If you spend enough time on Rte 8, the Lao highway corridor linking Thailand and Vietnam, you’re bound to encounter huge lorries bound for Vietnam carrying cages filled with hundreds of dogs.
According to this fascinating four-part investigative report and video by journalists Patrick Winn and Pailin Wedel, the trade in dogs as meat in Southeast Asia actually begins in northeastern Thailand, where stray dogs are caught on a daily basis by what many consider a local mafia. Most Thais don't eat dog meat themselves, but many contribute to the trade anyway, seeing it as a way to do away with pests and alerting dog catchers of stray dogs in exchange for plastic buckets or cash. The trade is technically illegal, but local police choose to look the other way, claiming that enforcing the drug trade or illegal immigration is a better use of their resources.
The caught dogs are eventually brought to Tha Rae, a town on the banks of the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom, where they are temporarily held in pens, graded by quality, before being packed into wire cages and loaded onto a truck. A typical truck can hold as many as 1000 dogs, with five or more dogs crammed into each cage:
The trucks then cross the Mekong on a barge, beginning a journey across Laos, via Rte 8, that can take up to a couple days. The dogs aren’t fed or given water during the trip, and some die along the way. I encountered one of these trucks (pictured at the top of this post) three times along Rte 8 one unlucky day, and the smell of dog fur and excrement coupled with the endless sound of howling and fighting was truly heartbreaking. A Lao man we spoke to near the border with Vietnam claimed that the trucks pass every single day. “Some days I see four trucks,” he added, causing me wonder how there are even enough stray dogs to supply this demand. Arriving in Vietnam, the dogs can be worth as much ten times the price for which they were obtained in Thailand, making the trade highly lucrative. Winn and Wedel estimate that this particular cross-border trade in dog meat could be worth as much as US$3.6 million a year.