The dog and cat meat trade is a multi-billion dollar industry that exists all over Asia and in Hawaii, Mexico, the Arctic and Antarctic, more than twenty countries in Africa and parts of India. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 30 million dogs are killed and eaten every year, primarily in Asia.
China has a long history of eating dogs and the dog and cat meat and fur trade is more prevalent in China than anywhere else in the world, and it is estimated that 15 million dogs and cats are eaten there annually. Some figures say 18 million which is about 50,000 per day. Even so, dog and cat meat is not part of mainstream Chinese culInary culture and in a 2016 poll, 70% claimed they had never eaten it.
Yulin is a 10-day long festival held in the city of the same name in southern China celebrating the summer solstice where 10,000 dogs and cats are killed and eaten every year. Far from being ancient or traditional, Yulin was created recently in 2009 to bring business to a place which had been economically depressed and it has been successful in doing so. What many do not realise is that Yulin happens all year round, all over the Chinese countryside. Yet we are led to believe that dog meat farms do not exist in China but, while they may be mostly on a fairly small scale, sadly they do.
Countries that rely heavily on Western tourism, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, often attempt to deny that the trade exists within their borders. While some of these countries have histories of dog eating, others only did so during times of famine, such as South Korea, which once considered eating dog shameful.
Indonesia – 1 million tortured on the street.
Cambodia does not have much of a cat meat trade and most of the dogs are trafficked by dog meat traders who exchange plastic buckets and pots and pans for village dogs. In Cambodia, dogs are traditionally eaten at celebrations such as weddings.
Philippines: Half a million dogs are slaughtered annually in the Philippines. In the capital city of Manila, the law specifically prohibits the killing and selling of dogs for food except in certain circumstances including research and animal population control. The dog meat trade there is primarily centered in the northern provinces. Historically, it was associated with celebratory events and rituals of mourning and only affected a small number of dogs. However, over the past 25 years, the dog meat trade has rapidly increased for commercial rather than cultural reasons.
Vietnam: Dog meat is eaten throughout Vietnam where at least five million dogs and one million cats are killed and eaten every year to use as food and medicine.
Taiwan: In 2017, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to outlaw the consumption of dog and cat meat. Anyone who bought or ate the meat could be fined up to around $8,000. Taiwan first made it illegal to slaughter dogs and cats and sell their meat in 1998, but the trade then went underground. Taiwan has now increased the fines and those who cause deliberate harm to a cat or dog can be fined up to $65,000, and serve two years of jail time.
South Korea is open and unapologetic about its taste for dog meat. South Korea is famous for their horrific dog farms, where dogs are bred for food in the most appalling squalor. During ‘Bokdays’, South Korea’s 60-day-long dog eating festival held annually from July through to August, approximately 15,000 dogs and several thousand cats lose their lives each day, all in the name of gastronomic pleasure and cultural superstition.
In South Korea’s live dog and cat meat markets, terrified dogs and cats are brutally slaughtered in front of diners including children who may stand and watch, seemingly unaffected as they wait for their meals or elixirs to be ‘prepared’. Typically, tourists and non-Koreans are not allowed in this market where people can pay extra to have the dog of their choice “tenderized” in the old-fashioned way or what many would call the preferred way,
No meat industry is without cruelty, however, what truly separates this meat trade from others throughout the world is the extreme level of brutality and pain that the animals suffer.
Depending on the country, many of the dogs that end up in the markets are raised specifically for their meat, while others are lost or stolen pets. Some still wear their collars and tags as they are crammed into small wire cages – sometimes twenty-five dogs in one cage – and sold to slaughterhouses by cruel traffickers. Most dog meat dealers and butchers come from a criminal element and are often members of underground gangs, which commonly operate the dog and cat meat trades in these countries.
In every country where dog meat is eaten, the people who do these things believe that the more intense the fear and torture experienced by the animals, the better flavour the meat will have.
Transported on lorries often for long distances, the dogs and cats are crammed into cages so small they can’t move. They travel sometimes for days in hot or cold weather with no food or water so that many die, or else survive only to meet a brutal death at the slaughterhouse or market.
