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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Phnom Penh pooches going up in smoke

Phnom Penh pooches going up in smoke

Phnom Penh pooches going up in smoke

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 A restaurant worker grills dogs over an open fire.

It's 4 am, and although the streets of Chamkarmorn district are deserted, the air

is filled with the thick, acrid odor of burning flesh.

Men arrive on a motorbike carrying several large black bags. The cargo is unloaded

and taken inside a small wooden building. Money changes hands. Inside the shack,

a small fire burns. Occasionally a yelp will pierce the street's silence, but it's

short, sharp and generally followed by an ominous thud.

This is an average night in the grisly world of Cambodia's dog trade.

The source of the choking stench is a nearby restaurant that specializes exclusively

in dog meat. According to Vira Avalokita, a US citizen and Buddhist monk who lives

next door, the restaurant and others like it are fuelling the abduction of family

pets and creating a public health hazard - all in an attempt to satisfy the palates

of some discerning Phnom Penh diners.

Avalokita claims that for several months he has witnessed an increasing number of

animals brought to the restaurant by various dog dealers.

"I have seen people come and deliver dogs. I have seen police come and bring

dogs, some with collars," Avalokita said. "It used to be a few dogs but

now it's up to 20 a day, and on busy days even as many as 50."

The unnamed restaurant has recently become popular with Cambodians as well as ethnic

Chinese and Vietnamese. At night the street fills with tuk-tuks and cyclos waiting

for customers to finish dining. On weekends, karaoke music blasts until morning.

Selling dog meat is legal in Cambodia. The animal is believed to hold warming properties

and is served in many Asian communities.

But the theft of domestic animals is illegal, and without strict enforcement the

stealing continues. The Post reported in September that a rash of dog thefts had

been plaguing Phnom Penh for several months. Local officials in Russey Keo district

said that over a hundred dogs had disappeared in their district alone.

"In Cambodia a dog is considered property, it is illegal to steal them. If the

restaurant takes stolen animals then it is dealing in stolen goods," Avalokita

said.

In an alley by the restaurant dogs are de-furred and boiled in a huge tub. The carcasses

are then cooked on open charcoal grills. Employees, who were busy preparing meat

for the evening's customers, said an order of dog soup or roast cost 1,000 riel.

"We are very busy. I sell more than 10 kilograms a day," said one unnamed

trader. "All the dogs come from other provinces, and people come here to sell

them."

Avalokita has complained to municipal authorities that the business constitutes a

noise and health hazard. Authorities have said they are looking into the issue.

"If I found that there was a restaurant selling dog in my district, I would

invite health and safety officials from the Ministry of Health to check the food

for safety," said Chamkarmorn District Governor Lo Luy. "There may be some

small places selling dog, but nothing that I am aware of."

Uch Sokhon, deputy police chief for Chamkarmorn district, said he did not know for

sure whether stolen dogs were appearing in his district, but if he was made aware

of a problem he would take measures to crack down on it.

"Establishing a restaurant for selling dog meat is legal, and because it is

a business they already asked permission from the district governor before they started,"

Sokhon said.

"But if someone complains of people stealing dogs from other districts and taking

them to sell in my district, I will take action."

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