Man’s Best Friend or Dinner?


A number of years ago, along with fellow guides from Sobek Expeditions, I made the first descent of The Great Bend of the Yangtze River in Yunnan Province (described in the book Riding the Dragon’s Back, by Christian Kallen and this author). It is a desperately remote section, and somewhere in the middle of the passage we ran out of fresh food and meat. So, we pulled our rafts to shore at a Bai Village and went looking for nourishment. The villagers, not used to seeing foreigners, were a bit fuddled by our appearance, and our request, but they were gracious and offered us a generous supply of fresh dog meat. We declined, and eventually negotiated for a pig and several dozen eggs. I dismissed the dog offering as something unique to this back-of-beyond ethnic group, and really didn’t think about it again, though offering my own dogs extra hugs with my return to California.

Yangtze River, China
Yangtze River, China

So, it was with some shudder that animal welfare activist Renate Callahan came to me last month with a report that estimates over 10 million dogs are eaten throughout China in a single year, with another 2 million in South Korea, and hundreds of thousands in other countries. The Humane Society estimates some 30 million dogs are killed each year in Asia, many in meat farms and illegal markets.

Renate sent me this shocking account of what is going on, and the hope for change that attention brings to the issue, and I decided to recount it here for your consideration.

“Our romantic notions of rice paddies in the sunset and tranquil junks bobbing at anchor before the imposing skyline of a modern Chinese city are all true. They exist, and China has come a long way in its century-long struggle from an autocratic empire via a communist tyranny to a modern-day communist Republic. Life for citizens is getting easier and better, and China rightly is proud that it has worked hard, and suffered much, to be where it is today.

The same holds true for most nations in Southeast Asia. The post-war decades brought war and suffering, but since then huge leaps of progress have been made, and the gap to Western lifestyle is closing fast.

But in the midst of progress and improvement there are still many things for which to strive. One is the unresolved issue of the dog and cat meat trade.

Until a few years ago, very few outside Asia knew much, if anything, of humans dining on dogs and cats.

One may think, okay, we eat pigs, cows, goats and sheep, right? What’s the difference? Well, that is a fair question. Folks have to eat something. It turns out, however, food is just a piece of the picture.

Village roast on the Yangtze. Not what you think.
Village roast on the Yangtze. Not what you think.

What has created a growing groundswell of outrage is the way these dogs and cats are slaughtered. There is nothing humane about the abattoir techniques. Millions die submitting to such horrific torture that it makes your head spin and your mouth go dry just looking at the pictures.

The question is, WHY? Why not simply kill and process the animals quickly, as we do here with cattle and other livestock? What is the point of employing our unique human mind for purposes of devising unending varieties of ever-crueler methods of torture? Ah, but that is the point, it seems. The answer most often tendered is that skyrocketing levels of adrenaline in the animal’s system in the hours before dying make an excellent meat tenderizer, and that the more fear and pain the animal experiences, the tastier its meat. Plain and simple. Missing in this explanation is any hint of moral awareness, empathy or compunction.

Another supposed benefit of eating Man’s best friend is –of course—enhanced male virility, or, as in South Korea, the belief that eating dog meat makes you cooler vs. the opposite belief in China where it is thought that it makes you warmer.

And then there is the often-heard argument that eating dogs –or cats, for that matter—is a part of the culture and thus somehow above reproach. Well, it really isn’t. Dog meat consumption is not a sacred tradition worthy of being upheld, and, while it is not a new practice, it has never before been carried out on such a horrific scale.

It was not until about 20 years ago that the trade began to escalate to today’s huge commercial measure, and infamous dog-eating festivals like Yulin were initiated to boost interest in canine meat.

And it is not just China. China is responsible for about a third of all killings, with about 80 percent practiced in three regions of South, Central and Northeast China. But what begun as a sad means to an end during times of famine has now grown into a vile practice that spans the majority of Southeast Asia, and is very much a fact of life in Korea, Viet Nam, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and China.

