The Truth about the Dog Meat Trade: racism, speciesism, and misplaced horror

My name is Catherine Besch and I am the founder and director of Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue-US in Hoi An, Vietnam. This is my story of how I began this organization in 2013 fighting against the dog meat trade in our region and over time learned how this cash cow of animal welfare and rescue organizations is fed by racism, xenophobia, and a total lack of moral consistency towards the animals we have vowed to protect.

Taking a dog from the dog catcher who I escorted to the police station

From Hero to Extremist

Those most critical of my stance against the anti-dog meat campaigns often do not know of my own background and how the organization started eight years ago with this battle in the forefront of our mission. Moving to Vietnam in 2012 and seeing dogs in cages on motorbikes or seeing their dead, hairless bodies alongside pig, chicken, and cow corpses was emotionally overwhelming. It was so difficult to see abuse being carried out in plain sight every day and without locals being outraged. Being the confrontational and, some would say, aggressive woman I am naturally, I acted out strongly against this injustice to dogs and cats. In addition to starting the organization with a friend in town a year after moving to Vietnam, I also engaged more head on with the perpetrators of the violence against pets.

Rescuing three cats from the cat catcher whose keys I stole and whose life I threatened with his own set of metal tongs for grabbing animals.

The logic begins to crumble

My mission in those first years of the organization was to bring awareness to people around the world about the dog meat trade, to save animals from it, and to get a legal ban on it in Vietnam. It is what all the anti-dog meat organizations have been saying all along, none of whom have made any real headway in all this time. Slowly, the flawed rationale behind this began to break down for me even if it was not happening for others I worked with or any of our supporters.

One of the most common forms of animal abuse in Vietnam. 80% of animals eaten are pigs, not dogs.

Racism rears its ugly head

As the one doing all the social media for the organization, I also could see the types of responses I was getting from people about the dog meat trade posts. The comments were a combination of calling us heroes and of calling the Vietnamese and Asians in general savages, monsters, psychopaths, and other horrible epithets. These posts against the Vietnamese were often full of violent ideas about what we should do to them. They talked about boycotting Asia/China/Vietnam. They frequently discussed bombing or nuking them. They wanted us to hang them and beat them and burn them alive- all kinds of really sick shit. For standing up for these dogs and cats and bringing awareness to all the racist and xenophobic people out there, we were true heroes, angels, and saviors. Being hailed as a hero by racists telling me to nuke the country I lived in was always an awkward interaction.

Among the MANY comments you can find with the hashtag #dogmeattrade

Chinese eat dogs because Americans eat pigs

Over time, I began to understand that Vietnamese eat dog for the same reason they eat chickens, the French eat rabbit because they also eat beef, and Japanese eat horse because they also eat fish. Humans consume different species around the world and in no country can we say that the animals that died did so willing to be consumed. Whether a cow has his throat slit after a captive bolt shot in the head in Texas, a pig is gassed in a heavily regulated slaughterhouse in Germany, or a dog is hit on the head then has its throat slit in Indonesia, not a single one of those animals needed or wanted to die. There are 80,000 edible plants and a vegan diet has been approved by all of the world’s major dietetic associations for all stages of life. Every country on the planet is killing for no reason and there just is no right way to do the wrong thing. The argument against the dog meat trade often focuses on the method of killing, a favorite argument in welfare circles. The idea that changing the method of suffering makes it OK has long been promoted by “animal lovers” who can’t stand the idea of giving up their eggs for breakfast so they fight for a few more inches for chickens living as slaves for 18 months before they end up being murdered no differently than a broiler chicken. Happy exploitation seems to fit every species except for dogs and cats though.

Chickens at the market in Hoi An suffering from heat and stress no different than any dog going to the same fate, though ignored because of their species

Veganism is bad for your (financial) health

As my vegan voice got louder and my anti-dog meat voice faded, friends and supporters approached me frequently to tell me to lay off the vegan talk because “people don’t like it”. It is remarkable that the fragile feelings of the animal eaters in Facebookland were assumed to be more valuable than the lives of the animals that they were eating several times a day. I got messages telling me that veganism is bad marketing and if I wanted to save animals, I needed to be quiet about it in spite of the fact that being vegan is all about saving animals (just not the ones they care much about). Speciesism was the way to go if I wanted to make money, they said so frequently. Sell the people what they are already buying and you will be rich, they said. I could do anything I wanted with the money which I lied to people and sold out trillions of animals for. Those who think I work in animal rights for the money need a sound beating. I could make more money selling plastic bottles for recycling in Bangladesh than I do working for animals, so clearly this was not my motivation. I did, however, desperately need the organization to be able to keep the rescued animals alive, the clinic rolling, and our mobile clinics out on the roads doing the long term and high impact projects that stood to make a real difference.

Beware of the attacking vegans!

The issue with discussing animal rights to nonvegans is that no matter how fluffy and adorable you make your posts, nonvegans feel attacked. If we post cute piggy pictures from the farm sanctuary and mention the suffering of two billion pigs murdered every year for food, everyone’s panties get tightly in a wad. Using the words for animal products like corpses, flesh, and secretions, all of which are true, turn people off immediately. Use the word “murder” in place of “slaughter” if it is not in relation to a dog, and the heckles come up. The way to offend a nonvegan is basically to just tell them the truth in any way about what/who they eat. From being an impolite nonvegan myself once upon a time, I do get it. I was not nice to vegans for much of my nonvegan 33 years and everything they said got my knickers in a twist. No one likes to be faced with their own hypocrisy. Animal eaters are a very emotionally fragile bunch when confronted with their own participation in animal cruelty and dancing around this emotional response requires running a gauntlet. It blows my mind that vegans get attacked for being delicate flowers when it is the meat eaters who are very obviously the sensitive ones. Heaven forbid we remind you that your barbeque ribs were once part of someone’s torso. The clue is in the name: ribs. Take a fucking hint. I am not an extremist for pointing it out, but you are a moron for not caring.

Rock bottom and hanging onto integrity by a thread

Losing everything I had built over those five years, including our clinic, my staff, my fiancé/vet, and most of our financial support was a daily torture. I was nearly starving alone in the shelter for months on my own without help while caring for almost sixty animals; it was a nightmare I would not wish on my worst enemy. I shaved my head ala Britney Spears and cracked on the best I could while physically and emotionally breaking myself in total isolation. The decline of our standing as an organization due to the loss of the clinic and my inability to shut the fuck up about veganism and against dog meat racism and speciesism nearly killed me. Had the animals not needed to eat, I have no doubt I would have killed myself.

Cat Besch is a ferocious animal activist, pig snuggler, amateur vegan chef, and runner who is the founder and director of Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue-US.