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Dognappers feed grisly industry

Dognappers feed grisly industry

dog.jpg
dog.jpg

A cool season delicacy valued by ethnic Vietnamese for its reputed yang, or warming

properties, is finding favor with a new generation of Cambodian and foreign customers

police blame for a surge in dog thefts to feed the trade.

Cooked dog's head and other body parts and organs grace the shelf of a stall at Psah Deum Kor market in Phnom Penh

Police say they are powerless against gangs of dog thieves that prowl the streets

of Phnom Penh after dark stealing family pets that are then slaughtered and sold

in local markets.

At Phnom Penh's crowded Psah Deum Kor market, Ha Muoy arranges dog meat on a tray.

She places the curried dog hearts, intestines, livers, and a grimacing head in a

pyramid of canine culinary delights.

Muoy says business couldn't be better. Charging 1000 riel for a plate of dog flesh,

she has about 100 customers each day, many of them Cambodians who ignore a traditional

belief that eating dogs creates bad karma.

"Now many Cambodians love to eat [dog meat]," she said.

Although Muoy says she legally trades consumer goods for live dogs in the provinces,

she too admits to being fearful of the "sinful" nature of the business

and says she would like to find another way to make a living.

"Money is the big boss," she said of her motivations for staying in the

dog meat business.

Fellow dog meat vendor Kao Chea, 40, is more open about the less scrupulous sources

of the dogs she slaughters and sells. When she is unable to source live dogs supplied

by rural farmers in Kampong Cham, Chea looks to dog thieves to fill her supply gap.

Chea counts Cambodians and ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese among her many customers.

The increasing demand from Chinese patrons has led Chea to broaden her product line

to include raw dog meat for Chinese customers who like to cook their own meat.

Dog thieves who supply the industry are emboldened by weak laws against animal theft

and an apparent laissez-faire police attitude toward the crime.

Uch Sokhon, Chief of Police of Phnom Penh's Tonle Bassac Commune, where numerous

dog meat vendors and restaurants can be found, is ambivalent about how and where

those establishments source their specialty.

"Most Cambodian dogs are strays, and, like gangsters, they wander the streets,"

Uch Sokhon says of the canines that end up with their heads on trays in the local

markets.

"If they were [pets] they would be tied up inside the yard."

Laws against dog thieves don't appear to be strong deterrents. According to Sokhon,

the only Cambodian law to touch on the matter of domestic pets as property is the

obscure sub-decree 43 issued in 1995 governing "...the maintenance of social

order in Phnom Penh, the provinces and municipalities."

One of the subdecree's articles states:"Individuals freeing animals in town

or public areas shall be warned at first and their animals captured. In the event

of repeated offense, they shall be fined 3,000 riel per animal".

Sokhon says the theft of family pets that are later slaughtered and sold is far from

uncommon.

In mid-2000, Sokhon was approached by a pet owner whose dog had disappeared from

his yard overnight.

Two days later, Sokhon had located the hapless animal tied up in one of the restaurants

near the Russian embassy that specialize in dog dishes. The restaurant owner handed

the pet over to its owner.

In November Kandal provincial police hand-ed over to Sokhun two Tonle Bassac Commune

dognappers arrested while hunting dogs in Takhmau. The men confessed to having stolen

more than 30 dogs.

Sokhon documented the offense and then let the men go free on the condition that

they would not hunt dogs again.

"I educated and acquitted them because no Cambodian law defines punishment for

dognapping outside a [property]," he said.

One dogmeat vendor, who asked not to be named, said his establishment had been ransacked

by angry pet owners who suspected their dogs had fallen into his hands. The last

such incident occurred in early January, when two men whose dogs had been stolen

insisted on searching the man's shop for signs of their missing canines. They left

empty-handed.

The meat-seller said he was embarrassed by his work, but that he was merely addressing

the market demand that extended even to members of Phnom Penh's expatriate community.

"Barangs like dog meat also," he said. "They often come to my restaurant."

Dogs that end up in the hands of the city's dog meat vendors undergo a cooking preparation

process sure to dismay even the most lukewarm of dog-lovers.

According to Muoy, the dogs whose meat and organs she sells are knocked unconscious

and then have their throats slit. They are then bled, and plunged into boiling water

to remove their fur.

The hairless carcasses are smoked and cooked with curry spices before they are processed

and sold.

Customer satisfaction about the alleged medicinal effects of dogmeat apparently override

any qualms about how and where the meat is acquired.

"Dog meat makes my body strong. It gives me good health when I drink it with

a little traditional Khmer rice wine," said a construction worker and dog meat

enthusiast, Kan Dina, 30. "I don't care about sin ... I just eat it for good

health."

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