Is the country going to the dogs?
In America, the phrase “a dog is man’s best friend” is a common refrain. Growing up with dogs as pets, they become an extension and even a part of the family. The only dog on the menu at a Fourth of July barbeque in the US would be the venerable hot dog, slathered with mustard or onions and eaten with great gusto.
Some Asians have a different take on dog and it isn’t pretty. Although I have never seen it on menus or had friends who partake in it, some Vietnamese and others view dog the way we would pork, or beef, or chicken. The very concept is offensive to those who cannot imagine Rin-Tin-Tin or Lassie offered up a la carte and apparently there are a fair number of Vietnamese, even in rural villages where the dogs are procured that are equally appalled.
Within Vietnam there is a clash of cultures. Dog-nappers, often drug addicts or organized gangs, have been on the increase, according to the Vietnam News. Some create distractions in one part of town to draw attention, while stealing the dogs from their owners in another. Dogs have been drugged, even poisoned and the government appears unwilling or unable to spring into action.
Crimes under 2 million dong (about $95 US) are rarely pursued and law enforcement resources stretched so in many villages the people have become the judge, jury and in several cases, executioner. Dog thieves in Quang Nai province met the wrath of an entire village, with several killed and two others forced to jump into a river and drowned. The motorbike of these traffickers were also set on fire as a warning.
When authorities deemed the vigilante action excessive and charged several with murder, hundreds materialized at court and asked to be charged and arrested as well. Media and community reactions were, in the majority, supportive of the villagers in their actions. “Aren’t the dog thieves the ones who are responsible for this” Vietnam News asked, “imagine coming home and your dog gone and your children crying” it continued.
In the Vietnam countryside (where more than half the population still lives), the iconic image of a lady in a conical hat, a family tilling the field, rice, a few pigs and a small house (now often with electricity and television) is incomplete with “man’s best friend”.