AWI Investigates Illegal Dog Meat Trade in Philippines and Thailand

by Rosalyn Morrison

This past March, I traveled from Bangkok—where I had been attending the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—to Manila to participate in an undercover investigation on the dog meat trade in the Philippines. Raising awareness on this issue is of utmost importance to me; for two years, I campaigned in South Korea against this cruel trade (See the Winter 2012 AWI Quarterly.), returning home accompanied by Lucy, one of the so-called “dong-gae” dogs commonly raised and slaughtered for meat in South Korea. Lucy is now my constant companion and my ambassador on behalf of South Korean dogs.

I arrived in Manila at 7 a.m. on Friday, March 15. Although utterly exhausted (after having barely slept the past two weeks at the CITES meeting), I was ready for another fast-paced—and incredibly emotional—adventure. From the airport, I took a taxi to the hotel, quickly showered, and then hopped in the bus with Andrew Plumbly, the executive director of Network for Animals; Frank Loftus, videographer from the Humane Society of the United States; and Martin Usborne, a photographer from the United Kingdom.

Despite the interesting company, I soon passed out in the back seat of the bus. Even though it was stiflingly hot, I somehow managed to sleep throughout the bumpy drive to Baguio, a city of about 320,000 people in the northern province of Benguet and six hours (minimum) from the bustling capital of Manila. Baguio is the center of the Philippine dog meat trade and the location of most of the known dog meat restaurants in the country.

The killing and selling of dogs for food is not legal in the Philippines. It was banned in Manila in 1982. A similar ban was enacted nationally in 1998 via the Animal Welfare Act (Republic Act No. 8485). The Act prohibits killing dogs for food with minimum penalties set at 1,000 pesos (equivalent to about US$22 at the time) and not less than six months in prison. The Anti-Rabies Act (RA 9482), passed in 2007, includes more severe penalties with minimum fines of 5,000 pesos per dog and not less than one year of imprisonment for participating in the trading of dogs for their meat. Despite the sanctions encoded in the law, however, law enforcement officials have done little to actually end this illicit trade.

Upon arrival in Baguio, we headed for Comiles 2, a restaurant reputed to sell dog meat, where the waitress politely asked us if we wanted pork, chicken, or dog. Frank documented the encounter on film and as a result we have actual evidence, not just rumors, that the restaurant sells dog meat. Within a few minutes, another customer—a man who looked to be in his 40s—came into the restaurant and ordered a dish of barbequed dog meat. Martin walked over to take a picture of the customer’s dish, and the customer became very defensive, got his food to go, and left the restaurant noticeably upset. The owner of the restaurant became very aggressive, denied selling dog meat, and everyone in the room became very tense. After several minutes of disputing, we abruptly left the restaurant, evidence in hand.

Afterward, we visited a local market and a city veterinarian, and spoke with a man who is building a shelter in the town of Bulakan for dogs rescued from slaughter. A few years ago, dog meat was sold in the open-air markets. On our trip, we did not see any dog meat for sale in the markets, which hopefully is a sign that the trade here is declining. We also stopped at a Korean restaurant to ask if they served dog meat and were pleased to learn they did not.

Sunday, we drove to the town of San Pedro in Laguna province, where multiple dog meat traders are reported to operate. While there, we rescued a two-month-old puppy who was tied on a short chain—persuading the owner to part with her for $10. She was very dehydrated and hungry, with ticks in her flesh and parasites in her stomach. She will stay in the Philippines for a few months until she is ready to be adopted.

The next morning, Andrew and I met with Ferdinand Manuel from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)—the equivalent of the FBI in the United States—to work on coordinating a raid to help save other dogs like our rescued puppy. After our meeting, two colleagues from the Humane Society International joined us at a meeting with Rubina Cresencio, the director of the Bureau of Animal Industry (a division of the Department of Agriculture) to discuss the best strategies for stopping the trade.

Even though selling dog meat is illegal in the Philippines, half a million dogs are still brutally tortured and consumed every year. Historically, dog meat was associated with celebratory events and rituals of mourning and only affected a small number of dogs. However, over the past quarter century or so, the dog meat trade has rapidly expanded for commercial rather than cultural reasons.

Investigators have documented the existence of at least 25 dog meat restaurants and four slaughterhouses in Baguio, seven dog meat traders in Laguna and Batangas provinces, and two slaughterhouses in Pangasinan province. Unfortunately, there are also many more underground entities involved in the industry throughout the northern provinces.

Stray dogs are rounded up off the street and transported to Benguet and neighboring provinces under extremely inhumane conditions without food or water. Steel cans are forced around their muzzles and their legs are tied behind their backs. Many of the dogs are pets—some are still wearing their collars. According to international animal protection organizations who have engaged in extensive enforcement, nearly half the dogs die before they reach their final destination due to the stressful conditions of the transportation; at times of extreme heat and overcrowding, as many as 90 percent of the dogs may die. Such startling mortality rates are of no concern to the dog meat traders, as the dead animals are processed along with the live ones. Behind closed doors, dogs are clubbed, throats are cut, and fur is scorched off with a blowtorch—often while the dogs are still conscious. 

