THAI NGUYEN , Viet Nam—Twenty cats and kittens who were due to be drowned at a slaughterhouse in Thai Nguyen, Viet Nam, have been given a second chance at life after the owner asked animal charity Humane Society International’s local team for help to close his business for good. Thirty-seven-year-old Mr. Pham Quoc Doanh had run his cat meat restaurant and slaughterhouse for five years, drowning up to 300 cats a month to serve to customers as a dish called ‘thịt mèo’ (cat meat) and ‘tiểu hổ’ or ‘little tiger’. Regret at killing the animals, and particularly the knowledge that many were stolen pets, led him to resolve to get out of the trade for good.
The closure of Mr. Doanh’s business and the rescue of the cats is part of HSI’s Viet Nam Models for Change program, launched in the country last year after successfully operating in South Korea since 2015. The program has so far closed down two dog slaughterhouse/restaurants and one cat slaughterhouse/restaurant in Thai Nguyen.
Mr. Doanh said: “For a while now I have felt a genuine desire to leave the cruel cat meat business and switch to something else as soon as possible. When I think of all the thousands of cats I’ve slaughtered and served up here over the years, it’s upsetting. Cat theft is so common in Viet Nam that I know many of the cats sold here were someone’s loved family companion, and I feel very sorry about that. It makes me happy to know that thanks to HSI, my wife and I can now put the cat meat trade behind us and start afresh, still serving my local community but no longer as part of this brutal and crime-fuelled trade. I want to see a ban on the dog and cat meat trade in Viet Nam.”
With a one-time grant provided by HSI, Mr. Doanh is setting up a grocery store. As part of the agreement, he signed over to HSI the remaining 20 cats and kittens at his slaughterhouse so that they could be rescued and placed for local adoption. HSI rescuers removed the traumatized cats from the property on the final day of business and watched as Mr. Doanh tore down the restaurant’s “cat meat” signage, symbolising his exit from the cat meat trade.
Quang Nguyen, Humane Society International’s Viet Nam companion animals and engagement program manager, said: “We are thrilled to be closing down our first cat meat trade business in Viet Nam, and hope it will be the first of many as more people like Mr. Doanh turn away from this cruel trade. Although most Vietnamese people don’t eat cat meat, the belief still persists that consumption can cure bad luck, and the scale of the suffering is astonishing. These 20 lucky cats and kittens have escaped a terrible fate and will be found loving homes, but our work continues to see a nationwide ban on the cat meat trade that brings such pain and distress to so many.”
An estimated one million cats a year are killed for meat in Viet Nam, all stolen pets and strays snatched from the streets. Traders use food baits to lure the cats into homemade spring-loaded snares. Polls show that an astonishing 87% of people have either had a pet stolen or have an acquaintance whose pet has been stolen. Pet theft is becoming a growing societal issue in Viet Nam, with the increasing animal-loving and pet owning population frustrated with the lack of law enforcement to protect their animals from unscrupulous thieves and traders. In addition to pet theft, truckloads of both live and slaughtered cats have also been reported coming across the China border. Cats (and dogs) are frequently trafficked incredible distances across Viet Nam, even in the baggage hold of passenger buses, often travelling for more than 24hours without rest, food or water in suffocating conditions, with many dying along the way.
A recent Nielsen opinion poll (Oct. 2023) commissioned by HSI shows that cat meat is consumed by a relative minority of the Vietnamese population (21%) with the majority (71%) in favour of a ban on both cat meat consumption and trade. By far the top reasons for not consuming dog and cat meat are a belief that they are companion animals and an aversion to animal cruelty.
All 20 cats rescued from Mr. Doanh’s slaughterhouse were taken to custom-made sheltering at Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry where they were vaccinated against rabies and will receive medical care before being made available for local adoption.
Cat meat trade facts:
- Cat meat dishes are particularly common around the capital, Hanoi, and in the northern province of Thai Binh.
- In 2018, nine cooler boxes containing almost 1 ton of frozen cats was intercepted between Dong Nai province in the south and Thai Binh province in the north.
- In 1998, the Prime Minister issued a directive banning the hunting, slaughtering and consumption of cats in efforts to encourage cat ownership to keep the rat population under control. However, little to no action was taken to combat the trade, and the directive was eventually repealed in 2020.
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