dog and cat meat for human consumption.”
Dr. Polak admitted, however, that eradicating the dog meat trade in Indonesia will require commitment from the Central Government, and a true understanding of the risk it poses to not only human health, but also animal well-being. FOUR PAWS has worked for decades to improve conditions in relation to the breeding, transport, and slaughter of farm animals such as cows and chickens.
“In Southeast Asia, we see a unique opportunity to stop dogs from becoming another species of animal recognised as “livestock”, thereby offering an opportunity to save companion animals from the cruelty already being endured by billions of other animals every year under permitted practices,” continued Dr. Polak.
“Unlike commercial livestock, the trade in dogs for meat is completely unregulated and is fraught with incredible cruelty and criminality in all stages of the trade from sourcing to slaughter. Unlike traditional farm animals, dogs are not farmed for their meat (except for in South Korea) but are stolen, most of which are former pets. In many live animal markets, up to 70% of dogs are still wearing collars – signs of their former lives as pets.”
Authorities that do call for regulation of the dog meat trade often do so in a bid to control the outbreak of diseases and the negative impact on the environment.
Webber believes that such a large-scale production of dog meat would further exacerbate an already existing issue.
“Regulation has not stopped the daily abuse of hundreds of millions of ‘conventional’ livestock species around the world. In fact, in many cases, regulation has simply endorsed the systematic use of cruel farming methods,” she insisted. “Animals are bred and reared in a system that fails to meet their basic needs and most suffer every day through legalised practices, including many permitted cruel methods of slaughter. Once animals are accepted and classified as ‘livestock’ – as a commodity produced for consumption – their awful treatment becomes accepted in society.”
According to Islam, the eating and also the selling of dogs for meat is haram or strictly forbidden. In predominantly Muslim Indonesia, it is estimated that less than 7% of the population eats dog meat. The consumption is sometimes linked to certain festivities such as weddings, baptisms, and Thanksgiving. And as in many other parts of Asia, dog meat is considered to have health benefits, such as curing skin problems, dengue fever, and asthma, as a general boost for the immune system, or improving male stamina. And in some parts of Indonesia, dog meat stalls promote the meat as jamu or traditional medicine.