Dear Readers: I’m a guy who has always enjoyed a good steak as much as anyone I know, but my recent journey through Thailand has been a gastronomic eye-opener and soul-twisting experience for me. The journey with my nearly grown children took us from the crowded back alleys of Bangkok to the powdery white sand beaches of Phuket and up to the far north near the Thai border with Myanmar. We saw elephants, Buddhas, and magical temples, and at every site a few feral dogs scampering around with their tails wagging. When a wise old Thai shaman widow explained that people still eat dog meat frequently, my heart sank in my chest and my soul seemed to evaporate there in her hut.
And I became a vegetarian.
At that moment, my “Eat, Pray, Love” vacation turned into a whirling cavalcade of erratic, jumbled thoughts. First I thought of my beloved Twiggy back at home in Sonoma. She was probably sleeping on her little beige micro-fiber couch at that very moment. My fat, rolly-polly white speckled Bulldog, a most delightful, precious, albeit plump, juicy companion. How could anyone, ever, consider consuming her? She wears a Versace necklace, for the love of God!
Then I pondered the breakfast my kids and I had eaten just prior to visiting that Aca village shaman. What were those breakfast sausages they served us made from? It took serious willpower and deep breathing for me not to ralph right on the spot through the tiny bamboo slat flooring.
After we bade the dog connoisseur farewell, I knew full well in my spinning head and my sick, cold heart that I would find out more about this vile subject. This despite the fact that I was brought up in one of those households where you learn to ignore controversial topics and pretend the “purple elephant” in the corner doesn’t exist. As an animal lover, this topic was one that surely needed to be ignored. If I did that, then perhaps it would go away, like the other big purple elephants of my past. If I ignored this topic like I knew I should, it would vanish and not be true, right?
I picked up the national newspaper, and read the details of police in the city of Sakhon Nakhon busted a dog smuggling gang as its members made their way to Laos and Viet Nam. Around 30 dogs were found dead due to suffocation as they had been packed into the back of a pickup truck. Another 40 suffered severe fatigue and were immediately sent to animal hospitals.
Even though the World Health Organization has linked dog meat with outbreaks of diseases including cholera and rabies in Vietnam and Indonesia, the flesh is still considered a prized delicacy in many Asian countries, especially Vietnam and Laos. Each year as many as five million dogs are slaughtered for human consumption in Vietnam alone, according to statistics from the Asia Canine Protection Alliance, an organization that monitors the illicit dog meat trade.
Even though dog meat may not be quite as popular in Thailand as in other countries, the “Land of Smiles” is notorious for its ability to put smile on dog eaters’ faces. As an important supplier, the dog-snatching business in Thailand is huge and highly lucrative. According to the Nakhon Phanom Animal Quarantine Center, besides stealing animals, dog poachers may buy dogs for between 50-100 baht a piece ($1.50-$3) and sell them for 500-1,000 baht ($15-$30). Not many Thai businesses can generate such a big and tempting profit margin.
While I was collecting my thoughts after my visit with the shaman widow, trying to process the beliefs and values I have while wanting to accept, empathize and tolerate other cultures, a sweet little beagle mix walked up to me out of nowhere, nose shiny, eyes focused and bright, tail wagging. This was my signal, my cue, that there is no turning back once you have a true incident of enlightenment. That sweet little maven, maybe a messenger of Buddha, was confirming that dogs deserve to be part of the family unit, not part of a stir-fry.
So I’m a vegetarian now. That was step one. And next, I have to figure out how I can make a difference and stop the slaughter and consumption of dogs.
Dr. Vallard C. Forsythe