Deep in the jungle, slaughtered pet dogs are trafficked in the dead of night across the river to be turned into £30 curry: Exclusive dispatch from the frontline of the war against Thailand’s medieval dog meat trade
- Traders snatch pet dogs from owners and drag them through the streets
- Gangsters then club them unconscious and force them into tiny cages
- Dogs boiled alive then skinned for luxury dishes to help mens’ sex lives
- But in the jungles of Thailand brave woman campaigner is making a stand
- She risks her life to take on gang masters making millions from cruelty
- We witness how police battle traders to rescue mans’ best friend
In the clammy midnight darkness of a jungle clearing in northern Thailand, two police officers and a woman investigator crouch beside a pile of cages containing more than 500 howling dogs. Yards away, a gang of heavily armed men move through the trees to encircle them.
Terrified, outnumbered and cornered after tracking down a cargo of animals hidden in the jungle before being smuggled to neighbouring countries, the police officers appear doomed to pay the ultimate price for meddling in the brutally lucrative dog meat trade.
As the tide of panic rises, one officer jumps to his feet from behind the crates and draws his revolver. Firing rapidly into the air, he runs around the clearing shouting out to imaginary colleagues to trick the smugglers into thinking more police are hidden in the undergrowth.
The desperate gamble pays off, sending the gunmen into retreat and buying the cornered trio enough time for reinforcements to arrive as the gangsters melt away into the surrounding jungle.
This is the frontline of the war against the dog meat trade – a bleak and perilous struggle to stop hundreds of thousands of dogs a year being snatched from the streets and then smuggled and slaughtered in horrendous conditions for their meat.
Dogs captured in the Thailand jungle: Police and campaigners intercepted gangsters trying to smuggle them across the Mekong river from Thailand into Vietnam for their meat
The dogs are snatched from their owners, bound with rope and dragged behind motorbikes through the streets of Thailand before being trafficked through the jungle (above)
Thousands of miles away, nearly 500,000 people have now signed an online petition calling on the Thai government to outlaw the trade after a harrowing video appeal by Ricky Gervais, Judi Dench and Downton Abbey stars went viral last week.
But as a Mail Online investigation in Asia found, bringing an end to the savage trade which claims the lives of millions of dogs a year is a monumental challenge with the lives not only of dogs as stake but also those of the people dedicated to ending the slaughter.
Of course I’m scared about what might happen to me but I can’t give up and I’m going to carry on with this fight’
Dog meat campaigner
With huge profits at stake, the smuggling gangs are ruthlessly switching tactics to ward off the threat to their trade – and have started slaughtering dogs before they leave Thailand to reduce the chances of live cross-border shipments being detected.
The industry is reckoned to be worth around £20 million a year in Thailand alone and is driven by highly organised criminal gangs involved not only in the dog meat business but in narcotics and human smuggling.
The struggle against the dog meat trade in Thailand is being championed by British-run charity Soi Dog Foundation which commissioned the video appeal and whose chief investigator, Mrs Ha, was caught up in the jungle raid in May which nearly ended in tragedy.
A diminutive married woman in her late 40s, Mrs Ha – whose real identity is being kept secret because of the risk of her being targeted by smuggling gangs – has helped in dozens of arrests and the blocking of shipments of thousands of dogs in the past year alone.
An intercepted cargo of dogs destined for the dog meat trade is unloaded at a rescue centre in northern Thailand
Her efforts are focussed in the lawless Tha Rae area of northern Thailand where stolen dogs are caged in secluded jungle areas before being smuggled across the border to Laos and then on to Vietnam where an estimated five million dogs a year are eaten.
It was in the jungle near Tha Rae that Mrs Ha found herself surrounded by the armed gang. ‘Of course I’m scared about what might happen to me but I can’t give up and I’m going to carry on with this fight,’ she told Mail Online calmly.
‘The dog meat trade has deep roots in Thailand. It has been here for a long time and powerful, dangerous people run the business. It will not stop easily.’
Most of the dogs rescued by Mrs Ha and her team members are much-loved pet dogs snatched at night from homes across Thailand for the equivalent of a few pounds each by thieves who drag them with ropes behind motorbikes before selling them on to dog meat gangs.
Crammed together in metal cages in which many of them die, up to 1,500 dogs at a time are then taken up to hundreds of miles by lorry to jungle camps in northern Thailand where they remain in the cages in stifling heat for days waiting to be smuggled to China or Vietnam.
