Friday, 30 August 2013

Meat Trade Dogs Arrive in Edinburgh! by Heather Bacon

Heather & Hayley are reunited with Mothi and Stewart

For me being a vet has always been an incredibly rewarding career, and I’ve found that I particularly enjoy frontline emergency response work. So I was delighted when the Worldwide Veterinary services and Soi Dogs offered me the opportunity of contributing to the veterinary care of dogs rescued from the meat trade in Thailand.

 Over 2,000 dogs were rescued at the Thai border en route to dog meat restaurants in Vietnam. The unlicensed export of dogs from Thailand is illegal, but unfortunately a thriving illegal trade exists. Most dogs are community or street dogs, living free-ranging lifestyles but generally owned and fed by village families. These dogs are rounded up in the night by traders, or sometimes sold by their owners. In a place where there is an excess of dogs and a lack of resources, its easy to understand why trade may occur.

 Many groups campaign against the trade in dog meat and a multi-stakeholder organisation, the Asia Canine Protection Alliance has recently been formed to take a united stance against this trade. There is much debate around the trade in dogs for meat, with opinions ranging from ‘dogs are no more sentient than sheep or pigs – why shouldn’t they be consumed?’ to ‘Dogs are companions and should not be eaten.’ Personally, of course I see dogs primarily as companions – I’ve never lived without a dog in my life. But the rational scientist within me also understands that sheep or pigs are equally as capable of feeling fear, pain and distress and so I cannot draw a line between these species. For me, what is important is that any animal raised for food, is raised in a humane way, able to express it’s natural behaviours, transported humanely, and slaughtered quickly and painlessly with appropriate pre-slaughter handling and stunning. Of course a black market trade in a species not regulated for human consumption fits none of these criteria. And if we were to try and develop humane systems for dog farming and slaughter, how would that be done? A primarily carnivorous, historically predatory species, kept in large numbers, unhandleable and aggressive. The slaughter of such dogs is necessarily brutal.

 Intercepted by the Thai border patrol, the arrival of the rescued dogs swelled the total number of dogs at the Nakon Phanom shelter to 3,049 – in a shelter designed for only 400. Immediate concerns were the triage and treatment of so many dogs, the provion of adequate food and water, and the prevention of infectious disease which would sweep through the overcrowded, dirty pens like wildfire.

Quickly Soi dogs arranged international support and myself, R(D)SVS Veterinary nurse, Hayley Walters, and a team from Humane Society International, all travelled to the shelter to assist. Each day was spent triaging and treating emaciated, sick and dying dogs, in temperatures that were hitting the mid-thirties. The Thai handlers worked tirelessly to catch and bring the dogs to us. Though sadly the catching methods were often harsh. Each afternoon was spent vaccinating a pen of around 150 dogs, systematically working through the pens until all dogs were immunised against parvo, distemper, hepatitis and rabies. Effective disinfection of the pens was established, and supplies of nutritious dog food started to arrive, though we also had to establish additional feeding stations as competition for food was huge, and some dogs were literally starving to death.

One of those dogs was a small black female. Admitted to the vet clinic one morning, she presented with nothing more than severe emaciation. Initially she was unable to keep down solid food as it had been so long since she had eaten.


But after some time on a drip, and with the provision of excellent nursing care, and a cardboard bed from Hayley, she started to look stronger.

 Back in 2008 whilst working for the Animals Asia Foundation in China, on post-earthquake dog rescue, I was fortunate enough to meet and adopt Mathilda, a beautiful, skinny, scarred Chinese street dog, and she accompanied me when I returned to the UK.  Initially a fairly unattractive emaciated dog, Mathilda has blossomed to the extent that she recently beat around 30,000 other entries to with a Petplan photo competition and appeared on a national advert. But one of my biggest worries has always been that Mathilda was lonely, going from a life in China where she had lots of dog friends, to one in Scotland where she had much fewer, and I knew that this Thai trip may give me the opportunity to find a new friend for her.

I know that generally not a vast number of meat trade dogs get rehomed – many are condemned to lives in shelters with little human contact, and significant competition for food and resources. If I was to take a dog from Nakom Phanong, I wanted it to be a dog that really wouldn’t cope in a shelter. But also, one that wouldn’t appeal  to other adopters (which ruled out the cute fluffy ones). Generally black dogs are much less likely to be adopted – they’re perceived as ‘common’ and its more difficult to see their facial expressions. But, if you look closely, you can see they’re pretty cute!

This skinny little black dog caught my eye. Right from the start she seized every opportunity we gave her. Hungry for life but simply unable to cope against many much bigger dogs, she was starving to death, and a high risk of infectious disease. As a nondescript skinny little black dog, her chances of adoption elsewhere would be virtually zero. As I started to spend more time with her, Hayley rolled her eyes “Once again Heather you’ve chosen the ugliest dog in the shelter” she teased. Maybe… But ugly is only skin deep.

Named Mothi, which means ‘black pearl’ in Hindi (because oysters are pretty ugly, but have hidden value), she was soon officially adopted and along with ‘Stewart’, Hayley’s chosen dog and began the long journey to the UK. Soi dogs were fantastic at arranging the paperwork, blood tests and care of the dogs whilst we waited impatiently in the UK for their arrival.

And now, they’re finally here! Collecting them at the airport I was amazed that Mothi immediately seemed to recognise me – greeting me exuberantly and responding to her name – though to be honest still not the most attractive dog in the world!

Mothi and Stewart are a wonderful advertisement for Meat Trade dogs – obedient, playful, well socialised, and bomb-proof after their mass exposure to pretty much anything and everything you could think of, they’ve quickly settled into life in Edinburgh and are definitely keeping Mathilda on her toes, enjoying long walks, and lots of cuddles. They’ve even made it to an outdoor Fringe show!

I’m extremely grateful to Soi dogs and Worldwide Veterinary Services for giving us the opportunity to meet and adopt Mothi and Stewart, and to the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary studies for supporting our annual leave whilst we travelled to Thailand.



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