In the heart of central Cambodia along the shores of the Mekong River, lies the sleepy province of Kampong Cham. Beyond the quiet, scenic views of idyllic rice paddies and ancient temples, hides a very dark secret. For months our team had been conducting undercover investigations of the dog meat trade in Cambodia, a trade involving millions of animals every year, many of them are much loved pets. In the capital city of Phnom Penh, we visited more than 110 restaurants specialising in dog meat, and the vast majority reported that they were supplied by slaughterhouses located just 2 hours away, in the province of Kampong Cham. We knew that we had to go.
As we drove into the village, there was nothing out of the ordinary that would have prepared us for what we were about to witness – quite the opposite actually, as much of the village was preparing for a large wedding celebration. Shortly after arriving we met our contact, Mr. Kry, who was sitting in the front of his house with his family, all taking turns cuddling a cute puppy that they had just recently bought as a family pet, to replace their two adult pet dogs that had been recently sold into the meat trade. As we started talking to Mr. Kry about the dog meat trade, he revealed that 80% of the people in his village are involved in the industry and that he himself has been in the trade since he was 15 years old.
He invited us to see his business. Leaving the cute puppy behind, we walked with him to his house, where we entered a shed in the back of the house, equipped with rusty, small metal cages. One of them had four dogs tightly packed inside. The dogs were trembling in fear so severely that the entire cage was rattling.
Before we knew what was happening, two dogs were violently removed from the cage by one of the slaughterhouse workers and dragged outside. They were thrown into a different cage, and killed one by one – a thick rope noose was placed around their necks through the bars of the cage and jerked tightly until the dogs suffocated to death. Both fought for their lives violently as the rope tightened around their neck, breaking their teeth on the metal bars of the cage as they tried to get free. Each suffered for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, each dog was pulled out of the cage, plunged into boiling hot water, and had their fur scraped off with knives.
After processing what had just happened, we knew we had to take action. After several minutes of negotiations, we were able to convince Mr. Kry to release the two remaining dogs to us. Before allowing him any time to change his mind, we quickly removed the dogs from the cage, put them in our van and drove away. Both were terrified initially, not knowing what was happening. But after about an hour of driving, both the exhausted dogs fell fast asleep.
Back in the bustling city of Phnom Penh, we brought the two rescued pups to our partner rescue center, Animal Rescue Cambodia, where they received initial medical care for dehydration, fleas, and other minor injuries. Both dogs were extremely traumatised from their ordeal. Over the past couple months however, our team gave both dogs the love, care, and enrichment they needed to help learn to trust people again. Both have made a remarkable recovery, showing their true playful personalities. We named them Neary and Sopol which in Khmer, mean gentle girl and good strength, and wish them all the best in their new lives as cherished pets.
Neary and Sopol are the few lucky dogs that have escaped the brutal Cambodian dog meat trade. Every month, tens of thousands of dogs just like Neary and Sopol are killed in Kampong Cham to supply the demand for dog meat in Phnom Penh. FOUR PAWS is currently working with the Cambodian government and our local charity partners to end this trade for good.
Dr. Katherine PolakFOUR PAWS Head of Stray Animal Care - Southeast Asia
Katherine currently manages FOUR PAWS companion animal programs in Southeast Asia, with a special focus on combatting the cruel dog and cat meat trade. A specialist in both Shelter Medicine and Veterinary Preventive Medicine, she has worked has worked for several animal welfare and sheltering organisations in North America and Asia. Her focus is on veterinary training, high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter programs, and organizational capacity building. Katherine works closely FOUR PAWS' partner organisations in Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand to create a strong network of stray animal care programs in the region.
Katherine also teaches for universities in the US and consults on a variety of community cat management programs around the world.