Following is the story of photo journalist Luke Dugleby’s journey following the illegal dog meat trade from the banks of the Mekong in Thailand, across Laos and ending in the slaughterhouses of Hanoi. Luke’s long career and skills in photo journalism are providing him with a valuable opportunity to raise world awareness concerning the illegal dog meat trade…
Thailand’s Illegal Dog Meat Trade
By Luke Dugleby
I got my first pet dog as a birthday present on my 6th birthday and since then have had four dogs throughout my life. So when I read on the internet about people illegally smuggling dogs out of Thailand and subjected to horrific conditions as part of the illegal dog meat trade I felt I needed to help. As a professional photojournalist I decided to try to show people the whole journey, the entire process of this terrible trade. Only then by seeing the entire journey the dogs are forced to take can one comprehend the cruelty of it.
After discussion with the Soi Dog Foundation on how best to approach this subject I set of for Northeast Thailand. My first trip was to a province called Beung Kan, Thailand’s newest province and also the new frontier for the gangs trying to smuggle the dogs across the Mekong River in to Laos. For 5 days I waited and no arrests were made so I returned to Bangkok.
The difficulty in catching gangs in the act of loading the dogs on to boats lies in the fact that they smuggle at night and across hundreds of miles of the Mekong River.
A few weeks later I tried again but this time in Nakhon Phanom Province, one of the most popular points of smuggling because the journey through Laos to Vietnam is at its shortest. This time I also contacted a Thai army captain at the Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base. The Royal Thai Navy are tasked with patrolling the River Mekong and preventing any illegal activity that happens on it whether it be drugs, timber or dogs. They are responsible, with the help of NGO’s like Soi Dog for catching many dog shipments.
Nakhon Phanom is also home to the Nakhon Phanom Dog Shelter where most of the rescued dogs are initially taken. Nakhon Phanom is understaffed and often over-flowing capacity by thousands.
After several days in Nakhon Phanom, one night at 1AM the Thai captain called me and said that they intercepted a vehicle! It was far from the city and the culprits had managed to flee but a pick-up loaded with 130 dogs would be at the Naval base the following morning. Whilst it wasn’t the actual moment of arrest it was the next best thing to show how the dogs are transported.
From the naval base the dogs were driven to a police station close to the point of arrest and the crime processed. From here they were then driven to the safety of the dog shelter. I drove to the shelter and discovered that in a few hours two large trucks carrying 700 dogs would be arriving. That very same night in a neighbouring province a huge bust had occurred at a collection point. The dogs here were being stored until being transported to the river. Many were dead on arrival at the shelter.
This is where the fight against the trade is happening, deep in Northeast Thailand, but to fully understand it I had to travel in to Laos and up to Hanoi in Northern Vietnam, where the dogs are destined.
It took several days to cross Laos to the Vietnam border. Most of the trucks use Highway 8 because it’s the shortest route to Vietnam and all trucks will pass through the dusty town of Lak Sao where I spent several days. Laotians don’t actually eat or sell dog meat, it is purely a transportation route due to its proximity to the Vietnam border, lax laws and easily corruptible officials who allow the trucks through.
From the border crossing it was up to Hanoi where the dogs are destined. Northern Vietnamese have traditionally eaten dogs for centuries and throughout the city are restaurants specialising in the meat. But less known is a suburb on the outskirts of the city where the dog meat slaughterhouses exist. Some large, some small, and only working at night the dogs are kept together in cages, where one by one they are taken out and clubbed over the head until dead. Their bodies are then leaked of blood and they are submerged in boiling water to remove the fur. Then they are ready to sell to customers who purchase directly from the slaughterhouses. Every night hundreds of dogs are killed cruelly and inhumanely.
To get access to one of the slaughterhouses I took advice from the Hanoi based NGO Animals Asia who are very active on this issue. Myself and my translator arrived in the suburb the day before to seek prior permission from a slaughterhouse. Whilst three told me to go away, one said it would be OK and I should return at 2am that night.
Yet when we returned the boss had changed his mind and told us to go away. So we sat on the streets of Hanoi thinking what to do. We knew where the slaughterhouses were but it would be impossible to simply knock on the door, pretending to be a foreign food expert interested in seeing the process and ask for access.
We found an all-night noodle restaurant on a main road leading in to Hanoi and at the edge of the suburb. There we sat until 4am thinking how to do it when the man that worked in the noodle shop, perhaps seeing my determination, said that his uncle had a slaughter-house and he could ask if we could go in. Finally at 4.30am we were able to get inside.
It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to photograph. I had to show no emotion, no anger, simply take my photographs and leave. At 6.30am, after several hours inside the slaughterhouse, we left and returned to central Hanoi.
My documentary aims to show people the total cruelty the dogs have to endure on this long and terrifying journey. Physically and mentally they are destroyed simply to be eaten as food!
About Luke Dugleby: Born in 1977 in York, UK, Luke has been a professional travel and documentary photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand, since 2003. Since graduating with a BA(HONS) in Photography from the UK, he moved to Asia and began shooting assignments and personal projects for some of the worlds most globally respected publications and NGO’s. His work has been published in such places as National Geographic Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, The Guardian Magazine, GEO, Stern Magazine, The New York Times and The Smithsonian. Luke has also been placed in several international photography competitions such as The International Photography Awards, PDN Annual Awards and Travel Photographer of the Year
To see more of Luke's far reaching work please visit his website at: www.lukeduggleby.com