One splendid thing about Vietnam is the way they treat dogs. They eat them.
If only Thailand, England and elsewhere did the same, we’d avoid the spectre of mangy pariah dogs prowling and fouling the streets.
The subject became topical last month when United States President Barack Obama recalled eating dog meat as a child in Indonesia.
Riffing on the difference between a pit bull dog and a hockey mom, he joked that “a pit bull is delicious”.
Actually, consuming dog meat is legal in most American states, as it is in countries as diverse as China, East Timor, Switzerland, Nigeria and Tonga.
Few, however, consume it with as much gluttonous relish as the Vietnamese.
When living in Hanoi, I often walked to the nearby 1912 market to buy fruit and there I would behold the unloading of great stacks of roasted canine carcasses.
Puzzled by how they were all the same size, I was told it was because they were farmed, not plucked off the streets – partly, of course, because there were none left on the streets.
On Phan Boi Chau, the street where I lived, there was a restaurant renowned for “bow wow dishes”, as well as those of various exotic wild animals.
The place was popular with police officers and military men, who would crowd in at the end of the lunar month when it was viewed as lucky to eat dog meat.
They would sit upstairs and share heaped plates of grilled pooch and drink copious amounts of booze before heading off for some other fun.
Vietnamese men believe their sexual prowess is heightened by eating dog meat. Viagra, though much cheaper, is not rated as highly.
Well, scoff not, for they may be right. Anyway who cares? They love eating it and it does keep the mutts off the streets. As one Hanoi-based diplomat told me: “I’m fine with eating dog meat, it’s a totally sustainable practice. But eating endangered wild animals is not.”
Regrettably, most Vietnamese regard wild animal flesh as a five-star version of dog meat, believing it to be not only more delicious, but more therapeutic and efficacious in enhancing libido.
A cynical joke among environmentalists is that in Vietnam the acronym PETA does not mean People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as it does elsewhere, but instead stands for People Eating Tasty Animals.
Hanoi is the nation’s largest market for illegal wildlife meat and the most popular dishes are deer, bears, civets, porcupines, pangolins, monkeys, forest pigs and turtles.
An advance order and a fat wallet will get you tiger meat, wild bear bile and even rhino horn – Vietnam having now overtaken China as the world’s biggest consumer of this useless blob of hard dry keratin.
The constant craving for wild meat has devastated Vietnam’s once-abundant wildlife and caused naturalists to warn of a “silent forest syndrome” – national parks with plants but no animals.
Already most of Vietnam’s forests have been denuded of bears, tigers and other wildlife, so that poachers have to move into Cambodia and Laos to catch their prey.
That, of course, has driven up the price. Already, the soaring black market trade in wildlife trafficking is estimated to be worth up to US$20 billion a year and has been linked to organised crime syndicates.
In theory, Vietnamese law requires permits to hunt, import and sell wildlife products, but enforcement is woeful, partly because the police and military also love their monthly animal feasts and rarely take action.
That is Vietnam’s tragedy. Its repressive government could, if it had the mettle, stamp out this scourge once and for all.
But the regime is so deeply unpopular on many fronts that it dare not risk alienating the masses even more.
Still, a start could be made by actively encouraging the production and consumption of more delicious dog meat as a substitute for wild animals.
After all, it did Obama no harm.
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