An energetic tail wagging black dog greeted all four of us on the beach and accompanied us on our 15 minute walk to the Rock Beach Bar where we decided to view the sunset. Here in Thailand dogs are often at our feet while we have drinks or dinner at the different establishments on the beach. While walking down a dark path from the beach to the road the other night we were accosted by two boisterous fuzzy German Shepard like puppies. Naomi and Keegan would say the dogs here in Thailand have made paradise even more like paradise.
As an animal lover I have noticed dogs throughout our trip, their numbers, their condition and the role they play among humans. There were very few that we encountered in Japan. However there were pet shops amongst bars and restaurants; showing off their kittens and puppies perhaps hoping for an impulsive buyer. My friend Andrea was wary of these places, fearing that people were only interested in these pets while they were young and cute only to be discarded or ignored later in life. Some cursory research showed that there are many pets that are given away later and many of these pet shops are part of a puppy mill industry. (http://pawer.jp/en/dont-shop-adopt/behind-the-pet-stores/)
We started our trip to Vietnam in Hanoi, a big city where we did not see many dogs. However our tour guide in Cat Ba alluded to how the Vietnamese eat everything, including cats and dogs. The idea of eating what I consider a “pet” was offensive. I was full of judgement. We did see dogs throughout Vietnam; in the villages on Cat Ba island, the beaches of Da Nang, the shops of Hoi An. Some were clearly pets, like the golden retriever in Hoi An but most seemed to have no owner and wandered the streets eating what they could find. These wild dogs did not scare us, as they often seemed quite wary of humans.
They do not wag their tails, they do not understand our attempts to call them over so we could pet them. Many of the dogs and cats we saw were not neutered or spayed but rather showing obvious signs of having birthed several litters with nipples hanging close to the ground.
While we were in Hoi An there were a few puppies on our route to and from our hotel, they were eager to greet us. Keegan said out loud, “Why do we only see puppies in Hoi An?” Then said, “I probably don’t want to know the answer to that.”
That prompted me to do a little research. Yes people had joked about eating dogs, but was it just a joke? So I did a little research and found a recent article I found quite disturbing. (https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/hanoi-dog-meat-lovers-unswayed-by-uncivilized-tag-3985536.html) It stated despite the government cracking down on dog meat sales there were still 400 places selling it in Hanoi. It also said many of the dogs are gathered from the middle of the country, like Hoi An, which is where we were. Keegan’s comment was not unwarranted.
The article was horrifying but what stuck with me was the fact that the government was cracking down not because it was wrong but because of the “offensive image” it gave to international tourists. Our Western cultural judgement was effecting Vietnam policy because the government feared tourist dollars would go elsewhere due to this practice.
Who am I to judge? There are clearly people living in poverty in Vietnam and Cambodia. If they view dogs like chickens, pigs and cows; as animals that provide them with necessary food who am I to decide whether that is right or wrong. The dogs, cats, chickens and cows tend to be free range, wandering the streets, homes and store fronts.
They may be much better off than animals in the American inhumane industrialized meat production system. However that brings up the question of what is humane? Is allowing a dog to have litter after litter humane? Whether it is for a puppy mill in Japan or for food in Vietnam?
In Vietnam I did not need to be in fear of snakes in the rural villages nor was I able to see the indigenous monkeys. The reason seems to be that they are seen as food. People eat snakes in Vietnam and add the snake skin to their “happy water” (home brewed rice based alcohol). There are only 70 monkeys left on Cat Ba island. They stay away from humans after being hunted almost to extinction. Which should I be more upset about? The eating of wild animals or the eating of the many stray dogs?
I have been wrestling with this throughout our trip which made the welcoming beach dogs of Thailand such a nice change. On the first morning walk along the beach, one of the dogs I encountered was one whose owner had made him a contraption that allowed him to move around since his back legs did not work.
Of course I loved that these dogs had owners that saw them not as food but as companions; which fit nicely with my cultural view. Thailand has been catering to tourists for a very long time, perhaps it is a result of years of Western influence and desire for tourist dollars. Perhaps these tourist dollars have also allowed people in Thailand to have increased income and food security.
Nonetheless the friendly dogs we encounter on this trip make us all happy.
One of the hardest things about traveling is being away from our beloved Rieta.
Many thanks to my dad and my sister and her household for giving her lots of love as the cutest and most lovable member of our family.