Site icon Conservation news

Campaigners against dog meat trade take on one Indonesian city at a time

  • An estimated 7% of Indonesia’s 270 million people eat dog meat, a practice the World Health Organization has linked to the spread of rabies.
  • Dog Meat Free Indonesia, an advocacy group, is campaigning city by city to get authorities to crack down on the trade, appealing to animal welfare, public health, and religious sensibilities.
  • Authorities at the national and subnational levels have in recent years responded by issuing regulations effectively banning the sale of dog meat for human consumption.

MALANG, Indonesia — It was a January day in Malang, a city on the island of Java, and restaurateur Bobby was surprised to find the officers from the municipal public order agency at his door.

They had come to tell him that eateries like his could no longer serve a popular dish, rintek wuuk, typically referred to as “RW”— dog meat stew.

“I won’t sell it anymore,” Bobby, who served RW for 10 years, told Mongabay. “Everyone’s got to follow the rules.”

Malang is the latest jurisdiction in Indonesia to ban the sale of dog meat for consumption, following a 2018 central government edict calling on local governments to do so.

Authorities in the city, nestled on a plateau in East Java province, began raiding restaurants like Bobby’s after Mayor Sutiaji, who, like many Indonesians, uses one name, signed the ban on Jan. 17.

“We’ll warn them first,” said Rahmat Hidayat, the public order agency’s head of security. “If they continue to sell it, they will be dealt with firmly.”

“RW” (pronounced “air way”) — dog meat — on a menu at a Malang restaurant. The city has banned the trade and consumption of dog meat. Image by Eko Widianto/Mongabay Indonesia.

At first glance, Indonesia might not seem a likely hub of dog meat cuisine. Eighty-seven percent of the country’s 270 million people are followers of Islam, which considers dogs to be haram, or forbidden, as they are thought of as unhygienic. Most Muslims won’t touch a dog, much less eat one.

But the archipelagic nation is home to many other faiths and creeds, some of whom consider dog meat a traditional delicacy or believe it has health properties.

As much as 7% of Indonesians eat dog, according to Dog Meat Free Indonesia (DMFI), a group seeking to stop the dog meat trade on concerns of animal cruelty and public health risks. The World Health Organization, for one, has linked the trade to the spread of rabies in Indonesia.

Dogs being prepared for slaughter in Solo, Central Java. Image by Tommy Apriando/Mongabay Indonesia.

Now, years of campaigning are beginning to pay off. In 2018, after DMFI met with officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, the ministry issued a circular saying that, in accordance with a 2012 law, dog meat is not food and thus local administrations should act to ban the trade.

Karanganyar district in Central Java became the first to issue a formal ban, in 2019. Nearby Sukoharjo district and Salatiga city followed suit in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Most recently, the mayor of Semarang, also in Central Java, issued an anti-dog meat ruling in January.

Malang issued its own ban days after DMFI met with the mayor, with the campaigners presenting the results of an investigation showing that huge numbers of dogs were being shipped to the city from places like West Java province, which has yet to be declared rabies-free.

“If there was no ban, it would be risky — East Java’s designation as a rabies-free province could be lost,” DMFI investigator Mustika told Mongabay. “Only eight provinces [of 34] in Indonesia are rabies-free.”

The island of Java is home to a little over half of Indonesia’s 270 million people.

Investigating the trade

Many of those working to stop the dog meat trade are motivated by concerns over animal cruelty.

At a slaughterhouse in Central Java, for example, DMFI found that dogs were typically killed in one of three ways: bludgeoning them in the head, force-feeding them water, or garroting them.

“The dog isn’t supposed to bleed,” Mustika said. “If it bleeds, the meat isn’t good.”

Small dogs, pregnant dogs, unhealthy and malnourished dogs — all are butchered, according to Mustika. All parts are used except for the bones. The hide is used to make shuttlecocks, the conical projectiles used in badminton, a popular sport in Indonesia.

Pet dogs are known to be kidnapped to feed the trade, according to Dog Lovers and Rescue, a Malang-based group.

Freddy, a member of Malang Cat Lovers, another group in the city, said that when demand for dog meat rises, some butchers mix it with cat meat. “Cats are mixed with dog meat because they have a common anatomy,” he said.

According to DMFI, some 12,700 dogs are shipped from West Java to Central Java every month. A big truck can carry 250 dogs; a smaller pickup can fit 130. In a week, a truck can make two deliveries.

Trade is also carried out through online delivery applications, said Rahmat, the Malang public order officer.

Malang DMFI coordinator Niko explained that a dog is butchered, skinned, and the meat is stored in a freezer. The average restaurant eatery uses one to two adult dogs a day. Live dogs are sold at 35,000 rupiah ($2.50) per kilogram, he said.

Governments seeking to bring the practice under control are approaching it with a light touch, for now. In Karanganyar, the district chief declared that traders who switch to legally permitted livestock would be compensated with 5 million rupiah ($350).

Malang public order officers raid a restaurant that serves dog meat. Image by Eko Widianto/Mongabay Indonesia.

Some want to see the dog meat trade continue. A Malang resident who identified himself as George S., argued that all animals can carry diseases, not just dogs.

“It’s a matter of how you raise them,” he said, adding that the circular should be reconsidered.

Bobby, the Malang restaurant owner, said he would no longer serve dog meat, as long as the rule applied to everybody. When the police came, he signed a statement declaring he would no longer sell dog meat and that he was prepared to accept penal and administrative sanctions if he continued to do so.

The constraint is that the dog meat trade has grown to the point where shutting it down is vilified as taking away jobs, Mustika said.

Mustika said her advocacy has resulted in the dog meat traders seeking her out to get her to stop her investigations because their job is on the line.

“I get threats and get bullied,” she said, adding that’s why she chooses to only go by one name for her security.

DMFI investigator Mustika, center, displays images of butchered dogs in Malang. Image by Eko Widianto/Mongabay Indonesia.

After Malang, Mustika and her DMFI colleagues have prepared 31 letters to local government heads, mayors and district chiefs across East Java.

“We seek to meet them and show the dog meat investigation we made in their area. We want them to issue circulars following Malang’s lead,” she said.

The start of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan on April 2 would provide strong impetus for the push, Mustika said. The plan is to appeal to local leaders’ heightened sense of piety during this period to enforce the law.

Before then, in March, it will be Central Java’s turn, she added.

“A national movement needs a region-by-region approach, and that’s the approach DMFI is taking,” Mustika said.

A version of this story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and published here on our Indonesian site on Feb. 8, 2022.

Banner image: A Kintamani dog on the island of Bali, just east of Java. Image by Mark Lehmkuhler via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).