Knives of different sizes were mounted on one wall. A burnt dog sat on a table right below them.
Bontoc, Mt. Province, Philippines 2015
I received the text, “punta ka na dito” (you can now come over).
It was the go-signal I was waiting for. Not really having an exact idea of what I was about to get myself into, I immediately grabbed my gear and rushed to the eatery as quickly as I could. Passing through tables in a packed dining area during a busy lunch hour, I heard laughter in the background while orders were being yelled from all over. Mang Jun (not his real name) greeted me with a smile and told me to follow him as we headed straight to the back kitchen.
Clutter filled the area: a beat up washer, drums of water in one corner, and a bucket of blood on the floor. Blood stains dotted a white-tiled surface and knives of different sizes were mounted on one wall. A tray of chopped meat and a burnt dog sat on a table right below them.
Ironically, Mang Jun’s pet dog lay under the table with a couple of pups and started to growl upon sensing my presence. In the other corner however, five dogs sat silently in a small cage. There was no barking nor wagging tails despite the presence of a complete stranger. Obviously traumatized, they reminded me of prisoners in concentration camps from holocaust movies I’ve seen before. Heads bowed down, tails tucked between their legs and ears folded back, they looked helpless and aware of what was about to happen.
Mang Jun brought out an improvised catch pole and pulled one female dog out of the cage. She tried to fight back… then started to cry. Using a piece of lumber, it only took one blow to the head to shut her up – her head dropped unconsciously on the floor. He brought out a knife, laid the unconscious dog on a surface then slit her throat while she was still alive. I heard her gasping as she tried to catch her breath while blood gushed out of her throat and life slowly drained out of her. The remaining dogs in the cage sat motionless as they watched the whole thing happen… They waited for their turn.
Dog meat trade
There is ongoing debate about dog meat consumption in the Philippines. Cultural tradition suggests that dogs are sacrificial animals for several reasons – to mourn the dead, to serve as pre-battle sacrifice during tribal wars, and to appease spirits during times of tragedy. It is a solemn ritual practiced by natives of Northern provinces and many believe that dog meat raises body temperature to counteract the chilly weather of the Northern region. However, with the rapid increase of dog meat consumption over the years, the integrity of the practice is now being questioned whether it is still being done for cultural or for commercial reasons.
Hundreds of dogs are being butchered every day in the Philippines. Despite the law banning the slaughter of dogs (Animal Welfare Act of 1998), the dog meat industry continues to grow with unregulated demand. There are hundreds of underground dog meat eateries operating in the country – most of it in the Northern provinces. Some dog meat traders have been documented in Laguna and Batangas while slaughterhouses have been found in Pangasinan. It is believed that there are many more undocumented dog meat trade happening in various regions of the country for commercial consumption.
Dog meat sells cheaper on the market, sometimes for as low as 65.00 PHP (1.47 USD) per kilo, compared to regular meat (pork or beef) which sells anywhere from 180 – 300+ PHP (4.08 – 6.81+ USD) per kilo. Dog meat is a more practical option, especially for middle to lower class families and its price range also attracts the drinking crowd, making dog meat a popular choice of “pulutan” (appetizer).
Why is it cheap?
There is an overwhelming number of stray dogs all over the country. Along with a poorly implemented law meant to prevent animal abuse and the fact that 27.9% of the population live below the poverty line, adequate shelter, food and care for pets are disregarded and never prioritized.
Spaying and neutering are also uncommon practices, most especially for the lower economic strata of dog owners. For them, these procedures are simply not affordable. Dog meat traders exploit these circumstances, thus providing them with a seemingly unlimited supply of stray dogs coming from places as far away as the Southern tagalog, Visayas and Mindanao regions. This makes selling dog meat a profitable business – an industry that generates up to 174 million PHP (3.8m USD) annually with minimal capital.
Dogs are transported by land in cramped cages to slaughterhouses, muzzled by either steel can or rope, with their legs tied behind their back. Hours and sometimes days of transport under sweltering heat are endured by these dogs and most of them do not make it alive to their destination – dead dogs are still slaughtered for their meat and are sold to unsuspecting buyers.
Trade and corruption
Despite enacting the Animal welfare act of 1998 which bans the selling and killing of dogs, dog traders, slaughterhouses, and restaurants continue to operate due to high demand in the market. It is a profitable business that allows traders to get away with minimum penalties. Raids and arrests led by various organizations and NGOs are being made but these have little to no effect on the trade. With the minimum penalty of 1,000 PHP (22.7 USD) for killing dogs and 5,000 PHP (113.6 USD) per dog for trading dog meat, traders would rather plead guilty and pay the minimum fine than hire a lawyer. There are also documented cases where police officers and other officials are either dog eaters or part of trade operations as well, making it hard for animal rights advocates to fight the growing industry.
Rooting up the problem
Dog meat consumption can be traced all the way back to cultural practices. Dogs were considered sacrificial animals, generally to provide companionship to the soul of a dearly departed. However, with the rapid growth of the dog meat industry, it has now evolved from cultural to commercial practice. It is now done clearly beyond tradition and intimate rituals but rather for profit.
Fighting dog meat trade does not end with prosecution. It will never stop as long as there is demand for it and as long as adequate care for pets are deemed luxury, there will be an endless supply of dog meat in the market. Dog meat consumers largely belong to the middle and lower class economic brackets. These are the people who would rather buy dog meat than high-priced regular meat. These are also the people who are not well-informed nor could afford to practice responsible pet ownership. With law enforcement officials doing so little to stop animal neglect and trade, stopping animal abuse in general is practically unrealistic.
Like any other social predicament, dog meat trade can be traced to the fact that a large percentage of the population are living below the poverty line, the same economic bracket that are mainly affected by economic difficulties. Survival instincts will always make people look for alternatives and justify their practical reasons to make do of what they have.
I remember Mang Jun telling me, “I was able to fund my daughter’s college education by selling dog meat. She just graduated last year”.
Addressing this problem goes deeper into the socio-political and economic structures of our society – a society with minimal options to survive for the majority of its citizens. Solving this problem requires looking past the immediate problem of dog meat trade and digging deeper to unearth the root cause: poverty.