Human Health Implications of the Dog Meat Trade
A regional director of the Philippines National Meat Inspection Commission publicly stated several years ago that consumption of dog meat is “dangerous,” as it is not inspected by the Commission. Consuming dog meat thus puts individuals at considerable risk of infection from harmful bacteria such as E. Coli 107 and Salmonella (commonly found in contaminated meats), as well as at increased risk of contracting potentially deadly diseases such as anthrax, brucellosis, cholera, hepatitis, and leptospirosis.

Dog meat is further linked to the spread of rabies—a disease that kills approximately 10,000 dogs and 300 people in the Philippines annually. Evidence shows that the rabies virus can be present, and therefore potentially transmitted to humans, throughout all stages of the dog meat industry—sourcing, trading, slaughtering, butchering, and meat preparation—impeding efforts toward eradicating rabies in the region. The World Health Organization has noted that “controlling trade in and [the] movement of dogs” along with the promotion of mass dog vaccination campaigns is key to dog rabies control and the disease's eventual elimination. In order to pursue this goal, the Philippine government included a prohibition regarding the trade of dog meat in the 2007 Rabies Act and stated a nationwide goal of eradicating rabies by 2020—a target that cannot be achieved unless the dog meat trade is shut down.

There are, however, developments that seem to indicate the beginning of a positive change. The Wildlife Division of the NBI recently raided nine restaurants. Additionally, Network for Animals took the lead on conducting a slaughterhouse raid in the town of Malasiqui, about 50 miles south of Baguio, by providing resources such as surveillance and funding for the management of the raid. On December 5, 2012, with the cooperation of local authorities, seven dog meat traders were arrested, 22 dogs were rescued, and 49 dog carcasses were confiscated. (As of press time, a trial date for the arrested traders has not yet been set.) While the local police were involved in the raid, enforcement needs to be initiated by domestic law enforcement rather than international nonprofit organizations in order for such successes to continue on a regular, widespread basis.  

The illegal dog meat industry in the Philippines causes harm in many ways, from the extreme physical and mental suffering of hundreds of thousands of dogs to the significant costs to human health. In order to successfully eradicate the trade in dogs for human consumption, mechanisms of enforcement need to be established at the provincial, municipal, and village levels to ensure that such a cruel industry has no ground on which to stand.

It is also crucial to work with local communities to raise awareness of the risks that the dog meat industry poses to both human health and animal welfare, and for local law enforcement officers to be adequately equipped with the skills, knowledge and motivation to enforce existing laws. The objective is to have the Philippine Department of the Interior as well as local governments ensure that the national ban is consistently and aggressively enforced in the dog meat regions of the country in order to demonstrate a serious commitment to ending this inhumane industry.

On To Thailand
After a week in the Philippines, I flew to Phuket, Thailand, to visit Soi Dog Foundation (SDF) and meet its founder, John Dalley. The week before I arrived, SDF conducted three raids and saved 520 dogs from unimaginable suffering. Even though the dog meat trade is illegal in Thailand, dogs are frequently rounded up off the streets—90 percent of them estimated to be pets—and smuggled across the Mekong River into Vietnam, where the dog meat trade is rampant due to a common belief that it has warming properties that aid in maintaining health and recovering from illness. The main consumers of the meat are wealthy Vietnamese businessmen who can afford its high price.

The Thai Veterinary Medical Association estimated that in 2011 half a million dogs were being smuggled into Vietnam annually to be slaughtered. Following increasing pressure by SDF and others, the number is currently far less than this, though many dogs are now being slaughtered locally and the meat smuggled instead. Hence, despite the national ban, the illegal trade in Thailand is worth approximately 1 billion Thai baht a year—over US$30 million. The Thai government does not have the necessary funding to adequately protect its dog population from the illegal meat trade. The Department of Livestock Development is charged with sheltering and providing for the dogs rescued from the trade, yet it currently has no budget for this (since dogs are not considered livestock animals in Thailand).

In Thailand as in other places, the dog meat trade is conducted with callous cruelty; dogs are packed for days in small cages, and many die before they reach their final destination from heat exhaustion or asphyxiation. In many places where dog meat is consumed, including Thailand, there is a common belief that dog meat is more tender if it is permeated by adrenaline just prior to slaughtering. As a result, dogs are intentionally killed slowly so as to increase their intense fear and stress. Dogs are boiled alive, beaten to death, hung, or skinned alive for their meat.

Tragically, even dogs rescued from such a horrific end are not guaranteed a life of recovery and health. Dogs in Thailand are not routinely vaccinated. According to SDF, a full 70 percent of the rescued dogs end up dying from disease, as well as injuries and starvation.

In June, prominently featured articles covering the dog meat trade in Thailand and Vietnam. We are very glad to see this issue finally gaining mainstream global attention. While it is important to raise international awareness on the illegal dog meat trade in these countries, we also want this to take root as a solid, locally-based campaign. Citizens of these countries need to put political pressure on their governments from within in order to ensure compliance with their own national bans on the trade.