What Are We Really Doing to End the Dog Meat Trade?

Catherine Besch
9 min readJul 22, 2023

This may come as a surprise to many, but the dog meat trade has nothing to do with dogs.

The foie gras and fur industries have less to do with ducks and minks than they do with pigs and chickens.

During this month after the Yulin dog meat festival in China in which social media is flooded with news of tortured dogs being eaten and how the Western world seeks to send petitions to China to end this, it’s important that we step aside from our sound-bite, tagline, and 160-character Tweet obsessed society for a minute to evaluate the problem of dog meat- and animal rights as a whole, for that matter- as if we have any intention of solving it.

For starters, petitions do not work in China. Period. Full stop. Give me an example where they do, and I’ll happily sign one. China is not accountable to its own citizens and it certainly isn’t accountable to the armchair activists of the world who still think change.org is a successful form of collective, democratic action in communist countries to solve violent abuse. It will not work and a quick Google about the Communist Party of China will help you to understand why rule by the people is not a thing. It makes us feel like an active part of a very complex problem, but it’s not a solution. The idea that any Westerner- especially those who think the Chinese are savages for eating dogs while they stuff a burger in their mouth- can end the Yulin festival is outright nonsense. No celebrity, ambassador, or well-branded organization from any Western country with all its millions in funding will make a dent if their intent is misplaced in a framework of change that simply does not exist in China. Cultural and legislative change does happen in China, some good and some bad, but we cannot use our own Western concept of protests, petitions, and social media “awareness” abroad to prod the Communist Party of China from afar into a legislative ban on dog meat. That is not a popular thing to say, but it is the ugly truth and I am pretty comfortable saying it as the hard evidence is weighed heavily in favor of my opinion.

Who can actually affect government action?

We have no intention of ending the dog meat trade in China, because we are not Chinese. In fact, we have no delusions that we, as a Western-managed non-profit organization (Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue-US), will end the dog meat trade in Vietnam. We are immigrants here, not citizens, and our dollars, whether for tourism or as a business or non-profit organization, means very little if anything at all to the Vietnamese government or people when it comes to the dog meat trade. However, we will do everything in our power to provide assistance to those organizations, activists, and individuals in China and Vietnam who ARE capable of ending this as they develop their own culturally relevant framework to address this within their own communities, in their own political systems, and with the methods that they have successfully used before to address problems of this nature. Our ability to continue operating in this country means we stay out of legislative action.

What most people do not understand is that those people who will end the dog and cat meat trade are not the ones buying/”rescuing” dogs from markets. They are not the ones hoarding them in kennels they cannot afford to maintain. They are the local protesters, the Party members who are against the trade, and the consumers and suppliers of dogs for the trade. We can either put all our donations into saving one dog from a dog catcher’s basket, or we can put all our finances into the LONG TERM STRATEGIC PLAN of ENDING animal exploitation- and thus the dog and cat meat trade- permanently, saving billions of animals every year both onthe land and in the sea. One way we will not do this is by focusing on the single issue of dog meat. This is not even about dogs. This is about animal rights. This is about the oppressive nature of the exploitation of ALL animals as we continue to use them as economic commodities. Dogs and cats after all are transported and killed the same as any other animal here. The inherent violence of animal agriculture is the same for all meat trades regardless of species.

Hypocrisy is built into single issue campaigning against the DMT

The dog meat trade is merely an extension of how we have chosen to commodify the bodies of other species. The species that are exploited and killed may vary across cultures and nations, but it is all an expression of the commodification of sentient beings. When we say that the dog meat trade is wrong because many dogs are stolen and then die horrible deaths, look at your glass of milk and tell me how that baby cow whose milk you are drinking does not miss his mother that he was stolen from a few hours after birth as he sits in his veal crate waiting to become a cutlet. Look at your leather shoes and tell me that the skin of that cow was not stolen from a life who very much intended to use that skin. Look at what is on your plate and on your body and then tell me that you have not participated in the exploitation of animals equal to if not much worse than that of the dog meat trade. If you can say that you have not in any way used animals for the benefit of your palate or your convenience, both of which stem from easily changeable habits, then you are well on your way to ending the dog meat trade. If you are, however, challenging the dog meat trade while continuing to exploit other animals, reconsider your choices. It is much easier than you think and once you reject the idea that you as a human have some sort of right to take the life of any species, you’ll see why your palate and your convenience are poor reasons for harming other living beings.

We are not judging you, but encouraging you and empowering you to be an agent of change by going vegan. Whatever you think you will miss about your old life (cheese, shrimp, leather boots….) will be replaced 100 times over by things you didn’t know were out there to enjoy. Having gone from a rabid meat eater, fox hunter, employee of an animal agriculture lobbyist, and consumer of endless animal products to being an outspoken vegan running the only farm sanctuary in Vietnam, I can tell you, it’s worth the brief challenge of the transition. My only regret is that I didn’t go vegan sooner and that my parents ever let me consume the things I did as a child. To raise a child who adores animal without explaining what we are doing to so many species was criminally insane.