Since so many of the dog meat farms and the markets operate either illegally, underground or unregulated, it is difficult to determine precise numbers, but the Humane Society International claims that 30 million dogs are killed each year across Asia, including India, where it is technically illegal. [1]

Not all victims are bred for slaughter, though. About half are actually stolen pets, and it is not uncommon to see a tortured dog with its original collar on. Dogs are snatched off the street, stolen out of locked yards, poisoned and whisked away to mostly secret holding places before being packed into small metal crates for their final trip. The lucky ones die on these transports from dehydration, injuries or suffocation.

Since the first photos leaked from the most notorious dog meat festival in Yulin, China, dog advocates from around the world have been calling to end the horror. Primarily through online posts, tweets and petitions, pressure is building on the respective governments to do something to stop the torture and the killings.

In response, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan and Singapore have passed anti-dog meat legislation. South Korea is on the brink of committing to a phase-out of dog meat farming, and even in China a legislative proposal for a dog meat trade ban was put forward in 2016. These legislations are phrased in terms of public health concerns, because the illegal and unregulated meat trade is a major cause for the spread of cholera, rabies, salmonella and E. coli, sometimes claiming the lives of dog meat customers. In the Philippines, dog meat does not fall under the Philippines National Meat Inspection Laws, and 300 dog eaters died last year.

However, any law is only as good as its enforcement. And because the trade is operated ‘to a significant degree’ by organized crime, detection or enforcement is rare. [2] And since the police mostly look the other way, and with dog thefts rampant, more and more dog owners and activists take matters into their own hands and violent clashes are increasing between protectors and smugglers and traders.

Those at the forefront of the fight against the dog meat trade are often little known, even though they put their lives on the line in defense of the dogs. And with organized crime holding such sway over the trade, beatings and death threats from the smugglers and traders are a real risk for animal rights activists. Every time a Samaritan investigates, documents or holds up transports loaded with dogs bound for slaughter, he or she faces risk of injury or the final fate of the unlucky dogs.

Heroes come in all stripes. One advocate began to operate out of her home in Seoul, South Korea. Nami Kim is a grandmother who began her rescue efforts five and a half years ago, and has since become the leader of the anti-dog meat movement in Korea. She showed a singular courage in barging into illegal meat farms, confronting butchers at meat markets, negotiating with owners to shut down dog meat farms, and is now involved in helping to craft a new animal protection law amendment. Her organization’s success is proof that positive change can begin with one dedicated and passionate person. [3]

The Soi Dog Organization, founded in 2003 in Phuket, Thailand by the English couple John and Gill Dalley and Margot Homburg Park, has become one of the most influential advocates and effective rescue operations throughout Asia. Once more, it began with retirees who one day decided to ‘do something’ to alleviate the animal suffering seen around them. [4]

Even today, when thousands of dogs and cats are killed daily, there IS hope. Chinese activists work to change from within. Thousands of saved dogs have a new lease on life.

Some pups even get to enjoy a new life with families around the world. Adopted through various rescue organizations, these lottery winners are flown to the U.S., Australia, Great Britain and Canada, where they become ‘ambassadogs’ for the plight of their kin left behind. They are also living testaments that adopted dogs are wonderful and loving pets. [5]

The horror can be stopped, the stain removed, alternatives can be found.

What we can do is become informed and involved by visiting websites like

or . I ask you to learn more about the travesty, and seek ways to help. Through donating funds, veterinarian supplies, time or skills, either at home or somewhere in Asia, we can each do something to help our canine friends.”

Remote China
Remote China


Renate Callahan has made animal welfare her passion and mission for the past few years after learning about the rampant abuse that so many animals, domestic, wild and farmed, still endure both in the U.S. and all over the world. Since daylight still is the best disinfectant, raising awareness about animal abuse is something all of us can do. . Renate works as a staff member of the Business Economics Department at a state college, and lives with her husband and three very well-behaved cats in Johnson, Vermont. In her free time, she supports a nonprofit wildlife protection group and volunteers at her local animal shelter.










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