Friday, January 20, 2012

Chinese New Year a bad time for dogs

Chinese New Year is not a good time for dogs in south-east Asia.

Beyond the problem of finding volunteers to feed the dogs in shelters during the holiday period as reported in the Shanghai Daily there is the more serious issue of dogs as food.

The far north-eastern part of Thailand has gained itself a bit of a reputation for the trade and consumption of dog meat and has been in the news recently after several successful raids by police. The trade is mainly for export to Vietnam and seems particularly active in the run-up to Chinese New Year celebrations.

The latest case involved a house owner where 5,000 dogs were found ready for export. He was given a four-month jail term and a fine of 37,500 bahts (about US$1,250). The consumption of dog meat is not actually illegal in Thailand but the people involved are charged with running a livestock business without a license and also exporting without a license.

In the past the dogs were collected from nearby provinces, usually strays caught and sold by the local villagers although dog-napping pets was also involved, but now there is some indication of a shift towards raising dogs in pounds specifically for their meat.

The Mail Online also recently reported on the interception of around 1,500 dogs crammed into small cages on the back of a lorry in south-west China. The comments from readers at the end of the article are extreme and xenophobic to say the least but it’s a very clear indication of just how abhorrent many people find the idea.

There is a long history of dog-eating amongst some groups in this part of the world and, personally, I don’t have a problem with it anymore than with the consumption of pigs, for example. However, I do have a problem with the extremely cruel practices involved in the trade.

There is clearly a dichotomy of attitudes to dogs between what could loosely be called the West and East, and the clash between the moral values of the West and the cultural beliefs of the East seems to have little middle ground in this case. However, the western view is already gaining ground in many areas with a dog-eating tradition and I suspect that the western view will win out in the end.

The loss of traditional culture that this implies will not be missed by the vocal majority, however, there are more subtle effects of this westernization of attitudes to dogs that could have an impact on Asian dogs in another way. Namely, that unowned village dogs are an accepted part of south-east Asian life with a history that goes back to the dog’s first appearance in the world. To western eyes these unowned animals are stray and either need to be saved or dealt with some other way. To eastern eyes they are exactly where they should be. Many of these dogs live healthy lives whereby they define their own activities and socialize with their own kind, and they do not create problems in the way that abandoned pets do. It would be a great shame if this part of the local culture was lost due to westernization but that is exactly the route we are heading down.

Another thought that might be hard for some to bear is that I also wonder if dog-eating played a role in the domestication of dogs which may well have happened in south-east Asia.

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