20 years ago an amazing woman, and mentor to our cause, South Korean-born activist Kyenan Kum succeeded in getting mainstream airtime on the Korean dog meat trade. But after this programme was broadcast she found that doors were closed rather than opened.
It has been a long struggle to get people talking about the dog meat trade again. I was therefore very pleased when investigative journalist Nelufar Hedayat from the Channel 4 documentary series Unreported World contacted me and told me of her plans to travel to and uncover the murky illegal world of Vietnam's dog snatchers in person.
I knew from my own experiences that Nelufar would face huge emotional challenges during the filming of this documentary but suspected her real challenge would be to get her film broadcast here in the UK. She has succeeded.
The film is powerful and will be distressing to watch. I spoke to Nelufar to find out what had motivated her to make Vietnam's Dog Snatchers (scheduled for this Friday, 3rd October, 7.30pm Channel 4) and to ask about her experiences.
What motivated you to do this film?
Vietnam's Dog Snatchers is a film that looks at the shocking and often cruel world of the dog meat trade in Vietnam. In the half-hour documentary we look at the growing human cost that's got the whole country talking about the issue. People are being killed for dog meat, whether it's the the thieves that are servicing the insatiable demand for the meat in Vietnam or, more often, the villagers that are beaten and even killed as thieves become more violent and brazen in their attacks.
My director Daniel Bogado and I were motivated to do this film because when we made a few calls we were immediately met with a black hole when it came to facts and information. Apart from a few campaigners no-one seemed to be able to tell us anything about the illicit trade. The only thing that was clear from our research was that dogs and people were dying. When I got in touch with the Vietnamese government to find out what the laws governing the slaughter of dogs were, I was met with more 'umms' and 'errs' than actual answers. It was clearly an issue that Unreported World had to investigate.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
I'll tell you what I don't want people to take away from this: that the issue only effects a few dogs in one country and that it's so far away that it really doesn't matter because it's their culture and that in Vietnam they don't care anyway. All these assumptions are wrong. What I want people to take away from the film is an understanding of an issue that's affecting both people and animals. These dogs are being killed, often inhumanely, with absolutely no regulation and no one to challenge the thieves and middle men that profit from the business. If all you can get for stealing a low breed Vietnamese dog is a small fine why wouldn't you do it? The rewards far outweigh the risks.
Most importantly for me is that Vietnamese people watch my film and really see what it is that's happening out there because I know that once this hidden world is exposed - some of these people will want to do something about it.
What were your challenges?
We managed to film a dog processing village in the north of Vietnam where we saw men force feeding rice down the gullets of hundreds of dogs- and this was a slow day. By this point I'd already visited the street market slaughter houses and dozens of dog meat streets but even then it was quite disturbing and difficult to see. This was cruelty for profit - systematic, mass- scale, horrific.
The challenges I faced were multiple. The last thing I wanted to do go there with preconceived notions of the 'freakish Vietnamese people' eating dog meat - so terribly uncivilised of them! But also- if our investigation was to uncover cruelty - I didn't want to cower away from asking the questions and taking people to task. We did find cruelty - both casual and intentional - and we don't shy away from showing this in our film.
It was a mental struggle throughout the trip. Coming from Britain, I couldn't help but feel a little shocked by the laissez-faire attitudes of some of the people I met in the (exclusively) dog meat restaurants and on-street slaughter houses. It's a fact that not all Vietnamese eat dog meat, in fact it's an acquired taste mostly in the northern part of the country but still millions are killed for consumption every year and for most people who do eat it - it was an attitude of 'don't ask, don't tell'.
But what became clear to me as I continued my trip was that the people should know the way the animals are treated before slaughter and the fact that often dogs are disease-ridden and have little paperwork to say where they're coming from. In my entire time there I couldn't find a single person who could tell me where the dogs they were selling came from - which explains an even more contemptuous part of this illicit trade: that often its pet dogs or family dogs that are stolen and sold on to the meat trade.
Why should people watch it?
Whether you're a dog lover or not, whether you eat meat or not - this film isn't about that. What Unreported World have uncovered is a national scandal that's gripped a nation in which dogs as well as people are being killed with little involvement from the government or a will to do anything about it - and its getting out of control.
Questions about the Vietnamese dog meat trade may be directed via the NoToDogMeat website www.notodogmeat.com