Dogs and cats are ‘tenderized’ prior to death via malicious practices including combinations of hanging, bludgeoning, stabbing, electrocuting, burning, boiling and skinning alive.
Machines are commercially available made especially to help torture and skin the animals alive with a rotating drum for the removal of their fur. To make that easier by softening their skin often they are put alive into pots of boiling water. This is all carried out in front of the dogs waiting to be tortured and killed so that they experience the maximum terror possible.
The belief is that by stimulating as much adrenaline as possible through the animal’s body before the moment of death the meat will be more tasty and healthful.
In many cases, the dogs and cats are not given any food or water, and sometimes their food is their companions who die and then are boiled whole in a pot. Oftentimes they are fed unpalatable food just to fatten them up for slaughter and if they refuse to eat it due to traumatization it is forced down their throats through pipes in a similar way to geese force-fed for foie gras so that sometimes they choke to death or die of suffocation.
In China and South Korea, for example, a common superstition is that eating tough dog meat makes men strong and sexually potent. While soup made from cat meat provides health benefits, cures ailments and wards off bad luck. There is no scientific proof to support these claims and if anything, eating the meat of animals that are stressed, sick and near death due to rough handling, horrendous transport conditions and exposure to communicable diseases including rabies, is extremely deleterious to human health.
Despite the fact that it is illegal to eat dog meat in many of these countries, the dish continues to be popular due to weak law enforcement and the absence of enforceable companion animal welfare laws.
Any dog can end up in the meat trade, former animal companions, stolen pets, purebreds such as cocker spaniels, poodles, labradors, ShihTzus, lhasa apsos, schnauzers, maltese terriers, beagles, dogs from puppy mills, shelters, farmed dogs and dogs sold at closed dog auctions.
These are animals who were either street dogs, stolen pets or bred for the purpose of eating sometimes in the most appalling circumstances imaginable. The places where they are kept are filthy, cold and damp. They have no comforts whatsoever and hell, terror, pain and death is all that there is around them – what is more, much of that is intentional.
Many defend dog and cat eating as a country’s right to follow its ‘cultural tradition’. Yet throughout human history there have been numerous horribly cruel practices that have been banned as societies became more civilized and compassionate.
After all, slavery and human sacrifice were once considered ‘cultural traditions’. The ‘tradition’ of eating dog and cat meat is no different. We believe that any country that supports or turns a blind eye to such malicious cruelty – whether toward humans or animals – has no right to call itself ‘civilized’.
Through the mission to spread global awareness, promote humane education and persuade governments to enact strict and enforceable animal welfare legislation, the vision of charities working to end this trade is that one day companion animals throughout the world will never again be victims of torture for the purposes of using them as food and in the fur and skin trade.
Skinned Alive – the Trade in Cat and Dog Fur
Imagine someone stealing your cat or dog and skinning it alive before it dies a slow, agonising death.
Yet, as hard as it is to imagine, this is the daily reality for over two million domestic animals every year in China.
Fuelled by the insatiable demands of a cruel and callous fashion industry, it is estimated that 20 million cats and dogs, along with 40 million other animals, are slaughtered for their fur and sold internationally.
Innocent cats and kittens are strangled and slit open while other cats watch terrified, the little kittens among them paralysed with fear trying to make themselves invisible, all awaiting the same fate.
The dogs are tethered by a wire noose, then stabbed in the groin, the lucky ones bleed to death before being skinned, while those less fortunate are skinned once blood loss renders them too weak to struggle. Some desperately try to escape in a pool of blood. This method of slaughter causes least damage to the animals’ fur, thus preserving its market value.
A recent undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and investigative journalist Manfred Karreman exposed one of the dirtiest of the fur trade’s secrets. They followed the blood trail across three continents and filmed cats and dogs being beaten, strangled and stripped of their fur. They filmed the whole gruesome business from the Chinese slaughterhouses to the European auction houses.
