Thailand battles a dog-napping crime wave
It’s a terrible time to be a dog in Bangkok. It’s not so much a reflection on the city itself – although heaven knows it’s no pooch paradise.
There’s little in the way of green space, the roads are over-run with traffic and it is stinking hot most of the time. When I’m sweating through my suit jacket, I sometimes wonder how I’d get on if I’d been born a Siberian husky.
No, the problem here is more about every day, on-the-street dog reality – and I can tell you that if you’ve got four legs and a keen sense of smell, this is one heck of a tough place to be.
In fact, if the UN or the good folks at ‘Modern Dog’ magazine were to rank the planet’s best places for canines and their masters, Bangkok is going to struggle to beat war-ravaged Mogadishu.
So, here’s the deal. Over the last five months, the Thai border police have made a series of spectacular animal seizures in the north east. Tens of thousands of dogs have been discovered, stuffed into ‘pig cages’, with ten or sometimes even fifteen animals packed into each one.
The cages were stacked up high on the back of flat-bed trucks destined for southern China and Vietnam. The animals were in a terrible condition – fleas, broken limbs, nasty skin conditions – you name it. We saw footage of Thai policemen retching from the smell as they tossed the crates off the back of the trucks.
The animals were heading for regional dinner tables – and the ‘dog-meat’ stands offering ‘thit cho’ and a coke in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Served roasted, stewed or in a shark-fin style soup, the meat is praised for its powers as an aphrodisiac – and in this auspicious, super-lucky ‘Year of the Dragon’ there’s lots of loving to be getting on with in much of Southeast Asia.
Factor in this part of the world’s rapid industrialization – which means the men and women busy stitching our jeans have got more money to spend – if not the time to spend it – and you’ll understand why a small-time racquet in rural Thailand has become a big-time industry in a short period of time.
However, this developing appetite for dog-meat has run slap-bang into another recent phenomenon of the age – a formidable foe in the form of the middle-class, urban pet lover. Unsurprisingly, they don’t much like the thought of humans eating dogs – but what’s really got them hopping is a recent wave of dog-thefts sweeping the towns and cities of the nation.
With the price of the ‘right’ black and brown coated dog now fetching the equivalent of £30 to £40, unscrupulous dog’nappers have moved into Thailand’s towns and cities, looking for an easy steal – and that’s often what they get. When the bad guys turn up in their pick-ups, the Boomprakorn family’s friendly Labrador – or Ms Wattanapanit’s furry Pomeranian – tend to do as they’re told and jump in the back.
Roger Lohanan from animal charity, Thai Animal Guardians Association, says the tantalizing cash on offer has turned dog’napping into a professional gig. “Everyone wants to get in on this,” he told me sadly. “The dog-men get a truck and some cages and drive from the north of Thailand to the south and they even come into Bangkok. They’ve created so many problems.”
Mr Lohanan says the number of animals involved has grown dramatically; “a few years ago, they use to move 500 dogs abroad each week. Right now it’s probably more than 2500. There’s a lot of competition. That’s why they’re going after people’s pets.”
Faced with this clear and present danger, Bangkok’s dog-lovers have begun to mobilise. Local groups have organised themselves into local ‘neighbour-hound watch’ teams. We went to the house of Aree Rungnirunnon and her elderly mother Sa-ing on Bangkok’s eastern side.
They provide a caring home for a handful of dogs but they’re also working hard to make the streets of Bangkok canine-safe. “A few weeks ago a man pulled up in his truck and tried to round up the local dogs,” said Aree Rungnirunnon, “but me and my mother asked him for his papers. He said ‘oh I’m working for a charity’ but we didn’t believe him so we made him go away.”
Dog lovers also held a large rally at Bangkok’s central Lumpini Park. More than 500 dogs and their owners turned up, demanding an end to all ‘dog-snatching’ and a new animal cruelty bill. Unfortunately, dogs are banned inside the park – so they had to march round it.
Here’s the choice then for upwardly mobile south-east Asian consumers: do you own it – or eat it? It is a matter of good taste I suppose.