Steve Jacobs – An Indonesian regency in Central Java plans to end its brutal dog meat trade following a shocking investigation in neighbouring Surakarta by a coalition of animal welfare groups.
The Dog Meat-Free Indonesia coalition revealed in April that dogs in Surakarta – also known as Solo – were being strung upside down in filthy slaughterhouses to bleed out while still conscious, and in full view of other terrified dogs bound and caged awaiting their turn.
The horrific footage prompted renewed calls by campaigners from throughout Indonesia and around the world for urgent action.
The expose was extremely controversial, especially as Indonesian President Joko Widodo is from Solo, which is largely Muslim and dog meat is forbidden by Islam.
The Regent of Karanganyar, Dr Juliyatmono, denounced the trade, warning of the grave risks to public health.
"In order to prevent various diseases caused by dog meat consumption, we will soon take action to close all dog meat stalls in Karanganyar, so humans can co-exist in harmony with the environment and all living creatures," he said.
The plan is to close all 21 stalls selling dog meat and to create alternative livelihoods for those who rely on the trade, a first of its kind in Java. The eateries are spread out over a number of regions including Colomadu, Jaten, Kebakkramat, Matesih, Gondangrejo and Karanganyar districts.
The action will save almost 2000 dogs a month and campaigners are optimistic it will mark the start of a nationwide movement to tackle the trade.
The plan involves providing start-up capital and job training to encourage local traders and restaurants that serve dog meat to change their professions. This will continue for up to six months. Local officials will also periodically inspect, educate and guide these traders and restaurants. It will take time to encourage the residents of Karanganyar to change their customs and stop eating dog meat, local media have reported.
Dog Meat-Free Indonesia is a coalition made up of Four Paws, Humane Society International, Jakarta Animal Aid Network, Animal Friends Jogja and Change for Animals Foundation.
"This development is very encouraging as it's the first direct action plan to order dog-meat trade establishments in Indonesia to be closed," Katherine Polak, from Four Paws, said.
"We feel that it's the start of a national movement involving tangible, on-the-ground changes against this brutal trade which will have a direct positive impact on the welfare of thousands of dogs in the region.
"In the past, a significant hurdle of this issue has been the reluctance of government officials to take action due to concerns about ending traders' livelihoods. If we can show a model for how to do this successfully, we can replicate it in communities across the country."
Dr M. Nurul Irfan, a lecturer at Syariah university, and a member of central fatwa commission and of Lembaga Dakwah Ulama, said in response to the Solo investigations, "Eating and also the selling of dogs is haram and strictly forbidden. Muslims who think otherwise should be corrected immediately because we don't want others to also start thinking it's OK."
An Indonesian embassy spokesman responded to the Karanganyar decision by saying: "Indonesian national legislation (Law No. 18/2009 and Law No. 41/2014) prohibits the intentional and unnecessary harming of animals. All actions that breach such regulations must be reported to the police and local authorities for the proper actions to be taken."
Theft of pets
Dog theft for the meat trade is a serious problem in Indonesia. Many residents have told of armed dog-meat traders stealing their pets at night. The thefts are rarely taken seriously by law-enforcement agencies, so the thieves go unpunished, the coalition says.
Coalition co-ordinator Lola Webber, from Change For Animals Foundation, said: "Dogs are captured from the streets and stolen from people's homes to be taken on long journeys – often lasting for days – tightly packed in pick-up trucks or in hessian sacks, their mouths bound shut so they can hardly breathe.
"They are then taken to filthy slaughterhouses where they watch others being slaughtered as they wait their turn, trembling in fear. The look in their eyes is haunting, the blood-spattered walls unforgettable."
While some consumers eat dog meat for its perceived health properties, it poses a significant threat to public health, especially through the transmission of rabies.
Research obtained by the coalition shows the highest prevalence of rabies occurs in provinces and regencies where most dog meat is eaten, creating devastating consequences not only for human health but also for animal welfare and the local economy.
Ms Webber and Dr Polak said Karanganyar Regency was more concerned about the transmission of disease, especially in the form of rabies, than animal welfare issues.
It recognised the dog-meat trade jeopardised the work by the central and local governments to eradicate rabies through vaccination campaigns and public health awareness.
Urge for action on ban
Last August, Indonesia's Ministry of Agriculture announced it would support a ban on the trade in, and deny veterinary certification for, dog and cat meat.
Dr Syamsul Ma'arif, the director of veterinary public health, called the trade "torture for animals" and added that "dog meat or any animal that is not registered as farm animals, is illegal".
He cited the risk the trade posed to Indonesia's reputation, warning: "Foreign countries find a low standard of animal welfare and cruelty unacceptable and will stop visiting Indonesia which is very bad for our tourism."
Campaigners hope that now is the time for the government to prioritise this issue on grounds of public health and safety as well as animal welfare, and fulfil its pledge to take action to tackle the trade.
Karin Franken, from Jakarta Animal Aid Network, said: "Pledges for action have been made from the central government's Ministry of Agriculture. Dog Meat-Free Indonesia and the millions of supporters we represent worldwide applaud this position.
"But these words need to result in commitments for change through strong and impactful actions, like those presented by Dr Juliyatmono."
As a growing number of countries and territories in the region and around the world take action to tackle the illegal dog and cat meat trades, global public and political communities are becoming increasingly intolerant of the trades.
Georgie Dolphin, program manager for animal welfare at Humane Society International in Australia, said: "Indonesia is heavily reliant on the tourism industry, with more than 10 million tourists a year visiting the archipelago, renowned for its natural beauty. But growing concerns for tourists' safety is putting tourism at increasing risk.
"Already the Australian government has issued an official warning on its travel advisories webpage for Indonesia, highlighting the risk of rabies from the dog meat trade."