Vietnam Tears Itself Apart In Dog Meat Violence.
Above Photo. Dogs in sacks await their fate at a market in Hanoi.
You might think the headline’s an exaggeration, but it mirrors one that appeared in the Vietnamese press recently, and having followed news reports about the dog meat trade in Vietnam, that’s exactly what it feels like, with serious assaults, murders and, of course, lots of dog abductions every week.
Dog meat is big business in Vietnam, where it’s been estimated a staggering FIVE MILLION dogs a year are killed for food (Asia Canine Protection Alliance).
Because of the demand, gangs of thieves roam the cities and countryside of Vietnam catching pets to be sold for meat. It’s a lucrative trade, fuelled by high unemployment, drug addiction and gambling, as well as the large sums a dog can be sold for in Vietnam, usually on a no-questions-asked basis.
Each dog is worth between US $5 and US $10 to a dog thief selling them into the food trade.
Compounding the problem are the derisory penalties meted out to dog thieves. This is because, under the Vietnamese criminal code, dogs are judged not to be of sufficient value for criminal charges to kick in, so dog thieves are usually let go with a small fine and can immediately go back to their profitable dog thievery.
In urban centres, there is also a separate dog kidnapping trade, where pets are sold to pet shops who charge extortionate amounts to the original owners who come to claim their animals.
Furious by the lack of deterrent in the law, and angry about outsiders stealing their dogs, locals are increasingly taking the law into their own hands and severely beating dog thieves who are caught in the act. Often thieves are killed in this mob violence.
Sometimes they are beaten to death, other times they’ve been set on fire, and these violent acts of retribution seem to be on the rise right across Vietnam, as locals realize the futility of handing over perpetrators to the police.
Unfortunately, this escalating cycle of violence has meant dog thieves are now ready to fight back using sometimes deadly force, and there have been some recent tragic cases of people pursuing dog thieves, who have been murdered by the gangs as they try to make their escape.
Ho Chi Minh City
Last month, four dog theft suspects shot and killed three men in a street in Ho Chi Minh City, using a hand-made stun gun made from a slingshot connected to a motorbike battery, as they were chased through the streets of the Cu Chi District on a motorbike. They had brought the device to stun or kill dogs they caught, but fired it at their pursuers, causing the motorbike to crash into an electricity pole, killing all three.
One of the dead pursuers was eager to catch the thieves because two of the family’s dogs had been electrocuted and stolen two days previously, and many dogs had recently been stolen from families in his commune, which had stirred up public anger.
The killers said they’d only fired when the pursuers began slashing at them with knives.
Also last month, a mob beat a dog thief to death after he and another man shot and wounded four villagers in the north-central province of Thanh Hoa. Residents chased after the men, who, in return, shot at them with homemade guns, according to police. But locals still managed to chase one down and beat him to death, while the other man managed to escape the mob.
Police in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh recently arrested three men suspected of stealing dogs.
They were apprehended when attempting to sell the animals in Tra Vinh Town, and police confiscated a sack containing eight dogs, one Taser, which had been used on the dogs, and two motorbikes from the men.
Police Officer Assaulted By Dog Thieves in Northern Vietnam
In another recent case, Thanh Nien News reported that a local police chief was seriously injured in the north-central province of Thanh Hoa after being attacked by two men, when they had gone to investigate a report of dog thieves operating in the area.
The two officers spotted two men on a motorbike carrying a sack they believed contained a dog. The officers signaled the men to stop but instead the suspects jumped off their bike and battered the police with iron bars.
With the help of nearby residents, one of the two men was overpowered and arrested, after which one of the policemen was sent to a Hanoi hospital, because of serious injuries he’d received in the attack.
The same paper reported that another dog thief was nearly killed by an angry mob in Thanh Hoa and was only saved after police arrived on the scene. The newspaper said that recently, there have been many deaths in confrontations between dog thieves and owners in Vietnam, especially in northern and central regions, including Hanoi.
Dong Nai Province
And finally, yesterday, a large mob in Dong Nai Province beat a suspected dog thief almost to death.
Locals had noticed the thief trying to feed dogs poisoned bait. He attempted to escape on his motorbike, but residents caught up with him and beat him. Police broke it up and took him to hospital, and also recovered two poisoned dogs which were slung on his motorbike.
That same day, in the same province, police arrested two dog thieves after chasing them for more than three kilometers; the two men had three dead dogs on their motorbike.
Dog thieves were murdered in communal mob violence in the northern province of Hai Duong and in Thanh Hoa Province last year, and in most cases, police are unable to pinpoint exactly who is responsible for the attacks.
Following the murder of two dog thieves in the central province of Quang Tri in 2012, 68 locals came forward to confess to their roles in the crime after ten suspects were convicted of the killings.
Until the Vietnamese stiffen the penalties on dog theft, or crack down on the trade in dog meat, this violence is likely to continue and to become even deadlier. Several districts of Vietnam have even implemented curfews to prevent dog thieves, but the problem persisted.
Vietnamese dog owners say they’re already losing the war against reckless thieves and illegal abattoirs that fuel the dog meat trade.
Some have suggested the government crack down hard against thieves by criminalising dog theft, but officials counter that Vietnam doesn’t have enough jail cells to hold them all.
Police can point to some recent successes; they arrested several thieves and dog butchers last year, and a dog theft “kingpin” was also arrested last September in Vietnam.
Nguyen Canh Han, 58, ran the biggest dog meat wholesale shop in his district, supplying hundreds of kilos of dog meat to restaurants. Police say he trained local youths how to steal dogs and rented them equipment like motorbikes, bait and knives, in order to keep up with demand.
(Edited from Thanh Nien News press reports)
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