The fact is that the dog meat trade will not end until the speciesism does. The Chinese are perfectly capable of ending the dog meat trade, as are the Vietnamese, the South Koreans, the Indonesians, Thai, Lao, and Cambodians, just as YOU and they are capable of ending the trade in pigs, cows, chickens, ducks, and sea life. Until we end the classification of one species/gender/race/nationality as being superior and less deserving of pain and suffering than others, we will be no closer to ending the dog meat trade, child labor, sex trafficking, domestic violence, rape, child marriage, female genital mutilation, habitat destruction of wildlife, etc. Oppression is oppression. It is not a pick-and-choose game. Fight against all of it or be careful of who you point your fingers at.

Contrary to the opinion of the overwhelming majority of anti-dog meat campaigners, we can and MUST tell people to go vegan. I do every day. However, when I tell people not to eat dogs, I get applause, and when I tell people not to consume the dead bodies of animals who were quite interested in living I get scornful looks and am outright attacked, but it certainly won’t stop me from doing it. I don’t have to respect your choice to be a non-vegan who uses animals for food, clothing, entertainment, and research. Until you can prove to me that the choice was mutual for both the animal being eaten and the human who eats it, then I will continue to not support your choice. It’s only fair to consider both stakeholders in that transaction. If you tell me my carrot has feelings as you gnaw on your turkey leg, I have some choice words for you. I do not shy away from offending people who consume animals any more than I shy away from offending the dog catcher or pig farmers up the road when I scream obscenities at them. Offend people who commit atrocities. It’s OK. They probably won’t kill you.

So what does Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue do to end the dog meat trade?

  • We support a non-speciesist movement to abolish the use of animals for human purposes including entertainment, food, clothes, and research.
  • We make sure we are always looking at and adjusting as necessary the long-term strategic plan to end animal exploitation and murder, not working merely for the next few weeks of rescue and vet work.
  • We work to educate the organizations and individuals who are “animal lovers” that are not yet vegan about how to be better advocates for all species and to understand how they fit into the bigger picture.
  • We consider the political, economic, and social implications of animal exploitation and work to use examples of other successful movements to create change.
  • We look to international human rights laws and philosophy as a model for the development of the animal rights movement.
  • We consider veganism a moral imperative and will always advocate for this lifestyle as the only way to end the abuse inherent in animal agriculture.
  • We work for the LONG term, even if that means losing some battles and some donor dollars in the short term.
  • We seek to save millions of animals, not just hundreds, and we know that in the short term lives will be lost as a result, all of which we mourn as deeply as our own family. Sadly, saying no to individual rescues from the dog meat trade means we can focus on population reduction in veterinary medicine that eliminates the animals going into the trade.
  • We reject the concept that torturing another living of any species can ever be considered culture (a word that makes us all step back in some sort of bizarre reverence that allows us to check our values at the door) or that killing someone who doesn’t want to die could ever be humane in any country under any laws.
  • We vehemently oppose the concept that moral relativism has any place in animal or human rights.
  • We avoid making concessions to the animal product industry or applauding them when they make incremental changes in the way that animals are raised in order to make consumers feel better about supporting industries that are inherently not interested in animal welfare, but profit.
  • We seek intellectual debate and academic studies on the subject of animal rights in order further the progress of the movement.
  • We look forward to the day when animal rights and human rights are not identified as separate philosophies, but as two identical concepts that are inalienable to all species, protected by law, and enforced by all members of society.
  • We believe in the power of individuals to create change and we believe that compassion is a trait that is without a doubt a feeling that all humans have the capability of accessing and acting on.

Finally, we keep our eyes on the prize and our chins up because we know that losing is not an option and we encourage others to do the same. The dog meat trade will not end while the anti-dog meat campaigners fail to recognize the other species whose lives are taken away from them just as unnecessarily as any dog’s life. As long as the word “vegan” remains a dirty word in animal advocacy, there is no hope for any species, especially not dogs.

If you want to end the dog meat trade, start at home. Start at your next meal. Start when you go to the supermarket, mall, or shopping online for clothes and shoes. We all believe that “someone should do something”. YOU are someone. You can vote with your wallet to participate in the demand for products that are bad for animal and human rights, the environment, food safety, and food security, or you can vote against it. You can choose to either participate in the exploitation and abuse of other species and your own species by consuming animal products, or you can choose not to. You can choose to educate yourself on the origin of the things you consume, or you can remain in the dark and continue being part of the problem. No one forces you to wear leather. No one put the scrambled eggs in your mouth this morning. YOU are an agent of change every single day for animals worldwide. Start acting like it.

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Catherine Besch

Cat Besch is a ferocious animal activist and pig, chicken, dog, and cat mom who is the founder and director of Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue-US.