Struggling to be Heard – Unreported World Expose Vietnam’s Dog Snatchers Oct 2014

20 years ago an amazing woman, and mentor to our cause, South Korean-born activist Kyenan Kum succeeded in getting mainstream airtime on the Korean dog meat trade. But after this programme was broadcast she found that doors were closed rather than opened.

It has been a long struggle to get people talking about the dog meat trade again. I was therefore very pleased when investigative journalist Nelufar Hedayat from the Channel 4 documentary series Unreported World contacted me and told me of her plans to travel to and uncover the murky illegal world of Vietnam’s dog snatchers in person.

I knew from my own experiences that Nelufar would face huge emotional challenges during the filming of this documentary but suspected her real challenge would be to get her film broadcast here in the UK. She has succeeded.

The film is powerful and will be distressing to watch. I spoke to Nelufar to find out what had motivated her to make Vietnam’s Dog Snatchers (scheduled for this Friday, 3rd October, 7.30pm Channel 4) and to ask about her experiences.

What motivated you to do this film?

Vietnam’s Dog Snatchers is a film that looks at the shocking and often cruel world of the dog meat trade in Vietnam. In the half-hour documentary we look at the growing human cost that’s got the whole country talking about the issue. People are being killed for dog meat, whether it’s the the thieves that are servicing the insatiable demand for the meat in Vietnam or, more often, the villagers that are beaten and even killed as thieves become more violent and brazen in their attacks.

My director Daniel Bogado and I were motivated to do this film because when we made a few calls we were immediately met with a black hole when it came to facts and information. Apart from a few campaigners no-one seemed to be able to tell us anything about the illicit trade. The only thing that was clear from our research was that dogs and people were dying. When I got in touch with the Vietnamese government to find out what the laws governing the slaughter of dogs were, I was met with more ‘umms’ and ‘errs’ than actual answers. It was clearly an issue that Unreported World had to investigate.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?

I’ll tell you what I don’t want people to take away from this: that the issue only effects a few dogs in one country and that it’s so far away that it really doesn’t matter because it’s their culture and that in Vietnam they don’t care anyway. All these assumptions are wrong. What I want people to take away from the film is an understanding of an issue that’s affecting both people and animals. These dogs are being killed, often inhumanely, with absolutely no regulation and no one to challenge the thieves and middle men that profit from the business. If all you can get for stealing a low breed Vietnamese dog is a small fine why wouldn’t you do it? The rewards far outweigh the risks.

Most importantly for me is that Vietnamese people watch my film and really see what it is that’s happening out there because I know that once this hidden world is exposed – some of these people will want to do something about it.

What were your challenges?

We managed to film a dog processing village in the north of Vietnam where we saw men force feeding rice down the gullets of hundreds of dogs- and this was a slow day. By this point I’d already visited the street market slaughter houses and dozens of dog meat streets but even then it was quite disturbing and difficult to see. This was cruelty for profit – systematic, mass- scale, horrific.

The challenges I faced were multiple. The last thing I wanted to do go there with preconceived notions of the ‘freakish Vietnamese people’ eating dog meat – so terribly uncivilised of them! But also- if our investigation was to uncover cruelty – I didn’t want to cower away from asking the questions and taking people to task. We did find cruelty – both casual and intentional – and we don’t shy away from showing this in our film.

It was a mental struggle throughout the trip. Coming from Britain, I couldn’t help but feel a little shocked by the laissez-faire attitudes of some of the people I met in the (exclusively) dog meat restaurants and on-street slaughter houses. It’s a fact that not all Vietnamese eat dog meat, in fact it’s an acquired taste mostly in the northern part of the country but still millions are killed for consumption every year and for most people who do eat it – it was an attitude of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’.

But what became clear to me as I continued my trip was that the people should know the way the animals are treated before slaughter and the fact that often dogs are disease-ridden and have little paperwork to say where they’re coming from. In my entire time there I couldn’t find a single person who could tell me where the dogs they were selling came from – which explains an even more contemptuous part of this illicit trade: that often its pet dogs or family dogs that are stolen and sold on to the meat trade.

Why should people watch it?

Whether you’re a dog lover or not, whether you eat meat or not – this film isn’t about that. What Unreported World have uncovered is a national scandal that’s gripped a nation in which dogs as well as people are being killed with little involvement from the government or a will to do anything about it – and its getting out of control.

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Hollywood Celebrities Agree: Nothing ‘Splendid’ About the Dog Meat Trade Huffpo Blog July 2014

Last Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl thousands attended a glittering evening performance of Chinese Splendor – the finale of a two week extravaganza of dance, music and theatre showcasing an array of national art forms from Chinese culture.

But to me right now, the term ‘Chinese Splendor’ feels so tragically wrong. For barely 21 days ago, Yulin – a city in the southern province of Guangxi – celebrated a nightmarish midsummer festival where thousands of dogs were bludgeoned to death and Chinese activists were forced to plead and bargain in the street with traders who laughed as they blackmailed them for high prices – threatening to torture dogs right in front of them.

Respecting culture should never be used as an excuse for cruelty and abuse and like many other advocates (and as CEO of an animal welfare charity) I might expect this glittering showbiz display to make people quickly forget what they had so recently witnessed: the horrifying abuse and death of thousands of beautiful, sentient and loving, living beings – those we refer to as ‘companion animals’.

This 4th July weekend however saw a new and pleasing development: concluding several weeks of unprecedented online outpouring of grief and protest (both within China and internationally) Californian celebrities had rallied a band of activists to stand outside the Hollywood Bowl and say ‘Yes to Chinese Splendor but No to Eating Dog and Cat Meat’. Visiting Chinese dignitaries and artists will have seen from their limos a line-up of protesters – organised by Lori Alan (who plays news anchor Diane Simmons in TV cartoon Family Guy) Fia Perera, Sky Valencia and Shannon Lee – holding placards and banners saying ‘No To Dog Meat’. I pray they will take this story home and that somehow it will help the Chinese authorities find the political will to enact welfare laws for all animals and to end a trade which has no legal status within Chinese society.

LA’s demo chimes well with recent events in the UK. The issue of the dog meat trade has just been tabled as an Early Day Motion in UK Parliament and an online petition to the White House seeks 100,000 signatures to raise the issue in the US government.

A petition however high it climbs will not in itself effect immediate change – though I believe they are a worthwhile way to raise, focus and maintain attention to an issue. Last year I raised 10,000 signatures on an official UK government e-petition about the egregious cruelty in South Korea where dogs and cats are often burned and boiled alive for superstitious reasons. It elicited a lame fobbing off from the foreign office which complacently explained that its hands are tied against such torture there being no internationally recognised animal welfare laws.

Ultimately, real lasting change will need to come from within the countries affected. There are already small signs of hope – in China where historically, popular protest has been – and still is – repressed, the citizen activists who took to the streets of Yulin have already seen a drop in local dog meat consumption of over 30%. Let us hope the many others working hard in countries like South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam soon see similar achievements.

At home for now I am still disappointed that the media tends to ignore the reality – Channel Four currently has a series entitled ‘The World’s Best Diet’ the first episode of which last week ran a long segment on South Korea yet completely failed to mention dog or cat meat.

Over the next few months I will be blogging on how we can all work to influence and effect change for animals. I am greatly encouraged by the emerging awareness of the dog meat issue among celebrities of all countries. Younger generations are hugely influenced by the arts and media and there is arguably nowhere better placed than Hollywood to kick-start a worldwide revolution in public and media thinking.

The NoToDogMeat campaign is led by the UK registered Charity 1154524 World Protection for Dogs and Cats in the Meat Trade 17 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0PH 0207 873 2250