It was an incredibly moving sight: My Humane Society International colleagues and their local partners marked the end of the dog and cat meat trades at Indonesia’s most infamous market, Tomohon Extreme Market, by rescuing those who would have been the final victims of this reprehensible commerce.

During the rescue, one of the dogs saved from the meat market approaches and greets an HSI responder.
Garry Lotulung/AP Images for HSI

Working with the city government and the remaining traders, we were able to secure a permanent ban on the sale and slaughter of dogs and cats at the market, ensuring the safety of the animals who would have been sent to slaughter. Now, never again will another dog or cat experience the horrors that countless others have endured at this market. For the survivors, 22 dogs and three cats, we now have a chance to show them the compassion, respect and kindness they deserve. 

An HSI responder interacts with one of the dogs rescued from the meat market at the Animal Friends Manado Indonesia Care and Rehabilitation Center.
Garry Lotulung/AP Images for HSI

The cruelties dogs and cats have suffered at Tomohon Extreme Market over the decades are shocking—bludgeoned with wooden bats and, often still alive, burned with blowtorches to remove their fur. Once we learned about it, walking away was inconceivable, despite how many times we were told change was “impossible.”  

But the impossible became reality on July 21. After years of campaigning and supporters making their voices heard, the mayor of Tomohon issued an order to end all sale and slaughter of dogs and cats and the selling of dog and cat meat at the market. The absolute brutality that took place there is over, forever, and so is the market’s function as a hub for traffickers in dogs and cats for the meat trade on the island of Sulawesi, where the trade flourishes and traffickers collect thousands of dogs for slaughter every week.  

The end of the dog and cat meat trades at Tomohon Extreme Market and the closure of a network of traders’ slaughterhouses there will set a vital example that campaigners elsewhere can follow, strengthening both national and regional efforts to achieve similar gains. This is an outstanding breakthrough, and I could not be prouder of our friends, colleagues and allies who have made it happen, the members of our HSI Companion Animals team and our close partners at Animal Friends Manado Indonesia. Together, we reached an accord with the six dog and cat meat traders still active at Tomohon Extreme Market; these traders operated the slaughterhouses that killed animals to supply the market stalls there and elsewhere in the city and region. The six have committed to forever cease trading, slaughter and sale of dogs and cats and their meat, and to close all dog and cat meat facilities and operations, including slaughterhouses and sales of live or butchered animals anywhere ever again. 

Lola Webber, HSI’s director of campaigns to end the dog meat trade, interacts with one of the cats rescued from the meat market at the Animal Friends Manado Indonesia Care and Rehabilitation Center.
Garry Lotulung/AP Images for HSI

To call such a place “notorious,” as some travel websites did, is to invite a kind of curiosity, I suppose; tourists might feel encouraged to stroll past its stalls, witness the scene firsthand, and see the dog and cat meat on display alongside bushmeat and meat from other domestic animals. But the most accurate word to describe it, surely, is “sickening.” It was a place where humanity was lost. 

Unfortunately, the practices at Tomohon Extreme Market represent the kind of cruelty that blights public and private life in countless places all over the world. Invariably, such places are sites of moral failure, no matter the country and no matter the circumstances. It could be a fur factory farm in Finland where animals languish to supply the fashion market. It could be a fiesta in Spain where bulls are tormented, their horns set alight to amuse the crowd. It could be a sprawling intensive confinement pork factory in Iowa, whose systematic cruelty includes denying pigs their most fundamental biological and behavioral needs for as long as they are alive. Whatever the venue, whatever the context and whatever the rationale, the truth is the same. Something has gone terribly wrong in the human-animal relationship, and we are—all of us— responsible for bringing such cruelty and suffering to a halt.

Speak out against the cruel dog and cat meat trade

Our campaign to end the kind of cruelty we saw at a critical market hub of the dog and cat meat trades highlights our continued focus on addressing the root causes of animal cruelty, regardless of the time and effort required. As our founding generation imagined, we are still willing and prepared to confront cruelty wherever it occurs and without regard for the strength, status or authority of the perpetrators. 

In Indonesia, we’ve helped to end the dog and cat meat trades in 22 jurisdictions thus far, and we’re working to secure prohibitions in other markets. Our work is far from over in the nations where these trades still flourish. But bringing down the curtain on cruelty at Tomohon Extreme Market is a big victory and a crucial precedent that will propel our fight forward, and we promise you, we’ll see that fight to the finish.