In Vietnam, restaurants that serve thit cho—dog meat—are quite common. Men especially love tucking into a dog stew or barbecued dog flank, as the meat is purported to increase virility. Dog is so popular, in fact, that smugglers have been illegally importing dogs by the truckload from Thailand—and, since they're bypassing the normal animal import inspection procedures, some of those dogs are bringing rabies with them.
In the fall, the Guardian published a long story looking at the dog meat industry and how it grew in Vietnam:
No one knows exactly when the Vietnamese started eating dog, but its consumption – primarily in the north – underlines a long tradition. And it is increasingly popular: activists claim up to 5 million of the animals are now eaten every year. Dog is the go-to dish for drinking parties, family reunions and special occasions. It is said to increase a man's virility, warm the blood on cold winter nights and help provide medicinal cures, and is considered a widely available, protein-rich, healthy alternative to the pork, chicken and beef that the Vietnamese consume every day.
Demand is so high, the Guardian says, that prices are skyrocketing, which is part of the reason imports are increasing. There are legal ways to bring dogs into the country, and importing them without proof of rabies vaccinations, export licenses and proof of origin has been illegal in Vietnam since 2009. But the government has more or less turned a blind eye to smuggling, the Humane Society says.
Now, however, with concerns over rabies rising, officials have pledged to crack down, the Nation reports. About 100 people die from rabies each year in Vietnam, and dogs are the primary culprits behind those disease transmissions, the Humane Society says. The dog meat industry, which almost always transports and delivers those animals live to restaurants, is presumed to play a role in this, as rabid dogs have turned up in that trade before.
Animal rights groups are waiting to see if those pledges actually make a dent in smuggling, however. As the Guardian points out, corrupt officials play a major role in the illegal dog trade.
While rabies might be the impetus behind the government's actions, groups like the Humane Society International and Animals Asia hope the decision will also lessen dogs' suffering. It's not just the transport of the dogs that they're worried about, though. As the Guardian writes, "Some diners believe the more an animal suffers before it dies, the tastier its meat, which may explain the brutal way dogs are killed in Vietnam – usually by being bludgeoned to death with a heavy metal pipe (this can take 10 to 12 blows), having their throats slit, being stabbed in the chest with a large knife, or being burned alive."
Whatever the government's justification, if a crackdown on smuggling means that fewer dogs end up with that fate, animals rights groups can call it a victory.