Man's best friend helps Vietnam's poor survive

Eating dog meat remains a popular tradition even though Hanoi authorities oppose the 'uncivilized' practice
Man's best friend helps Vietnam's poor survive

A dog meat vendor preparing skewers of meat for sale on a street in Hanoi. Canine meat has long been on the menu in Vietnam. For many older Vietnamese, dogs are an essential part of traditional Vietnamese cuisine that can coexist with pet ownership. (Photo by Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP) reporter, Nghia Lo
December 31, 2018
This article includes images of dead animals that may upset some readers.


Anna Tran Thi Huan daily prepares six traditional dishes made from dog meat in the early morning and serves them to people from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

She also sells raw dog meat at 150,000 dong (US$6.50) per kilogram to people who want to cook at home.

Her shop is based in Vinh Quang parish in Vietnam's mountainous district of Van Chan in Yen Bai province. It is one of two local food shops serving popular dog meat dishes. The meat can be roasted, boiled, steamed or included in noodle soup.

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"On average, we sell 20 kilograms of the meat each day. Our trade has become our major source of income for more than 10 years," said the Catholic mother of two, who has no land for cultivation.

Huan and three other people serve customers from all walks of life including Hmong, Tay, Thai and Muong ethnic groups.

Local Catholics traditionally butcher their dogs to celebrate Catholic feasts, parish events, funerals, birthdays of one-year-old babies, wedding parties and new house celebrations. Dog meat is traditionally eaten with rice alcohol or beer.

The 109-year-old parish serves 3,600 Catholics including ethnic minorities.

Huan said there is a rush on dog meat at weekends and the last days of lunar months and years when people eat the meat to "get rid of bad things." People also do not have the meat on the first and 15th days of lunar months to "avoid bad things."

"We see those practices as superstitious and unfounded," the restaurant owner said. "Dog meat is traditionally considered nutritious and safe food because dogs are fed on foods for people by families."

People have dog meat dishes with alcohol for breakfast at a food shop in Vietnam's Yen Bai province. (Photo by Peter Nguyen/


Huan, 49, who buys canine meat from a local slaughterhouse, admitted that she sometimes buys meat from dogs that have been poisoned by dog thieves.

Joseph Bui Van Huy, a Catholic, said he has dog meat noodle soup on Sundays after attending Mass. "I like dog meat because it is delicious, clean and nutritious. Eating dog meat with alcohol is a deep-rooted tradition in the area," he said.

He said people raise dogs to protect their houses. They let dogs roam freely before they are butchered.

The dog trade is a source of income for poor people.

Mary Nguyen Thi Huyen, a farmer, said she always keeps 5-10 dogs at her home. She uses her leftover food to feed them.

"We can sell one or two dogs, each costing 500,000 to 1 million dong, every three months," said 48-year-old Huyen, adding that she uses the money to partly cover her four-member family's expenses.

Joseph Tran Van Nam, who has traded dogs to support his five-member family for years, said he rides a motorbike around villages collecting dogs from people and selling them to food shops and individuals. He earns 100,000 to 200,000 dong from each dog.

"I am often attacked by angry dogs and treated unfairly by people who love dogs," he said. "I have no choice but to do this for a living."


Butchered and cooked dogs at a local butchers before delivery to food shops in Van Chan district, Vietnam. (Photo by Peter Nguyen/


Hanoi government campaign

On Sept. 11, Hanoi People's Committee advised residents to stop eating dog and cat meat to prevent the spread of rabies, cholera and other animal-borne diseases.

Cat meat, often dubbed "little tiger" on Vietnamese menus, is less popular than canine meat but still available in rural areas.

The committee also urged people to treat animals humanely. It said the practice of butchering animals would be gradually phased out and trading dog and cat meat would end in Hanoi's central districts in 2021.

The committee said it was a matter of preserving Hanoi's reputation as a "civilized and modern capital" among foreigners, many of whom consider it a taboo to eat the meat of animals commonly kept as pets.

It said Hanoi is home to about 493,000 dogs and cats, most of which are kept as domesticated pets, and about 1,000 shops sell the meat.

This year three people have died of rabies in the city, while two others were confirmed infected with the disease. In 2017, Vietnam recorded 63 people dying of rabies, according to official statistics.

Huan said it is unreasonable to expect that giving up dog meat will improve Hanoi's reputation among foreigners and avoid the spread of rabies.

Eating dog meat is a cultural tradition in Vietnam. Uncivilized behavior involves treating animals cruelly, leaving litter in public places or disobeying traffic rules, she said.

She said that if dogs are not butchered, the canine population and the risk of rabies will increase.

Mary Nguyen Huong Tra, a Catholic in Hanoi, said people should have the freedom to eat dog meat, which can be found in markets and food shops across the capital.

Tra, who eats dog meat a few times per year, said many dog restaurants have closed in recent years because some restaurant owners are said to have suffered bad things caused by their cruel treatment of dogs.

She said many young people object to eating dog meat and believe that people should be kind to domestic animals. The committee's statement will affect the incomes of dog traders and keepers, many of whom are poor, she said.

Huan is unapologetic as she serves her special noodle soup to a customer. "We will serve dog meat until no people eat it or the dog meat trade is banned in our area. We will continue our business," she said.


A vendor selling dog meat on a street in Hanoi. (Photo by Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP)

This article was first published 21.9.2018.

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