|Is this really necessary? At the Yulin Dog Festival dogs are beaten to improve the tenderness of their meat and sometimes boiled or skinned alive|
(This image is from a now closed petition on Change.org. If the owner doesn't want me to use it, please let me know and I will happily remove it)
Ending the dog meat trade
I have been thinking about animals this week because there have been some very sad stories in the news lately. The first was the one about the Yulin Dog Festival in which thousands of dogs are eaten in an orgy of summer ‘fun’ which involves unspeakable suffering for these animals before they are eventually consumed. The second was about the mine detector dogs in Afghanistan having to be euthanized because they were being replaced by robots. Last night there was one about a racehorse having to be shot due to a fall, and yet another was about a 'great white hunter' boasting about his 138 elephant kills. To me, the way we treat animals- and our fellow humans for that matter, is a measure of how evolved and successful a society is. Today, I just want say a bit about the first two, with more on the others later.
What goes on at the Yulin Dog Festival is not confined to China. Eating dogs (and cats) is traditional in many other countries including The Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and some parts of India as well. However, tradition alone is not a good reason to keep doing something. After all, we no longer think it’s a good idea to bind feet, keep slaves or wear whalebone corsets, although all of these were once common practice in one culture or another.
The good news is that things are starting to change. Surveys have shown that 64% of Chinese people, especially young people, would much rather have a dog as a pet than eat dog meat and following on from a ban on the dog meat trade in Shenzhen province which introduced the ban because of concerns about the spread of diseases such as Coronavirus and rabies, China is now attempting to have dogs reclassified as pets rather than livestock. Taiwan, where dog meat was also eaten, has now passed stringent laws banning the practice and other forms of cruelty to animals with heavy fines and even prison sentences. Siem Reap in Cambodia has also passed laws banning sales of dog meat, though I fail to see how effective they will be when they only involve a perpetrator signing a document promising not to do it again. Much will depend on adequate oversight and enforcement. I'm not sure if they are still going but click here for a links to petitions about banning the dog meat trade in Indonesia. If not, there maybe some other way to help via the links on that page to end this barbaric practice.
While it's hard to break with tradition and this usually requires generational change, Westerners should be aware that much of the outrage they feel about such practices is also culturally determined, though in this case because of long dependence and association with “man’s (sic) best friend.” Dogs were important for hunting and protection and were valuable companions in what were often remote and dangerous locations. Where would the Australian shepherd have been without his trusty blue heeler to round up his scattered flock, or the Antarctic explorers without sled dogs which not only provided transport, but eventually saved Mawson's life.
However, we also have our own blindspots, especially where people’s livelihoods are concerned. The animals which we consider merely as "food" or livestock have not always been treated well either. Whether it is the conditions under which chickens and pigs have traditionally been kept, or the cruel conditions under which live cattle transport continues to the Middle East today, we are asked to look the other way in the name of the economy. However as changes in the poultry industry have shown, it is possible to do things differently, in a way that’s both kinder to the animals but still makes a profit for their owners. Australia now has 47% of its egg production coming from free range birds, which not only allows them to lead a more natural life but has been found to keep them healthier as well. In the UK that figure is now 51%.
This has not come about by accident. It has taken decades of campaigning and the public not only demanding change, but also being willing to pay a little more for free range eggs. It would be good if people refused to buy dog meat, live cattle and fur for instance, but if not, let us at least ensure such animals are kept without undue suffering and if they must be killed, that this is done as humanely as possible.
Allowing "working dogs" a happier 'retirement'
I can't find the article now, but I was also sorry to read that those dogs which had until recently been used for mine detection in Afghanistan were to be destroyed after having been replaced by robots. I don’t see why these dogs couldn’t be sent to Cambodia, where there it's been estimated that there is at least one piece of unexploded ordinance per person still lying around, resulting in a large number injuries and permanent disabilities. Despite logistical difficulties and the possibility that they may not be suited to being pets, it seems to me that particularly those dogs which have rendered long and valuable service to humans deserve a long and happy retirement.
While there may be some justification for allowing people to exploit animals in order to make a living until better ways can be found or legislated into being, then there is absolutely none for animals to be used for entertainment or killed for sport. By this I mean activities such as horse racing and big game hunting. We’ll talk a bit more about those next time.