16th December 2020 – Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS succeeded in shutting down a cat meat restaurant and associated slaughterhouse in Vietnam for the first time ever on 15 December, rescuing 25 animals including five dogs also waiting for slaughter. The restaurant was located in the city of Thai Binh, notorious for cat meat consumption, and claimed to serve around 240 animals a month, the majority of them cats. FOUR PAWS took the rescued cats and dogs to its bear sanctuary in Ninh Binh, where vets provided the animals with urgent medical care. After initial treatment and rehabilitation, they will be put up for adoption. Every year, around five million dogs and one million cats are brutally slaughtered for their meat in Vietnam, many of them stolen pets.
Unlike the trade in dogs for meat, the cat meat trade goes unreported despite being considered a delicacy in Vietnam, making the trade highly lucrative. According to FOUR PAWS research, a kilo of dog meat fetches between €6 ($7.30) and €9 ($10.90). Cat meat, on the other hand, can cost up to €11 ($13.30) per kilo – in the case of a black cat, even up to €20 ($24.30).
“Every year millions of dogs and cats – both healthy and sick, owned and stray – are violently captured from the streets in Vietnam, crammed into tiny cages and transported unchecked across the country, with journeys often lasting days. To feed the appetite for dog and cat meat, animals are also imported from neighbouring China and Laos. This is not only incredibly cruel to the animals, but also blatantly violates public health recommendations, especially in times like these.”
Dr Katherine Polak, veterinarian and Head of FOUR PAWS Stray Animal Care in Southeast Asia.
The unsanitary conditions during transport as well as in slaughterhouses and restaurants, which often keep a wide variety of species for slaughter, encourage the emergence of zoonotic diseases, like COVID-19. In addition, the trade is linked to outbreaks of rabies and cholera. Dr Polak adds: “If Vietnam is really serious about protecting public health and fulfilling its commitment to end rabies in the country, the government must finally put a stop to the dog and cat meat trade.”
Popular cat meat restaurant turns into motorbike shop
The restaurant in Thai Binh – specialising in cat and dog meat dishes – first came to the attention of the FOUR PAWS team following their nationwide research into the cat meat trade, which started in 2019. The restaurant owners, a Vietnamese couple, expressed their desperation to get out of the trade due to a desire to no longer kill animals. FOUR PAWS and Change for Animals Foundation is helping the couple set up a second-hand motorbike shop with the condition that they will never again engage in the cat and dog meat trade and that they will help FOUR PAWS identify and close similar restaurants in the area. The restaurant in Thai Binh was profitable, popular among locals and workers for their lunch to-go boxes. Since eating dog and cat meat is often associated with various superstitions and the lunar cycle, the demand for cat and dog meat fluctuated depending on the lunar calendar.
Cat and dog meat trade: a legal grey area
In contrast to the dog meat trade, the hunting, slaughter, and consumption of cats was explicitly prohibited in Vietnam until January 2020. However, the law has been repealed and cat meat is more in demand than ever – especially in the north of the country. The trade, though, is often fraught with illegality and brutality. As the increasing demand can no longer be met from stray animals alone, dog and cat meat traders often steal pets as well. As a result, violent confrontations between pet owners and thieves frequently occur, which in the past have even proved fatal.
Over one million people internationally make a stand against the dog and cat meat trade
For the restaurant closure, rescue, and successful rehoming of the animals, FOUR PAWS and Change for Animals Foundation worked with local members of the Cats Matter Too coalition, including Hanoi Pet Rescue, Paws for Compassion and Vietnam Cat Welfare. To put a sustainable end to the cruel dog and cat meat trade in Southeast Asia, FOUR PAWS has also launched a campaign on an international and national level. More than one million people worldwide have already signed the petition to end the dog and cat meat trade, including 200,000 Vietnamese. “Through education and cooperation with the responsible authorities and tourism associations, the aim is to urge governments to introduce and enforce legislation banning the dog and cat meat trade to protect both animals and public health. This closure demonstrates that times are changing in Vietnam, with more and more pet owners and young people in Vietnam speaking out against the trade, and even the owners of restaurants themselves no longer wanting to be involved in it. We hope the closure of this restaurant and slaughterhouse is the first of many in Vietnam”, explains Dr Karanvir Kukreja, veterinarian and project manager of FOUR PAWS international campaign.
In addition, in Vietnam FOUR PAWS supports local communities with humane and sustainable dog and cat population management programmes. FOUR PAWS is also part of the animal welfare coalitions DMFI (Dog Meat Free Indonesia) and ACPA (Asia Canine Protection Alliance), which lobby against the dog and cat meat trade in Southeast Asia.