Ucok gave up dog meat when he saw their treatment

Dogs are killed and butchered for their meat at a slaughterhouse in East Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2010. With Jewel Topsfield story
Dogs are killed and butchered for their meat at a slaughterhouse in East Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2010. With Jewel Topsfield story
Dogs are killed and butchered for their meat at a slaughterhouse in East Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2010. With Jewel Topsfield story

Dogs are killed and butchered for their meat at a slaughterhouse in East Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2010. With Jewel Topsfield story


In a densely populated pocket of Cililitan in East Jakarta, a dog slaughterhouse has been distributing dog meat to local restaurants for 41 years.

Two to three-year-old strays are picked up in Sukabumi in West Java and transported to the slaughterhouse where owner Rully Silitonga kills up to two dogs a day and many more on weekends.

"What I am doing now is just continuing the business that my parents did," Mr Silitonga said.

"We used to be the only one [slaughterhouse] here in the 1970s, now there are at least 10 in the area."

Most people here are ethnic Batak Christians from North Sumatra, who sell dog meat dishes alongside roast pork at their restaurants known as lapo.

"Some people love the taste of dog meat," Mr Silitonga said. "Batak is not the only tribe that consumes dog meat. Manado, Toraja, Dayak people, mostly the Christians, they do eat dog meat. We slaughter more on Christian festive days. For Easter for instance, we can slaughter 20."

Somewhat ironically Mr Silitonga and his family are dog lovers.

"No way," he says emphatically, when asked if his pet dog Cito would be killed if supplies ran short. "We have had Cito and its parents for a long time. Cito is not the kind of dog we slaughter."

There are no laws against eating dogs in Indonesia and the dog trade and slaughter of dogs is not regulated.

One million dogs a year

However on November 2 the Dog Meat-Free Coalition launched a global campaign calling for a ban to the trade in Indonesia following a nationwide investigation by animal activists.

"The findings were shocking on the grounds of both animal cruelty and with regards to the risk the trade poses to Indonesia's pledge to eliminate rabies by 2020," said Dog Meat-Free Coalition coordinator Lola Webber.

"The suffering of the estimated one million dogs caught up in the trade in Indonesia every year is unimaginable. And 100 dogs every hour enduring this horror."

The campaign video I Didn't Know features Indonesian actresses Chelsea Islan and Sophia Latjuba, singer Gamaliel Tapiheru and international celebrities Ricky Gervais, Joanna Lumley and Peter Egan.

"I didn't know many of them were stolen family pets, crammed into cages and sacks so tightly they can barely move, that their mouths are bound shut so that they can hardly breathe," intones Lumley gravely.

No different to beef

But in Muslim-majority Indonesia, it is difficult to engender too much sympathy for dogs: many Muslims consider them impure and Christian communities that have traditionally eaten dog see the meat as no different to beef, chicken or pork.

Ingan Pulung, a Batak restaurant in Cililitan, buys three kilograms of dog meat on weekdays and five on weekends, although the dog meat dish, known as B1, is not as popular as roast pork.

Waiter Awang said it was mostly Batak people who ordered B1, although Javanese Muslims would sometimes order a soup made from dog meat because it is believed to cure illness.

"We also sell the soup for people who will use it as medicine, and don't charge full price," Awang says.

"People say it helps to increase haemoglobin when someone suffers dengue [fever]."

Awang, himself a Muslim, said he would sometimes drink B1 soup. "Its efficacy is proven in bringing down your temperature if you have a fever," he said.

Asked if it was haram, or forbidden, for Muslims to eat dog meat, Awng said: "Not really, as long as you don't vomit. If you do, it will be haram."

Beware of rabies

Jakarta Animal Aid Network co-founder Karin Franken acknowledged that it was hard to tell people what to eat.

"You can argue about that for hours you know because then they will say: 'What about chicken, what about cow?' " Ms Franken said. "It's complicated. So that is why we are focusing a lot on the rabies as well."

Although some cities including Jakarta and Yogyakarta are rabies-free, the deadly virus is a problem in parts of Indonesia, including Sukabumi, where Mr Silitonga sources his stray dogs, and Bali.

A 62-year-old retiree in Bali reportedly died on October 17 after being bitten by a dog two months earlier.

Ms Franken said that while dog meat was only consumed by about 7 per cent of Indonesians, it threatened the health and safety of the entire nation.

"The World Health Organisation stated one of the reasons for the spread of rabies is because of the movement of dogs from one city to another," she said.

"We all have to realise that it only takes one dog and a city like Jakarta will lose their rabies-free status."

Dog Meat-Free Coalition co-ordinator Lola Webber said, although the WHO states rabies cannot be contracted from eating cooked dog meat, handlers can easily be infected if a dog bites them in the slaughterhouse.

She says it is also possible to contract rabies from eating raw meat: "That is a significant problem we have seen in the Philippines, where research has shown over one per cent of rabies cases are attributable to eating raw meat."

The dog slaughterhouse owner, Mr Silitonga, said the Jakarta administration visited him two years ago and warned him to be aware of rabies.

"I told them we understand that and and we never sell sick dogs or dogs with rabies symptoms. Since 1976 when the business was started ... I have never seen anyone who suffered from rabies due to consuming dog meat."

'My body rejected it'

When Ucok* was a child he helped out at his uncle's lapo in North Sumatra, which on weekends sold pork and dog dishes as snacks alongside tuak, a traditional liquor.

Ucok thought nothing of eating dog until years later when he was assigned by a newspaper in 2010 to photograph dogs being slaughtered.

The dogs were hit repeatedly with wooden planks and then stabbed in the throat and the blood collected.

"Perhaps the butcher did not do it well in that he must beat it several times until one dog's eye came out," Ucok said.

"But still the dog was alive. It was the moment that upset me. I took the pictures anyway but then I deleted them. I thought they were inappropriate."

Later Ucok returned to a lapo and challenged himself to taste a dog food dish.

"I was like: 'Let's try to eat it again, do I still like it?' I tried to have one spoon of it. In fact, my body and mind rejected it."

Now Ucok owns three "cute dogs", including a chihuahua and Pomeranian.

"Now my knowledge of dog has increased. My perspective of dog is no longer as a source of food."

* Ucok is not his real name

This story Ucok gave up dog meat when he saw their treatment first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.