March 2012 was my first visit to Vietnam and Cambodia, where I spent a month travelling the length and breath of both countries. During the first days I saw several animal things that caught me off guard but I rationalised them as being OK.
On the first day I saw a big iron cage on the footpath outside a shop, and momentarily panicked remembering Vietnam has over 5,000 illegal ‘bear-bile bears’, but was relieved to see two big Rottweiler dogs sitting in it instead.
I distinctly remember thinking the dog’s eyes didn’t look relaxed, but thought it’s nice the dog’s owner didn’t let his dogs run in the heavy traffic (thinking the dogs would go home with the owner in the evenings.) I was looking through tourist eyes.
Each day I saw different sized iron cages dotted along the bustling streets, but in the late afternoons they were empty; some were quite small and many had little water bowls. I remember looking at a small cage and wondering why someone would keep their cat in a cage on such a busy street? Things were not making sense, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around what my eyes were seeing.
No-one else on out tour seemed to be noticing anything out of the ordinary, which made me question if I was really seeing what I ‘thought’ I was, or was it just over-active imagination? Deep inside, my inner voice was telling me something was very wrong, but I couldn’t identify it.
And then it hit me right between the eyes, like a sledge hammer. I witnessed a woman murder a Golden Labrador dog in broad daylight and there was nothing I could do. Overcome by utter helplessness, I was almost hysterical and went into shock, crying uncontrollably.
Minutes later, a well to do AMERICAN woman in our group (herself a pet-dog owner from New York City), casually asked our guide: “What is the favourite type of dog to eat?” (Who in their right mind would even think to ask such a shocking question?) Our guide casually answered: “Vietnamese people love to eat Australian dogs the best.”
The events I’d been seeing since arriving in Vietnam all collided in my mind and I knew the street cages were merely holding pens for local people to choose which dog or cat they wanted killed, for their meal. After going into full shock, almost vomiting and crying non-stop for several hours, eventually I became angry. From that moment on I had clear vision of what I was really looking at.
The very next day I unknowingly walked into the dog-meat market and found myself surrounded by honey-baked pet dogs of all breeds and size, with their heads still attached. I documented everything, then had a blazing fight with a dog-meat trader. Many of the dogs are stolen pets, still wearing collars, tags and bells.
Our tour guide specifically asked me NOT to write about the truth of Vietnam because he said he was scared it would stop tourists coming. Funny, cause if you like animals, I do NOT recommend Vietnam as a tourist destination.
There are no animal welfare groups in Vietnam so there’s no standards to adhere to, protecting animals. Cruelty is a human trait, not an ethnic one; it’s not determined by skin colour or shape of the eyes. Cruelty exists in every nation throughout the world, but we CAN be a voice for those silenced by it.
This is the first of a series of my travel articles. (I originally published parts of this story on another of my blogs which I have since closed.) To read more about the Dog and Cat Meat trade: