LAST year, more than 1 million dogs were killed across Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim nation.
While Indonesian Muslims largely believe that dogs are haram or forbidden under Islam, these killings were not undertaken by religious fanatics but rather members of an unregulated trade in the animals’ meat.
Incredible numbers of dogs are rounded up annually from streets across the Southeast Asian nation – including many private pets – and slaughtered primarily in residential areas, according to animal rights organisations.
Last week, several local and international activist groups launched the Dog Meat-Free Indonesia coalition, aiming to stamp out the butchering and consumption of canine meat in the archipelago forever.
Spearheaded by the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), Change for Animals Foundation (CFAF), Animal Friends Jogja (AFJ) and the Humane Society International (HSI), the campaign aims to raise awareness of the cruelty involved in the dog meat trade as well as the public health risks posed to the broader population.
“There is an ever-growing opposition to the dog meat trade in Indonesia and globally,” said Lola Webber of the CFAF. Indeed, this campaign has even attracted the support of British comedian Ricky Gervais.
“We are committed to working with the government to identify solutions to ensure the protection of animal welfare and public health and safety, which are gravely compromised by the trade,” Webber added.
Who eats dog?
Only 7 percent of Indonesia’s population eats dog, but its consumption by various cultural groups is considered traditional cuisine. Many believe that it holds special health benefits, including making men stronger or more sexually proficient.
In Solo, Central Java, dog meat stalls promote their products as being traditional Javanese jamu medicine.
Rangga* from Yogyakarta told Asian Correspondent he ate his first dog meat in junior high school at a family cultural event held by the local Toraja community, who originate from South Sulawesi and are predominantly Christian.
“I ate it because my friends said it was tasty and good for warming your body,” he said, stating that dog meat is available at some street stalls in various locations across the city. “So in college, I often ate it because it tasted good. But that was before I had a pet dog at home.”
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Now the proud owner of a dog he calls his “angel”, Rangga said that he was influenced by people campaigning that “dogs are not food” to refuse when his friends ask him to eat dog with them. “I think the way that they kill and process dogs into food is quite sadistic.”
Animal activists agree. Marc Ching, the founder of the Los Angeles-based Animal Hope and Wellness foundation which saves dogs from slaughter, has said that treatment of dogs in Indonesia is the “most sadistic” of anywhere else they are killed for their meat.
Public health risk
The Dog Meat-Free Indonesia coalition seeks to highlight the public health risk posed by the dog meat trade – particularly that involving the spread of rabies.
“Indonesia’s dog meat trade is as brutal as it is unsafe, threatening to undo all of Indonesia’s hard work towards achieving rabies-free status by 2020,” said Kelly O’Meara, a spokesperson for Humane Society International.
It is illegal under Indonesian law to transport animals into officially “rabies-free” areas including the capital Jakarta, but such bans are virtually impossible to police.
The coalition claimed that dogs are often transported from places like Cianjur, West Java into urban centres – posing a major public health risk. Rabies disproportionately affects the poor and young people, with a high proportion of cases among 5 to 15-year-olds.
Back in July, the Governor Pastika of Bali ordered a crackdown against the trade, after an ABC News report exposed brutal treatment of dogs and the serving of dog meat to unknowing tourists as satay.
Other Asian countries including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore have already imposed regulations on their dog meat industries. Dog-Meat Free in Indonesia is calling for an outright ban of its trade and consumption altogether.
“Only a tiny fraction of society are reliant on it as a primary source of income [but] the dog meat trade threatens the health and safety of the entire nation,” said Karin Franken of the Jakarta Animal Aid Network.
“If Indonesia is to achieve its goal to eliminate rabies by 2020, urgent action is required by the government and all sectors of society.”