CNN Photos

Inside the illegal dog-meat trade

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

The dog photos are difficult to view.

Of course they are.

They show man’s best friend being stuffed into wire cages and trucked, illegally, across borders in Southeast Asia. The destination: restaurants in Vietnam.

That thought alone — that someone would sit in a public restaurant and order dog from a menu — is likely enough to get most “dog people” to stop reading this, much less look at these photos.

Here in the United States, we will spend $58.5 billion on pets this year, according to one industry projection. We pamper dogs with Christmas presents; send them to “doggie daycare”; bring them on planes (more than 2 million pets and animals fly per year); and trot them around show rings, judging the perfection of their pedigree.

Eat them?

Unthinkable. Repulsive. Cruel.

We don’t even consider it.

These images take viewers inside Southeast Asia’s illegal dog-meat trade. Shot by Luke Duggleby, who traveled to Thailand, Laos and Vietnam for the story, they’re well worth your attention. He documents a trade that is estimated to include hundreds of thousands of dogs per year.

The 36-year-old was born in the United Kingdom and has been living in Thailand for eight years. He told me in an e-mail interview that he considers himself a “dog person” — “I got an English sheepdog for my fourth birthday and called him Tom” — and that made it difficult to see the gruesome realities of this trade, which is illegal in Thailand because the exporters aren’t paying taxes or getting the dogs vaccinated.

“The dogs are illegally smuggled out of Thailand — that is the illegal part,” he said. “They pay no tax or duty. The dogs aren’t vaccinated nor do they undergo quarantine. But once they get to Laos they are legally allowed to travel … on the way to Vietnam, as the officials aren’t interested in it. And once in Vietnam, no part of it is illegal.”

In a slaughterhouse, “the dogs were beaten to death in front of me,” he said.

I fear you’ll see Duggleby’s photos and think only one thing: How awful that people in Vietnam would eat these loveable, intelligent animals. You’ll do what I did, which is to imagine your dog, or your childhood dog, in one of these cages.

You won’t think about the bigger picture.

Which is this: The cruelty of this trade — the fact that dogs are smashed into cages; suffocated; “skinned alive, strung up and beaten,” according to a CNN report — is what should shock and sadden you. The fact that people are eating dog meat? That shouldn’t.

Click here to read John D. Sutter’s full column.