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Why Giving up on Indonesia’s Dogs is Not an Option

In Indonesia, every 60 minutes, more than 100 dogs are slaughtered to supply the demand for dog meat. The dogs – many of them stolen pets - are collected from the streets and crammed into sacks and cages, their mouths bound shut so tightly they can hardly breathe. They are taken on long, gruelling journeys to markets and slaughterhouses. Those who survive must watch other dogs being brutally slaughtered while they wait their turn. This is the reality for tens of thousands of dogs each week in Indonesia.

It is estimated that just 7% Indonesia’s population consume dog meat, but in a country with the fourth largest population in the world at 261 million people, this amounts to a significant trade and a booming business in some parts of the country. With few overhead costs, it can be a profitable industry.

However, Indonesia is also the country with the 5thlargest number of human rabies deaths in Asia each year – a 100% fatal disease with devastating societal and economic impacts. It is no coincidence that the provinces and regencies with the greatest demand for dog meat are also those with the highest prevalence of rabies, given that the trade in dogs for consumption is responsible for the biggest trade in dogs of unknown disease and vaccination status. There is mounting evidence – spanning decades – linking this trade to the transmission of rabies, and efforts to eradicate the disease will fail without addressing this cruel and dangerous trade. It is an issue that governments cannot afford to turn a blind eye to.

Knowledge is Power…

In 2016, we created the Dog Meat-Free Indonesia coalition – a group of international and Indonesian animal protection groups committed to ending the dog meat trade.

We started by conducting nationwide investigations. The findings were shocking and indescribable. The brutality was immense and the indifference to the suffering of animals by those involved in the trade was impossible to comprehend. But, it is only by understanding the drivers behind the trade and by collecting evidence of the cruelty that we can tackle this issue effectively and holistically.

After countless meetings with traders it soon became evident that, for many, getting involved in the dog meat trade was opportunistic. In a country with widespread poverty and unemployment, and inaccessible healthcare for many, it is easier to understand the traders and consumers. Many turn to the dog meat trade as a way of feeding their families; and consumers often resort to eating dog meat as a form of “traditional medicine” to treat health problems that are rife but where mainstream medicine is not accessible to all.

And with this understanding, I often think, “lend me your eyes and I’ll change what you see; lend me your heart and I’ll change how you feel; lend me your hands and I’ll change what you do”.

However, whilst many traders we met expressed a degree of shame and remorse, for others, there seemed to be a total disregard to animals’ sentience and these are the traders who are far harder to tackle. But no one is immune to change and if they could just see the dogs the way we do, we can change hearts and minds, and the trade could end tomorrow. I always remember that the dogs of tomorrow’s trade are still free and we need to fight for them….

North Sulawesi – A place where your heart is broken, but the fire of determination is ignited…

After launching our initial investigative findings in November 2017 with the support of Indonesian and international celebrities such as Peter Egan, Ricky Gervais, Joanna Lumley and Chelsea Islan, we received an outpouring of support from the dog-loving community from throughout Indonesia, expressing condemnation of the trade and love for dogs.

We hosted innumerable meetings with government officials from various provinces where we were told that they supported our campaign to safeguard both animal welfare and public health and safety by tackling the dog meat trade; but we were also told that all efforts to eradicate the trade nationwide would be thwarted by the rife trade in North Sulawesi – a province in Indonesia that prides itself in it’s “extreme cuisine”, with dogs, cats, monkeys, snakes, bats and rats just some the animals for sale in meat markets and in restaurants.

As a long-term animal rights campaigner who has focused on the dog meat trade throughout Asia for the last 9 years, I have learned that seeing the human-side to those who act in ways so incomprehensible to me enables more effective campaigning…. But, in North Sulawesi, I found people who appeared to take pleasure in causing terror to the animals they slaughtered, an estimated 10,000 dogs each week….

Seeing is believing and I knew we had to shed light on what was happening to the dogs caught up in the trade in order to create the determined and vocal movement in calling for an end nationwide.

I will never forget the first time I visited North Sulawesi’s notorious live animal markets, locally termed “traditional markets”. We spent hours watching and documenting dogs and cats being slaughtered. Every thump of the club, every scream of pain, and every tremble of fear chipped away at my soul.

We watched animals lose their lives in a scene that most of us couldn’t imagine in our worst nightmares or see in the most gory of horror films. Yet it was happening right in front of our very eyes. As my heart broke and countless animals lost their lives, people were milling around smoking cigarettes and eating snacks, walking through puddles of blood and faeces, children playing… They would look at the animals, but they were not seeing them…

Over and over again, people would come and select a dog or cat for slaughter, condemning him or her to the most gruesome of deaths, right there as others cowered in the cages not knowing when their turn would come and not being able to hide…Unable to disappear to somewhere far, far away…

I closed my eyes every time the club came crashing down and found myself whispering a prayer and soothing words that before long it would all be over for them and that soon they would find peace.

