At a seminar held in Bangkok at the Royal Navy Auditorium, participants including representatives from the Royal Thai Navy, the Canine Police Force, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Social Development and Human security, the Ministry of Public Health and the Department of Livestock Development agreed to a request that the prime minister declare a national agenda to end the trade of dogs in Thailand, destined for human consumption.
They also suggested education programs and campaigns to instill a sense of responsibility and social conscience in Thai People.
Mr. Nirandorn Eungtrakulsuk former chief of the Department of Livestock Development and chairman of the Thai Veterinary Medical Association stated that whilst he believed the new law to improve animal welfare and fight cruelty to animals will help tackle the problem at a certain level it would not be enough to eradicate the illegal trade because corruption is rampant in Thailand.
Soi Dog Foundation (SDF) welcomes this initiative which it believes has been brought about by local and international pressure for Thailand to enforce current legislation, which makes it illegal to export live dogs without export licenses and health certificates. However SDF agrees with Mr. Nirandorn that the level of corruption associated with the trade will make it difficult for the authorities to stamp it out.
Soi Dog agrees with Police Lt. Col Chatchai Setthiphanian of the Canine Police Force that harsher penalties should be imposed against dog smugglers. The current legislation allows for up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a 40,000 THB fine, but no such penalty has ever been imposed. Thailand’s Animals Epidemic Act 1999, Chapter 4, Section 21 & 21(b)
Soi Dog also believes that the Special Investigation Bureau should be called in to investigate the known leaders of the trade, one of whom has stated that the trade earns them 1 billion THB per year, of course tax free. It has also been suggested that the dog meat trade may also be masking drug trafficking and the illegal trade in wildlife.
SDF has full details of the leaders and they make no secret of their involvement.
In Sakon Nakorn, the key province involved in the trade in North-East Thailand, in recognition of the high levels of corruption in the province, the government introduced a four-year anti-corruption plan in 2009. This is due to expire at the end of 2012 and could be used as an opportunity to include specific directives aimed at tackling the dog meat trade.
Soi Dog is working with agents in both Thailand and Laos to provide information on planned smuggling operations, and is passing this information on to the authorities. However, there is concern that the decrease in illegal exports from Thailand has resulted in an increase in the number of dogs being collected from Laos to supply the demand.
Soi Dog is in discussions with other regional animal welfare groups including the Singapore based Change for Animals, the Animals Asia Foundation and the Humane Society International regarding the establishment of a coalition of animal protection groups uniting to end the dog meat trade throughout the region.
ASEAN member states (including Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia) and the “Plus Three” countries (China, Japan and South Korea) have pledged their support for the ‘Call for Action towards the Elimination of Rabies’ in their respective countries by the year 2020.
By allowing the trade to continue they are in effect ignoring the recommendations of leading organizations committed to eradicating rabies, including the United Nations public health arm, the World Heath Organization (WHO), as the trade facilitates the spread of the disease.
They will be calling for the respective governments to cooperate in closing their borders to live dogs. Dogs are responsible for an estimated 99% of human rabies cases in the region.
In Vietnam, a study to determine the molecular epidemiology of the rabies virus was conducted where brain samples were collected from 100 dogs in slaughterhouses in Northern provinces, and a further 76 samples were collected from Southern provinces.
Laboratory analysis confirmed that 2.0% of samples collected from the Northern provinces and 16.4% from the Southern and highland provinces were infected with rabies virus. Molecular epidemiological analysis suggest that rabies viruses may have independently entered Vietnam from several countries such as Thailand, and may have then established and spread throughout Vietnam.
This research highlights the risk the movement of large numbers of unvaccinated dogs across borders poses to rabies control in the region. This risk was recognized by the local government of Lao Cai Province in northern Vietnam in June 2011, when the trade and slaughter of dogs was suspended in response to an outbreak of rabies. In addition the Public Health authority in Vietnam has identified a clear link between outbreaks of Cholera in the country with the dog meat industry.
The unregulated transportation of dogs across much of Thailand is also posing a risk of the spread of rabies within Thailand. SDF has evidence of dogs being collected as far as south as Nakhon Si Thammarat, a distance of some 1400 Km from the holding centers in Sakhon Nakhon province.
A statement by a Ministry of Public Health representative claiming that dog meat is only eaten in Thailand in Sakon Nakhon province is not correct. SDF has evidence of dog meat openly on sale in other provinces including Chiang Mai.
The total number of dogs intercepted since August 2011 is quoted as 9,042. Whether this includes the 1968 dogs “rescued” from a holding center in Ban Tha Rae district is not clear. What is clear is that fewer than 80 of these dogs survive today and around 75% of the intercepted dogs have died at the livestock centers. Why? The Department of Livestock Development which has been given responsibility for caring for the confiscated dogs, has been given no budget to do so. The current population of around 2,500 dogs is housed in four centers, the vast majority in Nakhon Phanom and Khemmarat. Smaller numbers of dogs are housed at Buriram, Thong Pha Phum and now Petchaboon livestock centers including the less than 80 survivors of the raid on the Tha Rae holding center, currently at Thong Pha Phum.
As of November this year Nakhon Phanom has a reported 7 million THB remaining of the fund set up by the former Governor of the province following the first interception in August 2011. The remaining centers have no budget at all and SDF is currently providing food, medical supplies and basic equipment such as pressure washers to the centers. However this type of aid is unsustainable and SDF calls upon the Government to adequately provide for what are in effect innocent victims of criminal activities.
At present it would appear the policy is to allow the dogs to die of starvation and disease.
A full investigative report commissioned by SDF on this latter issue can be seen here.