In March 1999, BBC2’s Newsnight exposed a London fur company, Alaska Brokerage owned by Peter and Carol Bartfield, demonstrating that they were willing to trade in cat and dog fur – although the firm claims that it has no association with the extreme cruelty exposed by the HSUS and Karreman. The Newsnight programme further pointed out that the trade in cat and dog skins in Europe is legal and fur does not have to be labelled by species or even as real fur.
While many people know that all animals killed for their fur suffer terribly, few are aware of the grisly killing methods: the gassing, lethal injection, neck-breaking and anal electrocution. But the film of cats and dogs, collected as part of the HSUS and Karreman investigation, shows some of the most shocking footage ever shot.
As well as dogs being tied by the neck, stabbed in the groin and left to bleed to death, cats and kittens killed by being hung from a rope and strangled, investigators witnessed cats being hung by a wire noose while water was forced down their throats through a hose until they drowned. The film is silent, but it shows the animals’ extreme pain and distress as they struggle fully conscious and bleeding.
“It was terrible”, recalls Karreman. “I saw a cat with her fur being ripped off its back, screaming for a whole minute. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and I can still hear her screaming. I still see their faces, the terror and pain in their eyes; and I hear their desperate cries”.
Following the HSUS exposé, America was outraged and the government acted immediately and outlawed the import, export and sale of products made with dog and cat fur. The US Dog and Cat Protection Act 2000 requires all fur products, however small, to be DNA tested. Violators are liable to six months imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. Unfortunately, most EU countries, particularly Britain, seem reluctant to stop this horrific trade. The US ban, however, means that more of these products are now likely to be imported into the EU and Britain.
There is further concern that consumers may not be aware that the fur-trimmed clothing and accessories, stuffed animals and pet toys they are buying may be made from dog and cat fur. The Department of Trade and Industry has long been aware that ‘there is a legitimate trade in cat skins’ and last year, over 500 tonnes of fur, 66 tonnes classified as ‘other fur’ – the category under which cat and dog fur falls – was imported into the UK.
Dr Nick Palmer MP is the sponsor of an Early-Day Motion in the House of Commons which has the support of 224 cross-party MP and urges the government to follow the American precedent. At a recent Adjournment Debate in the House he spoke of the two million cats and dogs living and dying in appalling conditions each year in fur farms in the Philippines and China. He also noted that the British Fur Trade Association had promised not to deal in cat and dog fur, yet the Newsnight report had shown a “reputable member of the fur trade who was prepared systematically to mislabel cat and dog fur imports”.
Mark Glover, award-winning campaign director of Respect for Animals, said they were “extremely disappointed with the government’s indifference. The US and Italy have banned such imports and the government themselves have described it as ‘abhorrent’, yet they are incapable of taking a moral position on anything”.
Alaska Brokerage’s Peter Bartfeld, formerly a director of the British Fur Trade Association, is secretive about his involvement in the fur trade. When I managed to track him at his home, after a series of failed attempts, he finally returned my call with unconcealed hostility. “I do not trade in cats and dogs”, he shouted, stuttering with fury. “And if you got your information from the animal rights people, they’re seriously misinformed. The BBC report is a completely bogus setup.”
Bartfeld has previously claimed that the cat skins they deal in come from vets and that they were already dead when acquired. A 1987 Financial Times article reported him as saying that “all European cat skins that are used in the trade come from dead animals that have been put to sleep by vets. Vets kill animals, not fur traders”.
The BBC’s 1999 investigation into Alaska Brokerage’s secret activities revealed that the company was prepared to sell cat and dog pelts to anyone who was prepared to pay. BBC investigator Martin Wilson visited Alaska Brokerage and filmed Peter Bartfeld offering 10,000 ‘goupee’ (a term for dog fur) and 150,000 cat furs. Bartfeld explained that dog is labelled ‘goupee’ and cat ‘Jeanette’ or ‘Chinese cat’, adding that this deception is necessary ‘because of the sensitive nature of the fur business’. He boasted to the reporter that ‘whatever trade is being done in Britain, I’m the one doing it’.
