There’s a little-known Asian business that will never be big in the West: the Thai dog skin trade. Dog leather is soft, fine-textured and readily distinguishable from other leathers due to its foul smell and scars. If you’re not an expert, you might mistake it for sheep hide. The president of the Thai Footwear Association said the strong odour makes dog skin a less attractive option for factories to manufacture as golf gloves and drums, but the shortage of cowhide had prompted some shoe-makers to use it as linings to lower costs.
Illegal live dog exports to countries such as Vietnam has long existed here. But recent, increased pressure on smugglers has forced them to change their tactics and, in doing so, they have expanded their trade to include slaughtering, skinning and tanning the animals.
The Thai Dog Skin Trade
Thai police only started to make a serious effort in the crackdown a year ago, when Pol Sub Lt Lamai Sakonpitak, a police sub-inspector, was asked to be part of a unit to suppress smuggling and the trade in animal parts.
In January, the team of seven, headed by Pol Maj Gen Surapol Pinijchop, successfully raided a tannery where butchers were caught among piles of dog carcasses and skin. Pol Sub Lt Lamai said the leather would be sent to a dealer in the south of Thailand in shipments of 400-500 pieces, and then shipped to China and Japan.
Police attempted to raid a second tannery in Sakon Nakhon, owned by a Bangkok native, but the place had been closed down.
Pol Sub Lt Lamai said police had seen a decline in live dog smuggling. In the past, smugglers would transport the dogs to forests and load them on trucks in the early hours of the morning. They would then be transported to Vietnam through Laos.
“But since October last year, the situation has changed and traders have been slaughtering dogs in forests, where the meat is dried and sold in Sakon Nakhon’s Ta Rae district and the skin sent to tanneries,” he told Spectrum.
John Dalley, co-founder and vice-president of the Soi Dog Foundation, the largest not-for-profit organisation dealing with stray dogs and cats throughout Southeast Asia, said large-scale transport had not been happening for several months, as the police had taken more interest in it now.
“In mid-2011, the trade was very open. No one bothered to stop any trucks,” Mr Dalley said.
But the main reason, he believes, is the conferences that animal rights groups have had with government representatives from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos within the past year whereby the Vietnamese government ratified an agreement to stop the importation of live dogs into Vietnam.
The purpose was to implement a ban on the mass transportation of live dogs from Thailand and other Asean countries into Vietnam based on the call for action to eliminate rabies by 2020. “When you’re transporting 2,000 dogs in huge trucks, some dogs escape from one cage to another and spread rabies,” Mr Dalley said.
Thailand has a large dog population, and unwanted dogs can be purchased very cheaply.
“They are then sold to criminal dealers in Thailand. They in turn sell them to Vietnam and the money goes up and up. Poor people in Isan when the rice is growing, can earn income by collecting dogs and selling them,” Mr Dalley said. “It’s gone on for years and plenty of money can be made out of it.”
But Mr Dalley warned that the vast majority are stolen pet dogs, as they are generally healthier and in a good condition. Pet dogs are far more prized than strays, causing them to fetch a higher price both for meat and skin.
“Genuine stray dogs are too difficult to catch and they do not come near people. Dog snatchers are not going to waste time on dogs like that,” he said.
He said many of the animals died in circumstances of unspeakable cruelty, with some being flayed alive.
“I have heard that skinning is easier when alive though can find no evidence to support that,” he said. “There is also a belief that if the dog suffers pain then the adrenalin produced improves the meat. Again [there is] no scientific evidence to uphold this.”
Mr Dalley said the skin was often exported to Japan, China and Taiwan for use in the construction of musical instruments such as drums and traditional guitars, but that it also sometimes ended up in pet stores in the form of rawhide bones, a popular chew treat for pet dogs.
In 2011, the Thai Veterinary Medical Association estimated that half a million Thai dogs were involved in the dog meat and skin trade. Although the industry is centred in Sakon Nakhon, it is widespread in Northeast Thailand.
The dogs, which are rounded up from all over the country, are transported to Sakon Nakhon’s Ta Rae district and slaughtered there or transported live over to Vietnam.
“We hear more that dogs are killed locally close to where they are picked up, put into ice bins and transported that way, because it’s obviously harder to stop a truck loaded with ice bins than live dogs,” Mr Dalley said.
Where Thai Law Stands on the Dog Skin Trade
Unlike in Vietnam, where the consumption of dog meat is legal, Thailand has several laws to deal with the dog meat and skin trade.
A police officer can legally stop any vehicle transporting dogs and ask to see a trade, transportation and vaccination permit. If none is present, the offender can be charged with violating laws for animal cruelty, the transmission of rabies and contagious diseases as well as the transportation and trade of animals without permission.
If the vehicle was found near a border, the act violates a customs regulation pertaining to the export of live animals.
Between August 2011 and September 2013, the police arrested 49 offenders and took possession of 10,463 dogs in 10 northeastern provinces. But very few of the offenders were imprisoned, a situation that offers little deterrent.
“If penalties were increased and the courts impose a penalty, particularly on repeat offenders, then certainly it will be a deterrent,” Mr Dalley said. But he acknowledged that part of the problem was due to corruption, which is widespread throughout the region. Mr Dalley said he knew of a tannery operator who described the exported skin as something else and paid customs additional money.
Chaichan Laohasiripanya, secretary-general of the Thai Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TSPCA), said activists were pushing for animal cruelty legislation that would raise the maximum penalty to 20,000 baht from the current 1,000 baht, and the prison sentence from one month to one year.
In 2012, 12,000 signatures were collected and submitted to parliament, which passed the first reading in October that year and the second reading in November last year. A third reading was not conducted due to the dissolution of parliament in December. Mr Chaichan said once a government was installed, the process of passing the legislation should not take long as parliament had already ruled on the issue. Read more…
A video about Thailand’s dog skin trade:
Some more reading on Thailand’s dog skin trade:
- Thailand’s Dog Meat and Skin Trade | Thailand Law Forum – Despite the efforts of Thailand-based animal rescue organizations, Thai law enforcement agencies, and the objection by the vast majority of Thai people there still exists a cruel trade in dog meat and dog skin in the country.
- Thailand’s Dog Smuggling Trade | Thailand Law Forum – Like any other industry that produces a lucrative income the dog meat and skin trade continues to run a steady course. Thailand is trying to limit the stray population although a number of people in Thailand are fighting to stop …
- The Thai Government have announced steps to end the dog … – The Thai Government have announced steps to end the dog meat and skin trade in Thailand. Bangkok, 17 December 2012: At a seminar held in Bangkok at the Royal Navy Auditorium, participants including representatives from the Royal …
- Thailand’s Dog-Meat and Skin Trade To China And Vietnam … – (Photo: AFP) An estimated 2000 dogs are stolen and picked up each week in North Thailand where they are then transported to be slaughtered; mainly across the Thai border to Vietnam and China, where sales are more …
- Thailand’s Illegal Dog Meat Trade, Going Through Hell for … – The president of the Thai Footwear Association said the strong odour makes dog skin a less attractive option for factories to manufacture as golf gloves and drums, but the shortage of cowhide had prompted some …