Indonesians’ taste for dog meat is growing, as others shun it
JAKARTA: Parlin Sitio leaned back from a table of empty dishes at a restaurant east of the capital with a look of satisfaction. He had just enjoyed an order of “rica-rica” — dog meat with Indonesian spices.
“I eat it once a week minimum,” said Sitio, who sells mobile phones for a living.
“The taste is good, and it’s served fresh here. It keeps the body warm and the blood flowing.”
In Indonesia, as in some other countries where dogs are eaten, the industry operates largely in the shadows, and reliable data on consumption is scarce.
But, restaurant owners, butchers, researchers and animal rights advocates agree that more dogs are being killed and eaten here.
That makes for a surprising contrast with other Asian countries, like South Korea and China, where the practice has been increasingly shunned as incomes have risen, along with pet ownership and concern for animal welfare.
Many Indonesians who are too poor to eat beef, except on special occasions, can now afford dog or cat, said Brad Anthony, a Canadian animal protection researcher and analyst living in Singapore.
“From a practical, agricultural point of view, breeding dogs and cats for meat requires far less space and feed resources than breeding cows, and is, therefore, cheaper. The economics of it all is likely the primary motivator for production and consumption.”
Besides affordability, many who eat dog meat cite what they consider to be its special health benefits.
The Indonesian government does not collect data on how many dogs are killed for food or consumed each year.
That is because dogs are not classified as livestock, the way cows, pigs and chickens are. Because of this, the slaughter, distribution, sale and consumption of dogs are not regulated.
Some of Indonesia’s many ethnic minorities — like Batak, who are primarily Christian — have eaten dogs for centuries.
The Bali Animal Welfare Association estimates that over 70,000 dogs are slaughtered and consumed on the popular resort island every year.
“In our investigations, 60 per cent of the customers were Balinese women who felt it was the warmest and most inexpensive form of protein,” said the association’s founder, Janice Girardi, an American who has lived on Bali for decades.
“They believe eating black dogs cures asthma, and other diseases.”
Karin Franken, a manager for the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, which is trying to collect nationwide data on the subject, said its research indicates that 215 dogs are consumed daily in the city of Yogyakarta and “at least double or triple that much” in the capital.
She said other regions in Java serve as supply chains, with stray dogs rounded up or pets snatched off the streets for slaughter.
“They trade all over the country. In Yogyakarta, a dish of dog meat and rice is only 8,000 rupiah (RM2.60)”.
In the capital, Juniatur Silitonga, whose family has been in the business since 1975, says he slaughters about 20 dogs in an average week. He sells the meat to Batak food stalls in his neighbourhood and to some Korean restaurants around town.
He said he bought live dogs from suppliers in Java for about $15 (RM66) each and sells the meat for about $2 a pound.
“It’s cheaper than beef. Eating dog meat is a tradition among local tribes, and they are mostly Christian.”
Indonesia has a law against cruelty to animals, but it applies only to livestock, not dogs, cats or wild animals.
Franken said animal welfare activists here have all but given up campaigning against the trade on cruelty grounds, because “no one cares”.
She said instead, they focus on the potential for the unregulated trade to spread rabies — a persistent problem in Bali and elsewhere — as strays and other dogs were transported from one region to another.
Silitonga is undeterred by fear of rabies, saying he has been bitten dozens of times.
He is not without affection for dogs. He keeps one named Luna as a pet.
“She’s not for eating,” he said. NYT