South Korea’s recent ban on the production and sale of dog meat, which will come into effect from 2027, has spotlighted the issue of the dog meat trade, inspiring Cambodian animal lovers and activists to renew their calls for a similar ban.

They view Korea’s January 10 decision as a catalyst for change, and are advocating for legislative action in the Kingdom.

In Cambodia, the deep-rooted and controversial practice of consuming dog meat, involving an estimated annual slaughter of three million dogs, reflects a significant cultural tradition, according to a 2020 report by animal welfare NGO Four Paws.

The practice involves many diverse participants, including local sellers and consumers, each with their own viewpoints.

An ally speaks

Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), which is well-known for its outstanding canine mine detectors, expressed his support for the South Korean ban.

“On behalf of CMAC and dog lovers everywhere, we wish for similar legislation to be enacted in Cambodia to protect our pets,” he says.

Seab Phanith, a young woman from Kampong Chhnang province, is a deminer with CMAC. Her profound love for dogs and her recognition of their capabilities is at the heart of her career as a deminer.

She skilfully guides her mine-sniffing dog while using a commanding tone to issue instructions. With a leash in one hand, she directs the dog to move, sit and diligently search for mines.

Her passion for working with dogs inspired her to pursue this challenging and crucial role, despite societal doubts and familial concerns about the dangers involved.

Through her work, Phanith has formed a special bond with a female dog named Dam, highlighting the importance of communication and trust in the human-animal working relationship.

Their bond is not just about companionship; it’s integral to the effectiveness of their demining efforts.

“Working with dogs is not difficult for me. If we put our hearts into caring for the dogs and we understand the way they think, then we understand our partners and whatever the work is, it will go smoothly,” Phanith told The Post.

Ratana highlighted that at CMAC, dogs are regarded not merely as animals but as valued members of the workforce.

“Eating their meat would be akin to betraying our comrades. These dogs make a huge contribution to humanitarian efforts by assisting in demining, saving many lives,” he adds.

He emphasised the deep bond between human forces and their canine counterparts, noting that their effective collaboration is based on mutual affection and understanding.

Passionate protector

Kim Loan is passionately dedicated to animal welfare. She transformed her home in Phnom Penh’s Koh Norea village into a sanctuary for over 250 dogs, along with numerous cats.

Since moving to Cambodia in 2005, she has devoted her life to caring for these animals, many of which are strays or were abandoned or rescued from slaughterhouses.

Loan, now 66, founded the Cambodian Animals Protection Association (CAPA) to address the needs of these animals. The NGO was recognised by the Ministry of Interior in 2012.

Her commitment extends to ensuring that the animals are adopted into responsible and loving homes, carefully vetting potential adopters.

“People throw away dogs and cats and they have nothing to eat. Many dogs are cruelly killed for food. I take mostly sick and pregnant cats, which I then spay after they give birth, using funds from the Fondation Brigitte Bardot,” she told The Post.

Her dedication to raising stray dogs and cats has helped many animals from being caught and ending up in slaughterhouses.

The Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation (AHWF) explained that it opposes the dog-meat trade because some people’s belief that high levels of adrenaline in a dog’s system before its death enhance the taste and health benefits of its meat could lead to animals being tortured.

Restaurant owner hammered

A dog meat shop in Kandal drew the ire of readers when The Post reported the method that the husband and wife who own the business used to slaughter the dogs. The wife would control the animal with a noose, while the husband would kill it with a hammer.

They claimed that they employed this method as a precaution against dog bites. The majority of the dogs they sold were acquired from owners who were “unhappy” with the animals’ behaviour.

Khim Finan, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, highlighted the differences between the situations in Cambodia and South Korea.

He pointed out that in Korea, there was widespread commercial breeding and slaughtering of animals that could potentially be banned. In contrast, Cambodia does not have a law that bans the slaughter of pets.

“Although we do not have a specific law in place, Cambodian culture does not endorse the trade in dog meat. While we do not explicitly prohibit or encourage such activities, existing laws neither condemn nor permit them,” he told The Post.

In 2020, Siem Reap, a prominent tourist hub, made a notable stride in promoting animal welfare by prohibiting the trading, selling and slaughtering of dogs for meat.

The action demonstrated an increasing awareness and regard for animal rights and well-being within the area.

The Siem Reap ban was regarded as a forward-thinking decision that established an excellent example for other parts of Cambodia to emulate. It also underscored the changing perspectives on dog meat consumption and the broader treatment of animals.

“We are proud to have reached such a significant first milestone of public support from people all over the world who reject the dog and cat meat trade and the cruelty it stands for. We have seen favourable and crucial turning points this year,” said veterinarian Katherine Polak, who was head of Four Paws Stray Animal Care in Southeast Asia at the time.

“Cambodian tourist hotspot Siem Reap set an example when it banned dog meat, but there is still much work to be done,” she added.

At the time, she urged all governments to take responsibility and ban the dog and cat meat trade to protect humans and animals alike.

CMAC chief Ratana pointed out that in ancient Khmer culture, consuming dog meat was frowned upon, with individuals who did so often being ostracised by society.

Addressing the perceived differences between working dogs and household pets, he clarified that this is a misconception. 

“Dogs at home also play a crucial role in protecting their owner’s property. The act of killing dogs deeply hurts dog lovers,” he said.

As director-general of CMAC, which currently employs over 300 dogs, Ratana expressed concerns about the dog meat trade, noting that it distresses dog lovers and is off-putting to foreign tourists, particularly those from Europe.

“Seeing the trade and sale of dog meat upsets them and evokes sympathy for the animals,” he said.

Ratana explained that CMAC, along with those who wish to preserve tradition, including himself, are ready to take part in a campaign to advocate for legal measures to protect dogs in Cambodia.