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Foreigners shocked by eating dog in Vietnam


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When Australian Elizabeth Homfary passed by a local market in the HCMC neighborhood of Thao Dien a few years ago, she was frightened by a “strange” meatshop.

Dogs wait to be slaughtered in a cage for sale as food in a village outside Hanoi. Photo by Reuters

Dogs wait to be slaughtered in a cage for sale as food in a village outside Hanoi. Photo by Reuters

"I wasn’t sure about the things in front of my eyes at first," the Australian woman who had spent 10 years of her life rescuing animals recalls. "But after recognizing they were grilled dogs, my body couldn’t stop shaking and I walked home crying."

Homfary is just one among the many foreigners getting shocked by the dog meat consumption in Vietnam. Vincent Leopold, 59, a Frenchman who relocated to Vietnam 25 years ago, got introduced to the "ritual" by an acquaintance of his in Vietnam.

"His family had a pet dog, but he still brought his wife and children to a dog meat shop every week," he says. "I was shocked despite not seeing it with my own eyes, and I pulled three all-nighters because of that."

According to data provided by international animal welfare organizations, around 5 million dogs and 1 million cats are trafficked and slaughtered every year in Vietnam, despite WHO’s warnings about the risks of getting infected with viral diseases with dog meat consumption.

But not every foreigner is surprised by this eating habit. Lucas, from Germany, is an example. Moving to Vietnam after five years living in Shenzhen, China, he was curious about dog meat and decided to seek suggestions of stores serving good dishes made from dog meat in Hanoi.

"I love dogs and have had four pet dogs myself, but I don’t think eating dog meat is something wrong," the 35-year-old man tells VnExpress. "Criticizing dog meat consumption while eating pork or chicken is hypocritical."

The debate over whether eating dog meat is wrong has been heated in Vietnam for a long time.

Global animal welfare organization Four Paws said in their 2021 report on dog and cat meat consumption in Vietnam that 88% of the surveyed Vietnamese supported banning dog and cat meat trafficking.

Many think otherwise, believing that dog meat is a traditional specialty dish, which is popular in many South Asian countries, including Vietnam and South Korea.

A shop selling dog meat in Hanoi’s Cau Giay District. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Trung

A shop selling dog meat in Hanoi’s Cau Giay District. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Trung

Responding to this opinion, the 27-year-old South Korean Kyung-seok, employee at a Vietnam-based corporation, says people in his country do consume dog meat, yet they mostly consider it a food source and traditional trend.

In fact, dog meat consumption in South Korea has decreased considerably over the past decades, as the South Koreans have become increasingly ashamed of this eating habit.

Many foreigners in Vietnam believe people have freedom in their choices of food, but the underlying problems of dog meat consumption in Vietnam is how it closely relates to pet dogs stealing.

"I never mention the moral aspect of eating dog meat when discussing the matter with Vietnamese people," Homfray says. "I simply convince them that they may be indirectly encouraging dog thieves with their food choice."

Seeing dogs being stolen and slaughtered in Vietnam, Leopold stopped his business and started pursuing rescuing animals in 2010. His wife didn’t really support his idea, and they got divorced not long after his new direction. He worked in various animal welfare organizations until a Canadian organization contacted him and offered to help.

They bought a piece of land in the southern province of Dong Nai and built an animal shelter, where Vincent is currently staying with over 350 abandoned dogs and cats.

"Many young adults called me and asked me to help them take care of their pets after their family decided to eat them," he says.

Homfray has also established Laws For Paws, an animal rescuing organization headquartered in HCMC’s neighborhood of Thao Dien.

She believes Vietnamese young adults’ attempts to advocate animal rights and rescue abandoned dogs and cats over the past few years is the reason why Vietnamese people have been gradually turning their backs to dog meat. Still, she admits there are many dog meat shops in the suburban areas.

A volunteer working for Laws For Paws, a dog shelter in HCMC. photo courtesy of Elizabeth Homfray

A volunteer working for Laws For Paws, a dog shelter in HCMC. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Homfray

Leopold agrees with this ỉdea. He explains that dog meat is still a popular dish in Vietnamese rural areas. There is a man living in the same neighborhood with him often killing dogs to eat or to sell to other resellers. Two among the dogs in his shelter were stolen as well.

After that incident, he heightened the walls and added steel fences to his shelter. He says: "I want to make sure that nobody can steal or harm them."

Based on what happened in his home country, Kyung-seok believes as the generations change, the habit of eating dog meat will disappear as well.

South Korea used to fail in their campaigns advocating the abandonment of dog meat consumption. The peak of the campaigns was prior to the 2018 Olympics, when the government encouraged 12 dog meat restaurants in Pyeongchang to temporarily halt their business, to which these eateries ignored.

But as time passes, most South Korean young adults now don’t eat dog meat anymore. In a 2020 survey, around 84% of the participants had never tried dog meat and had no plans to try in the future either. The percentage of South Koreans supporting banning dog meat consumption also reached 58.6% in 2020, increasing from only 34.7% in 2017.

"The relationship between South Koreans and dogs has improved," he explains. "South Koreans visiting Vietnam do not seek dog meat shops anymore."

According to him, restaurants serving dog meat in South Korea now refer to the dish as "bosingtan," which could be literally translated as "nutrient soup," instead of directly referred as "dog meat."

"Our ancestors consider dog meat a valuable nutrient source. But now we can have similar nutrients from other food choices," he says. "Just like how the Vietnamese made "fake" dog meat."

After facing backlash for his question about shops serving dog meat in Hanoi, Lucas chose to drop by an eatery in the neighborhood of My Dinh last March. But he was immediately frightened by the scene of between four and five dogs with "their teeth out" hanging upside down in front of the eatery. He dropped his idea, as he thought about the dog thieves in Vietnam.

"I sat down in a cafe, looked over the dog meat shop from there, and questioned myself how it tasted like," he says. "I will probably try the "fake" dog meat."