Pit bulls, Pomeranians and their respective people were ejected from a capital park, and again from another nearby public space yesterday, as they tried to hold a march to raise awareness of the “pet meat” trade in Cambodia.
A group of about 25 dog owners with at least 30 dogs yesterday gathered at Neak Banh Teuk Park, or Dragon Park, in front of the statue of the late King Norodom Sihanouk at about 4pm yesterday. The pack intended to walk their dogs to Wat Botum park for a speech, and to circulate a petition for a law banning the trade of dogs and cats for consumption, an industry they say is cruel to animals and pet owners, and is rife with disease from dog and cat meat.
But police quickly rushed in and told the owners of the animals, which were wearing signs bearing messages such as “I can be your best friend”, to vacate the park after confusion arose as to whether the demonstration had been sanctioned by authorities.
“I am shocked and disgusted,” said Lana Turley, 26, a Ukrainian national who has lived in Cambodia for about three years, after she and the crowd moved to a plaza outside of the Phnom Penh Center. “It turns out legally [organised events] don’t work in Cambodia.”
But the letter from City Hall that the dog walkers believed permitted them to hold their event had actually been denied approval, Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said yesterday.
Volunteer Chea Sokha said yesterday evening that he had filed the proper paperwork notifying City Hall of the dog walk. To his surprise, he received a letter on Friday that rejected the idea, despite the fact that they were alerting City Hall to the protest – as the law requires – not asking for permission.
Dimanche, however, said the municipality could not permit people marching with animals.
“We understand [if] they walk to campaign against trafficking or eating animals such as dog, but we don’t allow a walk like that,” Dimanche said last night. “It’s not normal.”
After moving from the park to the plaza, the group dispersed around 5:15pm, when about 20 police officers arrived, with an officer with a loudspeaker declaring that authorities would bring the dogs into a truck, and down to the police station if owners refused to leave.
Participant and dog owner Vorn Vathana Vathey, 18, yesterday said that they probably could have had their march if they simply did not notify authorities. Either way, attention must be paid to issue of Cambodia’s pet meat trade.
“I’ve witnessed too many cases with my friends whose dogs got stolen,” Vathey said.