It is a dog's life: Canines wait to be sold.
T he worst part of pet store owner Ly Kai Man's day is when people identify the dogs
on sale in his shop window as their stolen family pets.
"Some of the dogs I have bought are stolen from families," Kai Man said
with a philosophical shrug. "I only find out when the owners come searching
and find them at my shop."
For Kai Man, 57, it's just another part of his dog vending business on Phnom Phen's
Sok Hok Street. And after several years in the business, he says he's now inured
to the tearful or angry reactions of pet lovers who find their family canine among
his ranks of dogs imported from China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
According to Kai Man, the process of stolen pets being reunited with their owners
is also strictly business: the owners can either buy them back for between $30 and
$200, or pay police to assist in the forcible reclaim of their pets.
Dog vendors say the profits of dog selling - illicitly procured or not - are well
worth the risks of run-ins with irate owners with local police in tow.
Luth Sothy, 40, left behind the poverty of a porter's life last year and started
up a dog-vending business on the corner of Sihanouk and Monivong Boulevards.
Like Kai Man, Sothy is less-than-scrupulous in ascertaining the origins of dogs he
buys. To keep potential legal problems to a minimum, Sothy makes a monthly donation
of 10,000 riels to local police who might otherwise be inquisitive about his operations.
"I just buy dogs people come to sell to me," he said. "I can't identify
who are dognappers, but I would not buy any dog that was offered for a low price
because the dog would be stolen."
Sothy occasionally encounters former dog owners with photos of their lost pets, seeking
Sothy's services as a middleman to buy back the animals from the thieves.
Khan Lina, President of KU Travel Agency, is a case in point of the risks that negotiating
ransoms for stolen dogs can create.
In March 2001 Lina's one-year old German shepherd, Bith, was stolen. After making
the rounds of the local dog vendors in vain, Lina eventually placed a newspaper ad
offering a reward for Bith's safe return. After several anonymous calls and numerous
false starts, she finally located Bith - but when the dog thief demanded a ransom
of $450, Lina backed off.
Peang Chhun Ly, Chief of Phnom Penh Municipality's Animal Health and Production Office,
said dog slaughterhouses - which thrive openly in markets across the city - are illegal,
he is unsure about any laws regulating pet shops.