CHIANGRAI TIMES – The trade of dog meat has existed in Thailand for centuries, yet it is only relatively recently with the growth of grass roots Thai animal-welfare groups, foreign-start up groups and an increase in the need for dog meat that the trade has grown to become an issue that can no longer be ignored.
Ever since last year’s first border ‘interception’ spearheaded by Gov Rerngsak, there are now regular dog interceptions at crossing places such as Mukdahan and the areas surrounding Ban Tharae – widely considered to be the hub of the dog meat trade in Thailand.
Although there are literally hundreds of dogs rescued every week, John explains that this is not a long-term solution to the problem.
“It’s good when we intercept the dogs because we are effectively intercepting the profits, but it doesn’t stop [the trade], it just forces the price of dog meat up.”
In turn, this increases the profitability of the trade and encourages new routes and ways of operating.
The most recent interception happened this week, when on October 15, 270 dogs were rescued from three pick up trucks travelling in Mukdahan.
As a result of being caught more often, dog meat traders are no longer brazenly transporting the animals in huge trucks, but have instead resorted to covertly cramming them into chicken crates.
They are then taken and kept in the jungle, waiting until nightfall, for a safe passage across the border.
When the dogs are rescued, they are often suffering from dislocated joints, malnutrition, and diseases.
Even if the dogs do manage to make it to ‘freedom’ and to shelter, it is no guarantee of their survival. They are usually taken to unsuitable shelters that were initially set up for live stock.
“They are not made for dogs,” says John, “And the staff are not trained to take care of small animals. As such, the death rate is usually quite high – and can be up to around 10-12 per day.
“1,800 dogs were recently taken to the Buriram shelter and they all had proper paperwork and so on, but after a few months there were only around 100 left. The manager of the centre said that they either all died or ran away, but nobody really knows what happened to those dogs,” says John.
The heart of the solution, therefore apart from raising awareness, lies in creating opportunities for those involved and correct enforcement of existing laws.
Using the law
“So many people are involved in the dog meat trade, the government needs to provide more alternative jobs for the poor people who are involved in this at every level.
“The rice farmers may say they are poor, yet a lot of them are now driving around in brand new pick up trucks and probably having to engage in this illegal activity to fund them.”
John said therefore that this, alongside correct and just enforcement of the law, was the way forward.
“They [dog meat traders] need to know that more will happen to them, perhaps that they’ll have their trucks impounded and they’ll go to jail. At the moment, they are not even having to pay the fines. The big men, those in a higher position [in the trade’s hierarchy] pay them, so they have nothing to fear.
“Then unbelievably the dogs are returned to them, because after they pay the fine, they just claim that the dogs are theirs, and therefore their only crime is transporting them ‘illegally’ across the border.”
John said however that often the dog meat traders weren’t even correctly prosecuted in that regard. He should know – much of his time at the SDF is spent dealing with the legal process of exporting dogs to homes abroad.
“I see the warning signs clearly every time,” says John of the painstaking process of requirements when exporting animals, “If it’s not done properly you receive up to two years imprisonment or a B40,000 fine. But often these people [dog meat traders] are let off with a few thousand baht fine and I think the maximum sentence ever imposed has been six months.”
Caught on camera
John has also been rather busy as the SDF. In combination with UK-based production company Environment Films, he has been filming and contributing to a documentary, entitled ‘The Shadow Trade’, which plans to expose the inner workings of the dog meat trade to an international audience.
John told The Phuket News that the SDF had sent an ex-Fleet Street undercover reporter for a six-month long investigation into the dog meat trade, in order to check the dog meat traders’ movements and the schedule by which they transport the dogs.
He says this will hopefully lead to more interceptions and more arrests on the ground. “The documentary is not necessarily to ‘reveal’ the four main individuals who are engaged in the running of the trade, as they are already quite well known. Everybody knows it. The police know all right.”
Cherique O’Brien, a producer working on the documentary, said there were still many people, especially outside of Thailand, who didn’t know about the trade, “Awareness for this campaign is key. A film is a great way to spread the campaign message to a much broader audience.
“The film, as part of the campaign, aims to help change the way these animals get treated, change legislation, win stricter laws against cruelty, and ideally bring an end to the dog meat trade.”
John too is ultimately holding out for a blanket ban on the trade, and believes if politicians can see the importance of bringing about change, then this could happen.
Shaming a nation
He believes that local authorities, national government and the TAT need to recognise that international awareness of the integral part Thailand plays in the trade will damage the nation’s image, and will ultimately harm the economy and the business prospects of the country.
For now, however, John said that a more realistic and achievable short term solution will be to increase the number of interceptions and to improve the holding conditions of the dogs once they get to centres.
So John and numerous other charitable organisations continue to keep rescuing dogs and taking them to overcrowded facilities, with the hope that one day as many may be adopted as possible.
This is likely to continue until there’s a nationwide sterilisation programme introduced, much like the one John and the SDF have worked tirelessly to bring about in Phuket.
This is the only solution, John says. “Many Western people think that these dogs would be better off being euthanised when caught, but in Thailand especially, this is unheard of. Buddhism thinking doesn’t allow for the killing of any animals.”
Dealing with ignorance, making people listen and forcing blind eyes to see the damage that this trade is having on Thailand’s reputation is a full time job.
In is for this reason that John Dalley doesn’t allow himself time for pride, he does however often take a brief moment of solace and satisfaction from seeing a rescued dog housed with a new family.
“Whenever I see a picture of a Thai dog that had been bound for the dog meat trade alive and well in the UK, for example, I feel satisfied,” says John.
But that feeling is fleeting he admits and usually lasts just a day. Then it’s back to fighting shadows.
For more information and to read the News’ original story on the dog meat trade and the ‘Trade of Shame’ campaign, click here.
If you would like to help fund production of the documentary, ‘Shadow Trade: The Price of Loyalty’, visit www.indiegogo.com/shadowtrade. For more information on the Soi Dog Foundation visit www.soidog.org