Indonesia’s first-ever prosecution of dog meat traders under animal health and food safety laws represents another milestone in the global campaign to protect dogs from being slaughtered for food. A district attorney on the island of Java recently confirmed plans to prosecute dog traders intercepted by police in May while transporting 78 dogs in a truck. The traders were taking the dogs to slaughter; maximum penalties include up to five years imprisonment and fines of up to four billion Indonesian rupiahs ($275,000).

This case involves the first such interception in Indonesia. The Dog Meat Free Indonesia coalition, of which Humane Society International is a founding member, had been pressing authorities for the action, and has been making steady gains in building opposition to the trade overall. The effects of its campaign are bearing results, not just in public policy but in the form of increased pressure on restaurants to stop serving dog meat and in higher public awareness across the country.

The coalition’s harrowing investigations exposing the brutality of the dog and cat meat trades also resulted in a landmark achievement in 2018: the public acknowledgment by a national government representative that dog meat is illegal and a renewed pledge to end the trade. Even so, the traders continue their operations, moving more than one million dogs into the marketplace every year. It’s vital that law enforcement agencies and other authorities enforce the law through actions such as this interception and prosecution to make clear their determination to stop the dog meat trade.

Many of the dogs found bound in the traders’ truck wore collars and were friendly, suggesting that they were likely pets stolen from the streets. The traders also transported the dogs across provincial borders with no records concerning the animals’ health or vaccination status, itself a violation of the law under national rabies and disease control legislation.

While dog meat is not widely consumed across the whole of Indonesia (most Indonesians don’t eat dog meat, and some 93 percent support a ban, according to an opinion poll conducted by Nielsen in January 2021), dog meat hotspots such as Solo in Java still see a thriving trade. In areas like North Sulawesi, North Sumatera and Flores, dog meat remains commonplace. Its consumption is often linked to religious ceremonies, festive events and family celebrations. Dog meat is also consumed in the mistaken belief that it has health-enhancing properties.

Dogs caught up in the trade experience a horrific journey to slaughter, suffering from heatstroke, dehydration and injuries inflicted by their captors. At the slaughterhouses, they are beaten and strung upside down to bleed out while still conscious. Some dogs are instead taken straight to public markets where they are bludgeoned and even blowtorched alive.

Quite apart from its inherent cruelty, the trade poses grave health risks for Indonesia as a whole. It threatens every province in the country, including the 8 of 34 currently designated as rabies-free. The uncontrolled transfer of large numbers of dogs of unknown disease and vaccination status into highly populated areas defies globally recognized rabies control recommendations and national disease prevention laws and hinders attempts to secure canine herd immunity through vaccinations. This is not an abstract risk. Scientific reports have documented rabies-positive dogs being sold and slaughtered in markets in Indonesia, as well as in restaurants and slaughterhouses in China and Viet Nam.

Our approach to fighting the dog meat trade has been to forge close collaborations with local partners, many of whom have been working to stop it for years. This strategy has been fruitful in Indonesia. In 2019, the Karanganyar Regency became the first jurisdiction to ban the dog meat trade, with authorities there offering to support traders and vendors in their transition from dog meat to other livelihoods. In Bali, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, there are concerted efforts to close the trade down. Earlier this year, Sukoharjo Regency and the city of Salatiga announced bans.

This is encouraging, and so is the stream of positive news from other nations. All across Asia, opposition to the dog and cat meat trades is increasing, with an ever-growing number of countries and territories (Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand and two major cities in mainland China) explicitly banning the slaughter, sale and consumption of dogs.

In each instance where we’re seeing a reduction in the trade and people looking to leave it, it’s internal criticism and advocacy by local activists that has brought dog meat under scrutiny. As more people work in their communities and all levels of public policy and law enforcement to confront the horrors associated with dog meat, we’ll come ever closer to the day when it will be nothing more than a terrible memory. Until that day, we’ll stand strong in the fight with our friends and allies across the world.