Along the stretch of Le Hong Phong are shops crammed with cages displaying various dogs and cats. The animals, for the most part look healthy, but living conditions are grim, with several living in one cage.
That’s just one facet of the horrors of the dog scene in Vietnam, though. Various reports have emerged of disease, death and theft. Eric Bruen knows this only too well.
“I bought two puppies in 2007 from a cluster of motorbikes on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia,” he says. “I knew at the time it was a bad idea. The next day, I went to the vet to get them vaccinated and checked over. After taking the dogs’ temperatures, the vet shook his head and told me he suspected they had Distemper.”
A Fatal Disease
“Canine Distemper is a fatal disease,” says veterinarian Thai Thiet Tri. “About 90 percent of dogs bought on the streets have it,” he continues, “and once they contract it, they deteriorate rapidly.”
Symptoms tend to appear three to eight days after infection – fever, followed by gastrointestinal and respiratory problems, and finally loss of motor coordination. The most common initial symptoms are runny nose, vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration and weight loss.
Eric’s dogs certainly deteriorated rapidly. Within two weeks, both were dead. The same happened to Richard Foster, who also bought a dog on two separate occasions. He also bought a dog from the same street stall only for it to die ten days later. Soon after he bought it, the symptoms appeared.
“I paid daily trips to the vet who put our dog Harry on a drip every day in order to re-hydrate him. He was given injections to block the diarrhea,” explains Richard.
All this was in vain, and a few days later, Harry died in his sleep.
Not willing to give up on finding another best friend, Richard paid a visit to a more ‘trustworthy’ looking shop on Le Hong Phong and consequently bought a dog who he named Billy. This second attempt proved fruitless.
“After bringing Billy home he started with the vomiting and diarrhea. A couple of days later, however, he appeared to have overcome it and was a normal playful puppy. We took him to the vet and the message was ‘A OK.’”
But it wasn’t to be. Six weeks later his motor skills deteriorated as the disease attacked his central nervous system. Billy died after just seven weeks.
The reason distemper is so widespread is because shop owners don’t get the dogs vaccinated. According to Tri, in most countries, these vaccinations are mandatory, but not in Vietnam because “one vaccination costs around VND100,000 and the owners aren’t willing to pay that amount of money. The dogs are held in cramped conditions where distemper spreads very quickly.”
Richard adds: “The puppies are bred and held in poor conditions. They are born from mothers who have had no immunisation and then kept in concealed pens away from the mother before being transferred into a cage that is strapped to a motorbike heading to the dog market. It is rumoured that puppies are given a stimulant to make them appear healthier and more alert for the public.”
When asked to comment on why these dogs might have died, one of the shop owners on Le Hong Phong said that, “[Richard and Eric] didn’t know how to take care of the dogs properly.” He said that all dogs had been immunised, but if a buyer was worried, they should take them to get the vaccinations again.
Distemper, however, is not the only thing to be weary of when it comes to dogs in Vietnam. There’s a thriving and profitable market in kidnapping dogs for ransom or selling stolen dogs to restaurants for dog meat. Speak to any Vietnamese person and the likelihood is that they or someone they know has had a dog stolen.
“I don’t know why people eat dogs,” says dog lover Thanh Vy. But where does all this meat come from? It’s not like there are fields filled with dogs that are bred to be eaten like cows and sheep.
“It’s well known that there are organised groups dealing in the business of stealing dogs.” she continues. “The act itself is usually done by two people on a motorbike. They grab the dog and drive off, dragging it behind them.”
Having had dogs at home all her life and having had one stolen, she is no stranger to this experience. “We have a garden and when we lock the gate at night, sometimes the dogs are shut out. One night, this happened to one of our dogs and the next morning, he was gone. I didn’t bother trying to find him; I knew there was no hope.”
Meanwhile, Le Tri Minh owns a pedigree Berger which is considered a valuable dog in Vietnam. He usually keeps it in an enclosure within the grounds of his house.
“One afternoon, in the half hour when I was taking a nap, someone unlocked our gate, broke into the enclosure and took him,” he explains. “Everyone knows that the shops on Le Hong Phong deal in stolen dogs. So, I went and described my Berger, how old it was, what it looked like, how big it was and its markings. Two days later, I received a phone call saying that it had been found. I had to pay upwards of VND500,000.”
He paid the “finder’s fee.”
On a recent research visit to the shops along Le Hong Phong, a motorbike drove up and a man disembarked holding a straw bag. He opened it up to reveal a leashed-dog tightly wrapped in another bag with a chain attached. It was clearly scared and struggled violently to get away.
Coincidence? Perhaps. Nevertheless, avoid these shops if you want a healthy, legitimate pet. Buy from a trusted breeder or ask a vet if they have any contacts or recommendations.
To buy pets from a trusted store, go to any of the following shops:
523 Huynh Van Banh, Phu Nhuan, Tel: 3991 9382
Pets are bred in-house or imported with full pedigree and papers.
8 Vo Van Tan, Q3. Tel: 3834 4710
Sells small animals and cage accessories.
To look after your animals, check out the following places:
124A Xuan Thuy, Q2; 2-1B Lot 14, Ha Huy Tap, My Canh, Q7 and 146 Xom Dat, Q11.
18 vets over three sites specialise in treating dogs, cats, hamsters and monkeys. Offers examination, vaccination, treatments, healthcare certificates and import-export consultation & licence. In-house and home-stay dog care for prolonged periods also available.
Vet Phan Thi Kim Chi
72 Huu Nghi, Thu Duc (small home clinic) and 151 Ly Thuong Kiet, Q11 (gov’t clinic)
Tel: 0903 967562