A Companies House search reveals Alaska Brokerage International, formerly known as Lenhart & Rosenberg Ltd, has been trading since 1967, listing Peter Bartfeld, his American wife Carol and their 25-year-old son Gideon as joint directors. A worldwide operation with offices in London and New York and associated offices in Hong Kong (Bartfeld Trading Ltd), it is now solely a family-owned business with an ex-directory phone number.
In China, the investigators discovered that cats and dogs were being raised on breeding farms, many small scale, but some were collected abandoned strays and some appeared to be stolen companion animals. Ironically, while long-haired cats are kept as pets in China, short-haired cats, especially ginger or grey tabbies were kept chained outside and raised for their fur.
The larger breeding farms, which Karreman referred to as “worse than concentration camps”, kept up to 300 animals at a time in appalling, squalid conditions. They saw dogs, mostly pups under six months old, sitting in dark, windowless and bitterly cold sheds, surrounded by the bodies of dead dogs hanging from hooks. The dogs, chained by thin metal wire, were left with no food or water while they waited to be transported to slaughterhouses.
This was how the dogs lived out their short, grim existence before being crammed into tiny, filthy cages or sacks to make the harrowing journey to the slaughterhouse – a trip which can take days while they suffered without food or water and many are injured and die.
While being transported, dogs give birth and are powerless to stop the puppies falling out onto the road
Karreman and his team risked their lives getting inside the slaughterhouses. “These places were very difficult to find and access was even more difficult. We pretended to be suppliers and after we established trust with the dealers, we got to accompany them to the farms and the slaughterhouses. These dealers and butchers are ruthless gangsters, they would have killed us if we were discovered. I received many death threats afterwards and continue to get them. But for me it was worth it because otherwise these things will never stop. And some good did come out of it.
Increasingly, slaughterhouses are moved to remote jungle locations
“In the Philippines, the police raided some cat slaughter-houses after we gave them the addresses. They found thousands of cats who were about to be killed, about 30,000 stolen pets, which is one of the reasons the police raided it, because they were definitely stolen pets. And in Thailand they’re coming out with new animal protection laws because of the investigation.”
However it is a different story in China, a country with one of the world’s worst animal abuse records. By the time the animals reach the slaughterhouse in the city of Harbin, many are sick and some are even dead. The investigators watched a truck arrive one evening, densely packed with dogs.
“We had to watch these dogs being killed without showing any emotion”, Karreman says faintly in a strained, heartfelt voice. “It was a difficult, devastating experience, crying inside while speaking calmly. After a while your soul gets eroded. But it has to be done, otherwise you can’t deal with such people”.
Designers Dolce Gabbana, who have always been big on fur, came up with a microskirt made entirely of “Chinese cat”. When groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) disclosed that this was, in fact, made from real domestic moggie, creating an uproar, D&G backtracked and claimed that it was actually ponyskin. “Well, if it’s not cat, why call it that?” says PETA’s Andrew Butler, adding, “Amazingly, they claimed that ponyskin was a euphemism for cat in Italian. When our Italian office asked for samples for DNA testing, they refused. And, of course, that one garment that was contentious has suddenly disappeared”.
The fur renaissance, if you believe the hype, has started up again. “There is no fur renaissance”, says Gucci designer Stella McCartney, “It’s just the fashion industry’s sick, twisted little moment. Fur may be on the catwalk, but it’s not on the streets”. But perception is often stronger than the reality. The catwalks and fashion glossies are ablaze with animal prints and skins.
“These days nobody cool wears fur and there’s no excuse for wearing it”, says Andrew Butler: “Anyone who’s horrified that dogs and cats are kept in sickening, disgusting conditions, and that they suffer slow, brutal deaths, shouldn’t be buying fur because there’s no guarantee that the coat or the fur trim isn’t cat or dog. In fact, the likelihood is that it will be cat or dog because it’s cheaper to use”.
Dog and cat fur still being exported to the EU