The traders toyed with the trembling dogs in the cages. They mocked them, kicked the cages and played with their bats menacingly, covered in splatterings of blood.

We took hours of footage that will never be seen. It will never be seen because it is too gruesome to show. The media responded with, “we can’t show that”; and yet this is what is happening every single day to tens of thousands of dogs and cats in markets and slaughterhouses throughout Indonesia.

After witnessing so much horror, you are left with one of two choices: give up, or fight. But, when failure is not an option, there is actually only one choice… To fight.

An Army of Animal Warriors

And we are not alone in this fight. There is an ever-growing animal rights movement in Indonesia and a fearless network of animal protection groups and activists who are not afraid to give their voices to the voiceless. Through the Dog Meat Free Indonesia Coalition, we have been able to support these groups and individuals, coordinating days of action where thousands of dog and animal lovers take to the streets calling for an end to the dog meat trade. Over 550,000 people from around the world have already signed the petition and local and international celebrities have helped us to raise vital awareness of – and opposition towards – the dog meat trade.

Change is happening in Indonesia. Never before has the practice of dog meat production and consumption been questioned the way it is now. People are turning their backs on a trade and a practice that can no longer hide behind a defence of ‘culture’ or ‘tradition’. It is quite simply a question of animal cruelty, and a serious concern for public health and safety.

Saving Those We Can…

Conducting investigations is the hardest part of our job. It never gets easier. We are often asked, “how do you go to these places and witness such immense suffering and cruelty?” But for me the question is the wrong way round and ought to be, “How do you leave these places and walk away from such immense suffering and cruelty?”

The shame, the horror, the grief and the sadness are choking and don’t ever leave you. Sometimes, the only way to save your soul and to help heal your broken heart, is to save those lives you can.

Over the course of our investigations, we always did just that. Dogs like Hero, Ina, Lola, Bobby and Indah… They all have heartbreaking stories of abandonment, betrayal, abuse and terror. But fortunately for these individuals, they are now all living lives of love and compassion, light years away from the trade in which they got caught up in. For them, justice has been restored, and whilst we must fight on, for them, the trade has ended. Despite all the cruelty that they have endured, their spirits remain unbroken. They forgive and they love life again.

Dogs like Bobby….

Bobby was rescued from a market during our investigations in North Sulawesi. It had been a long day and the market was getting ready to close for the day. I made the ‘mistake’ of making eye contact with a dog sitting in a cage surrounded by blood in the slaughtering area of the market. As we talked to the traders, I made a decision that I couldn’t leave him behind. I had to restore justice for at least one. I didn’t try to negotiate on price, it was what it was… for his life to be spared. As he was taken from the cage, the trader told me that he had been dropped off with the traders that morning by his owner who no longer wanted him. The ultimate betrayal. We named him Bobby, and now he is living a life of joy at our partner group’s shelter “Animal Friends Manado”. Now, his days are spent playing with the other rescued dogs, showered with love.

“If not YOU then who? And if not now then when?”

Everyone has a role to play in ending the dog meat trade. I have always had a deep sense of responsibility in leaving the world a better place than how I found it, so that future generations don’t have to take on the same battles we do. And in Indonesia, your voice counts! Through national and international pressure, we are seeing change. Already, since launching our campaign, TripAdvisor has removed their promotion of live animal markets in Indonesia; the local government of Tomohon has banned the keeping of live dogs and cats and their slaughter from the infamous “Tomohon Extreme Market”; food companies have removed dog meat from their menus; and thousands of people have taken part in our days of action against the dog and cat meta trades.

Please make your voice heard against the dog and cat meat trade!

1 - Sign the petition calling on the President of Indonesia to ban the dog and cat meat trades:

2 - Write a letter (TEMPLATE BELOW) to the Indonesian embassy in your home country urging them to do their part in combatting the trade:

3 - Find out more about the campaign and what you can do to help:

The government is prepared to take action and it is our duty to ensure this happens.

Template for letter to Embassies

Dear Ambassador,

I am deeply concerned about the millions of dogs caught up in Indonesia’s brutal dog meat trade, and the risk this poses to Indonesia’s pledge to eliminate rabies by 2020. Every year, millions of dogs – including many stolen pets - are transported within Indonesia to supply markets, slaughterhouses and restaurants. Nationwide investigations have revealed the immense suffering caused to these dogs – crude and brutal methods of capture, transport and slaughter – and there are also growing concerns for the risks the dog meat trade poses to human health, including the transmission of deadly rabies. The brutal and unhygienic slaughter and butchery of dogs, and consumption of meat from rabies-positive animals, puts humans at risk. Human deaths from rabies have been directly linked to involvement in the slaughtering, butchery, handling and even consumption of meat from infected dogs. I urge you, on behalf of all dogs and the vast majority (93%) of the Indonesian population who never consumes dog meat, to please take action to safeguard Indonesia’s dogs from cruelty and the nation’s health by ending the cruel and illegal dog meat trade.

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