It never becomes easier to witness the immense suffering caused by the dog and cat meat trades or to think about the estimated 30 million dogs and millions of cats who are stolen or farmed, trafficked and slaughtered every year to supply meat for human consumption. But with increasing concern for animal welfare and growing recognition of the value of dogs and cats as companion animals taking root across Asia, we are making great progress in realizing our goal of banishing these trades to the history books.
Humane Society International works in a number of nations to end this cruelty through lobbying activities, public awareness campaigns, engagement with law enforcement agencies and working with the industry itself to find humane solutions. Here’s a closer look at just a few of our top victories in 2022.
Reaching a tipping point in South Korea
Since 2015, we have been working in South Korea, where dogs are farmed for the meat trade, to identify farmers who want to leave the industry. Our Models for Change program helps these farmers close their dog farms permanently, transition to alternative animal-free livelihoods and relinquish their dogs into our care. By working with the very industry we are trying to change, we can persuade the farmers, the public and the government that there is a holistic approach to ending this industry that is causing such widespread discontent and unthinkable suffering for animals in the nations where the dog meat trade continues to exist.
When we first began our work in South Korea, the dog meat industry had been almost too controversial for politicians to even discuss. But now, we are at a crucial tipping point, with South Korea’s new and rapidly growing culture of pet-keepers demanding change for animals at the legislative level. This year, for the first time ever, presidential candidates included pledges to end the dog meat industry in their campaign platforms. This is thanks in no small part to local animal advocates including HSI/Korea staff and our partner groups KARA, KAWA and LIFE, and the dialogues sparked by our Models for Change program.
This change would have seemed inconceivable even just a few years ago; but now, our opinion polls show nearly 60% of the population in South Korea is in support of a ban on the dog meat industry, compared to just 35% in 2017, with nearly 88% saying they are not willing to consume dog meat in the future.
A shift is also happening at the law enforcement level. This summer, just days before the start of Bok Nal—when dog meat consumption is most common in South Korea—we assisted with the rescue of 21 dogs from an illegal dog farm in Ansan city after local authorities shut it down. The dogs have since arrived at our care and rehabilitation center in the U.S., where they are recovering until they are ready to find their forever homes.
Joining forces to save lives in Viet Nam
Change is also coming in Viet Nam, where the dog and cat meat trades are becoming increasingly controversial, providing the perfect opportunity to launch our Models for Change program in Thai Nguyen province. This year marked the permanent closure and transition of a dog and cat slaughterhouse that had been in operation for years, slaughtering tens of thousands of animals. All 18 dogs on site were rescued, and with our support and that of the local department of animal health, what was once a place of unimaginable cruelty is now a shop for agricultural supplies like seeds and pesticides.
The rescued dogs are receiving care from our partners at Thai Nguyen University, representing an important new collaboration that will have far-reaching benefits for animals. And the Models for Change program creates a blueprint that can be replicated elsewhere in Viet Nam.
Raising awareness in Indonesia
In Indonesia, HSI is a founding member of the Dog Meat Free Indonesia coalition. In 2022, through our lobbying and public awareness campaigns, we saw great progress: 17 cities and regencies passed directives to explicitly prohibit the trade, and central and provincial governments called for further action, citing concerns for disease transmission, public health and animal welfare. These directives are critical first steps to eliminating the dog meat trade across the country, which would save tens of thousands of dogs each month. They are testament to our collaborative and holistic approach with the authorities where we have worked together to co-host trainings, seminars and public awareness events, with a shared goal of ending the dog meat trade and building capacity to protect and care for companion animals.
This year also marked the successful prosecutions of a dog trader and a slaughterhouse owner as part of our collaborative effort with the authorities. With the evidence we provided, the perpetrators were found guilty of breaking existing laws and sentenced to a record 17 months and 12 months in jail, respectively, with fines exceeding $10,000. These are only the country’s second and third convictions of dog traffickers, setting important precedents that the trade will not be tolerated.
Dismantling illegal operations in China
In many ways, 2022 was a new milestone for our efforts in China to end the dog meat trade.
Vshine, a partner group of HSI, collaborated with government law enforcement agencies to crack down on the country’s illegal, profit-driven dog and cat meat trades. In 2022 alone, with HSI’s support, Vshine was able to help rescue more than 1,750 dogs and cats, including 224 rescued dogs in Anhui and 386 in Shaanxi, bound for the infamous “lychee and dog meat festival,” and assisted law enforcement actions that resulted in the shutdown of two slaughterhouses.
Thanks to the work of Vshine, Dalian city government imposed a more rigid ban on illegal transport, sales, slaughter and marketing of unregulated animal products. The city has remained dog meat free for more than 20 months.
Supported by HSI, Vshine continued to host online and off-line adoption events to foster the rise of an adoption culture in China. Six adoption events drew the attendance of about 26,000 people and resulted in the adoption of 253 dogs and cats. Online adoption led to the adoption of 186 dogs.
Another component of our work to influence this issue in China is the spread of information for protecting animals. We supported local capacity building initiatives with local shelters across the country, to help them successfully rescue and care for animals and to raise vital awareness of the horrors of the dog and cat meat trades and to call for stricter laws to prohibit the trades. Twelve TikTok videos and seven social media posts against dog meat trade were published on the Weibo platform and reached 3.8 million viewers.
Building the momentum for change
Although the majority of people across Asia don’t eat dogs and cats, we also know that, in regions where people have traditionally eaten them, old habits die hard. For some, particularly older residents, the prospect of making a change is an emotional and contentious issue. But public sentiment is increasingly shifting toward protecting dogs and cats from such cruelties, with slaughterhouses being closed, restaurants shutting down and calls for change becoming so resolute they can no longer be ignored.
In 2023, we will continue to raise public awareness of—and opposition toward—these trades, expand our Models for Change program, build the capacity of our local partner groups and lobby for legislative reform to safeguard all dogs and cats from these cruel trades. To do this, we need legislative action and government enforcement; we won’t reach our goal by just completing rescue after rescue. Still, it’s been incredibly heartening to see the dogs and cats we’ve saved get a new chance to live happy lives. We’re proud of our progress and confident that the tide is turning in our favor.
Rest assured, we won’t stop fighting until the last commercial dog meat farm and slaughterhouse is closed, and until the value of a dog or cat is never again weighed on scales.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.