Their ordeals finally end when they are beaten senseless with metal pipes, immersed in boiling water to loosen their fur and skinned – often still alive – before being served up in restaurants from Beijing to Hanoi where dog dishes can cost up to £30.
As part of a campaign that has only dented the dog smuggling trade in Thailand, giant posters paid for by overseas donors have been put up across northern Thailand offering rewards of £100 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of dog smugglers.
The Soi Dog Foundation also pays bonuses to police officers who take part in operations, according to founder John Dalley – a 65-year-old former chemical engineer from Leeds who set up the charity after retiring to Phuket in Thailand with wife Gill 11 years ago and now provides shelters for some 2,500 rescued dogs.
‘You might argue it’s immoral to pay rewards to police officers,’ he said. ‘But I look on this as a war, and we have to do what we can to stop this trade. It is proving effective and it’s worth the outlay if we can achieve that goal.
‘This isn’t a question of whether it’s right or wrong to eat dogs. The reason we got involved in this is because of the inherent cruelty of the business, from start to finish.’
Up to last year, an estimated 500,000 dogs a year were being smuggled across the Mekong River from Thailand to Laos and then on to Vietnam, where dog meat is a popular dish with young middle-class men who believe it makes them more potent.
Pet dogs snatched from homes across Thailand at night were sold to gangs who could make tenfold profits on shipments of stolen dogs as soon as they crossed the Mekong River to Laos, with local border guards bribed to turn a blind eye.
Now, thanks to an anti-rabies agreement between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam last year bringing in tougher penalties for the trans-border shipment of live dogs, there has been a sharp decrease in the cross-border smuggling of live dogs.
In its place, however, equally brutal methods of profiting from the trade have emerged. Dogs are now slaughtered and chopped up in the jungles of northern Thailand clearings and then smuggled silently across borders in ice buckets on the back of lorries.
A raid conducted by police and investigators on an illegal tannery in Sakhon Nakhon, northern Thailand, on October 17 found scores of dead dogs lying across the floor and strung up to be skinned. Meat was being sold for both domestic and overseas consumption.
Sources in the dog meat trade have told investigators that another major dog meat trader in the area is breeding and slaughtering weeks-old puppies to be smuggled out of Thailand sold as single-meal delicacies for diners in Vietnam and China.
We are just praying that she survived. We know it is a slim chance but please help us if you can’
Owner of stolen pet dog
Days after the raid at Sakhon Nakhon, the Soi Dog Foundation received a pitiful email from a desperate pet owner saying he believed his dog was among the animals found there. ‘She is a much loved pet who was stolen at night from our home,’ the pet owner wrote.
‘We are just praying that she survived. We know it is a slim chance but please help us if you can.’ Sadly, by the time investigators reached the scene, every single dog was dead.
As the stakes are raised in the fight to end the dog meat trade and greater pressure is exerted on the gangs, Dalley knows the potential risks to himself and his investigators from the gangs behind it are escalating too.
‘I do occasionally look in my rear view mirror to make sure I’m not being tailed by a motorbike,’ he says with a wry smile. ‘But it’s not something we can afford to give too much thought to.’
Buoyed by the runaway success of the online petition, the key objective of the Soi Dog Foundation and its supporters is to persuade the Thai military government to bring in laws that act as a deterrent against the snatching of dogs to be sold into the dog meat industry.
Currently, the highest penalty for animal cruelty in Thailand is a £20 fine. Dalley and his supporters want that replaced by a tougher new law that would carry a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of £400 – still low by international standards.
The petition being circulated with the video appeal calls on the Thai government to clamp down on the trade by making the eating of dogs, the skinning of dogs and the trafficking of dogs illegal.
It also highlights the danger to humans of the unregulated trade from dogs that may be carrying rabies and can spread diseases such as cholera and trichinellosis. ‘This isn’t only about animal welfare – it’s about human welfare,’ said Dalley.
In the meantime, the war against the smuggling gangs remains in the hands of a small but determined group of people including the indomitable Mrs Ha who insists she will never give in to the gangsters behind the trade.
‘It is the pain in the eyes of the dogs we rescue from the smugglers that motivates me to carry on,’ she said. ‘No animal should ever have to endure that kind of brutality.’
To sign the petition to end the trade in dog meat visit: