JAKARTA: Parlin Sitio leaned back from a table of empty dishes at a restaurant in eastern Jakarta with a look of satisfaction. He had just enjoyed an order of rica-rica – dog meat with Indonesian spices.
“Minimum, I eat it once a week,” said Sitio, who sells mobile phones for a living. “The taste is good, and it’s served fresh here. It keeps the body warm and the blood flowing.”
In Indonesia, as in some other countries where dogs are eaten, the industry operates largely in the shadows, and reliable data on consumption is scarce. But restaurant owners, butchers, researchers and animal rights advocates agree that more dogs are being killed and eaten here.
That makes for a surprising contrast with other Asian countries like South Korea and China, where the practice appears to have been increasingly shunned as incomes have risen, along with pet ownership and concern for animal welfare.
Indonesia is an example of how economic development can also have the opposite effect, making dog meat newly affordable for people who have no particular objection to it, say people who have studied the subject.
“It’s a pattern, not just in Indonesia, but throughout the Southeast Asian region,” said Dr Eric Brum, a veterinarian and a country team leader for the United Nations agriculture agency in Bangladesh, who worked in Indonesia for nine years.
“Some of these communities have more access to markets and greater disposable income, so there’s more demand,” he said. “As dog demand increases, there’s going to be more and more production, and more trade.”
Many Indonesians who are still too poor to eat beef, except on special occasions, can now afford dog or cat, said Brad Anthony, a Canadian animal protection researcher and analyst who lives in Singapore.
“From a strictly practical, agricultural point of view, growing dogs and cats for meat requires far less space and feed resources than growing cows, and is therefore cheaper,” Anthony said. “The economics of it all is likely the primary motivator for production and consumption.”
Besides affordability, many who eat dog meat cite what they consider to be its special health benefits. (The “warm” quality that Sitio mentioned alludes to a traditional belief that certain foods have warm energy, others cold.)
The Indonesian government does not collect data on how many dogs are killed for food or consumed each year. That is because dogs are not classified as livestock, the way cows, pigs and chickens are. Because of this, the slaughter, distribution, sale and consumption of dogs are not regulated.
Many Muslims, who make up the overwhelming majority of Indonesians, tend to regard dog meat as unclean, though Islamic tradition does not forbid it outright, as it does pork.
But animal rights advocates say the practice of eating dog meat seems to be thriving in Muslim areas, as well as on the island of Bali, the country’s one majority-Hindu province, where it has also traditionally been discouraged. And some of Indonesia’s many ethnic minorities — like Sitio’s Batak, who are primarily Christian — have eaten dogs for centuries.
The Bali Animal Welfare Association estimates that as many as 70,000 dogs are slaughtered and consumed on the popular resort island every year.
“In our investigations, 60 per cent of the customers were Balinese women who felt it was the warmest and most inexpensive form of protein,” said the group’s founder, Janice Girardi, an American who has lived on Bali for decades. “They believe eating black dogs cures asthma, and maybe other diseases.”
Karin Franken, a manager for the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, which is trying to collect nationwide data on the subject, said its research indicates that 215 dogs are consumed daily in the city of Yogyakarta and “at least double or triple that much” in Jakarta, the capital. Other regions in Java, Indonesia’s most populous island, serve as supply chains, with stray dogs rounded up or pets snatched off the streets for slaughter, she added.
“They trade all over the country,” Franken said. “In Yogyakarta, a dish of dog meat and rice is only 8,000 rupiah,” or about US$0.60, she said.
In Jakarta, Juniatur Silitonga, whose family has been in the business since 1975, says he slaughters about 20 dogs in an average week. He sells the meat to Batak food stalls in his neighborhood in east Jakarta, as well as to some Korean restaurants around town. He buys live dogs from various suppliers in Java for about US$15 each, he said, and sells the meat for about US$2 a pound.
“It’s cheaper than beef,” he said. “Eating dog meat is a tradition among local tribes, and they are mostly Christian, but Muslims also eat dog meat soup for medicinal reasons.”
Silitonga’s slaughterhouse is in a side room of his dilapidated two-story shop house. The dogs are locked in a second-story room where a fierce stench prevails.
One by one, they are taken down a flight of steps to an open room with a concrete pig sty in the back. The dogs are beaten over the head with a wooden club, then stabbed through the throat as they lie unconscious. The blood is drained into buckets and sold to restaurants along with the meat, for cooking purposes.
Dogs are slaughtered much more cruelly on Bali, said Girardi, the Bali animal welfare advocate. Many are strangled and then butchered immediately, she said, on the theory that strangling them makes the meat more tender. Others are put in sacks and beaten to death.
“The cruelty of the dog meat trade in Indonesia shocks me even after years of working on the anti-dog meat campaigns in South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines,” said Lola Webber, a co-founder of the Change for Animals Foundation, who is based in Bali.
Indonesia has a law against cruelty to animals, but it applies only to livestock, not dogs, cats or wild animals. Animal welfare activists here have all but given up campaigning against the dog trade on cruelty grounds, because “no one cares,” Franken said.
Instead, she said, they focus on the potential for the unregulated trade to spread rabies – a persistent problem in Bali and elsewhere – as strays and other dogs are transported from one region to another.
“Indonesia will never get the rabies problem fixed as long as there’s this underground meat market going on,” said Anthony, the Canadian researcher.
Local governments, including Jakarta’s, vaccinate dogs against rabies but cannot prevent trucks from bringing them in, said Sri Hartati, head of the capital’s livestock and animal health division.
“It’s a gray area, and we are stuck in the middle,” Hartati said. “It’s traditional culture versus animal lovers, and we have no grounds to interfere.”
Silitonga is undeterred by fear of rabies – he says he has been bitten dozens of times. And he is not without affection for dogs. He keeps one named Luna as a pet.
“She’s not for eating,” he said. -- NYT