Jakarta. An animal rights collective, known as the Dog Meat Free Indonesia Coalition, together with world-renowned celebrities launched a global campaign to stop the trade in dog meat at Hotel Gran Mahakam in South Jakarta on Thursday (02/11), following recent disturbing findings of animal cruelty in the country.
The coalition consists of the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), Animal Friends Jogja (AFJ), Change for Animals Foundation and Humane Society International. Celebrities taking part in the initiative include British actors Ricky Gervais, Joanna Lumley and Peter Egan, as well as Indonesian singer Gamaliel Tapiheru and actresses Sophia Latjuba and Chelsea Islan.
The campaign video, titled "I Didn't Know," shows terrified-looking dogs in sacks and trucks being transported to slaughterhouses. The celebrities have invited viewers to join the campaign and sign an online petition.
"I didn't know the magnitude. Literally millions of dogs are slaughtered for food in Indonesia every year. It has to be condemned and we have to stop it," Gervais says in the video.
"We have the ability to be their voice and defend them. Though they don't talk, it doesn't mean that they want to be killed, especially in a cruel way," Sophia said during the press conference.
Other celebrities, who did not take part in the official video campaign, yet are animal activists, also spoke up.
"Dogs are like my children. If something happens to them, I will chase the criminal to court or to hell if I need to," singer Melani Subono said.
Cruelty Beyond Belief
Halting cruelty against animals is the main impetus behind the initiative. According to JAAN co-founder Karin Franken, a series of investigations that have been carried out since late 2014 revealed that about a million dogs in Indonesia are brutally killed every year.
The investigations started after an increase in the number of reports of missing dogs and passersby seeing dogs roughly snatched from the streets and private properties.
Key areas in the meat trade chain include Manado in North Sulawesi, Java, Bali, Sumatra and Flores in East Nusa Tenggara.
Dogs are usually crammed onto the backs of trucks for long trips with their legs and mouths bound with string.
"I tracked the suppliers up to the slaughterhouses. The dogs were all in terrible fear and some even died en route," said AFJ co-founder Angelina Pane, who conducted investigations in Solo, Central Java, and Yogyakarta.
She witnessed dogs being beaten to death by their handlers.
National Health Threat
Less than 7 percent of Indonesians eat dog meat, but are still at risk due to the transmission of rabies and other zoonotic diseases due to a lack of reporting on the animals' health before being slaughtered and miserable and unsanitary slaughterhouse conditions.
"One of our investigations shows that dogs from Cianjur [in West Java] were butchered and the leftovers were thrown into the gutter," Franken said.
Provinces that have achieved rabies-free status, such as Jakarta and Yogyakarta, are still vulnerable to the disease since they import dog meat from Bali and Cianjur, where there are many reported cases of rabies. The country has set a target to eradicate rabies by 2020.
Progress in Law Enforcement
So far, Indonesia has no laws barring people from eating and trading in dog meat and since the consumption of dog meat is part of some cultures, particularly among non-Muslim Manadonese and Batak communities, outlawing it would be difficult.
Existing animal welfare laws are not a reliable measure to stop the barbaric slaughtering because they do not prescribe severe enough punishments against people who commit animal cruelty. According to the revised Law on Husbandry and Animal Health, a person found guilty of animal abuse only faces a maximum of six months in prison, or a maximum fine of Rp 5 million ($370).
However, the AFJ has held meetings with the Solo Legislative Council (DPRD) on the matter.
Focus group discussions have also been held in tandem with the Yogyakarta provincial government to draft a new regulation on the meat trade. The regulation will require meat sellers to comply with several principles, including being halal.
Since Muslims consider dog meat haram, the provisional regulation is expected to be a small step towards ending the trade, though Angelina claims that religion has nothing to do with the trade, since most of the butchers she met were Muslims.
In Jakarta, JAAN has collaborated with the Fisheries, Agriculture and Food Security Agency to educate the public by hosting workshops on spaying and neutering pets, vaccinations and responsible pet ownership to avoid an increased population of stray or ill dogs.
They are also in talks of introducing microchips to help owners track their stolen pets.