Dog Meat : Far from Lucky

The days just before Chinese New Year are busy for a Thai man who calls himself Mr T.Mr T works partly as an undercover agent in Thailand's north east and across the Mekong in Laos, to detect illegal shipments of dogs. Up to 2,000 dogs a month are shipped to Vietnam through Laos, bound for dog meat restaurants. Demand rises at Chinese New Year, because dog meat is considered “lucky.”But there is more to the dog meat trade than cultural attitudes towards consuming dogs. Activists like John Dalley, co-founder of the Soi Dogs Foundation in Thailand, say it’s a public health issue.Mr Dalley maintains that while the horrific abuse of dogs in the course of the trade is well known, even more critical are the public health implications. In 2008 for instance, dog meat was linked to a cholera outbreak in Vietnam. The cross-border transport, and slaughter and storage of dogs and their meat is unregulated and unhygienic and the dogs sometimes escape.You need a license and certificates to transport live animals across international borders but the dog runners do not have these.I asked the opinion of Bangkok-based Dr Subhash Morzaria, from the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Disease, of the Food and Agriculure Organisation. He replied by email : “Any animals that are transported need to be certified healthy by a qualified veterinarian. There are also welfare standards that need to be observed so that there is no unnecessary suffering.”Dr Morzaria said he did not know of studies that provide quantifiable figures on the transmission of diseases related to the dog meat trade. But “if dogs are sick or carriers of some pathogens, there is a risk of these pathogens being transported to other provinces and countries,” he wrote.One viral disease that can be spread to humans if an infected dog bites someone is rabies. ''A dog may sometimes be incubating the disease without clinical signs and later on arrival may develop clinical signs and may be dangerous to humans,” Dr Morzaria wrote.People can also get disease from contact with sick animals or eating undercooked dog meat."There are also a number of bacterial infections caused by Compylobacter, Salmonella and E. Coli and Leptospira that can cause diarrhoea, fever and other toxic syndromes,” he added. “A number of parasitic infections may cause meningitis, diarrhea, and skin lesions."What’s more, dogs can also pass on cryptosporidia, a protozoan parasite, which may cause severe disease in humans that are immuno-compromised, he said.According to the Soi Dog Foundation, studies have demonstrated a high positive incidence of rabies virus antigen in dogs taken to slaughterhouses, restaurants and markets in China, Vietnam and Indonesia. The World Health Organisation said in an email: ''There is no doubt that illegal dog trade is a potential source of rabies in the dog eating community in Vietnam.''Mr Dalley is calling for an international or regional conference on the public health aspects of the dog meat trade. Among other things, the Foundation donates between 400,000 to 500,000 Baht per month (S$16,600 to S$ 21,000) for the upkeep of some 3,000 dogs in five government-run shelters strapped for cash. If luck has anything to do with dog meat, it probably applies only to the dogs in the shelters, rescued from a fate on a plate. Only they are the lucky