One of the most important aspects of animal advocacy is ensuring that changes to policy translate to meaningful actions that save lives. What happened on a street in Indonesia earlier this month signals remarkable progress, bringing much-needed hope to the more than one million dogs who are sold for their meat across the country each year.

On May 6, police in Indonesia’s Kulon Progo Regency stopped a truck containing 78 terrified and sickly dogs, who had been plucked off the streets or stolen from homes to be bound up and transported for slaughter. This was the first time police intercepted a dog meat truck, confiscating and changing the fate of the dogs on board. This was a direct result of campaigner pressure that produced greater resolve by authorities to challenge the trade. Now, 63 surviving dogs are safe and recovering at the Ron Ron Dog Care Jogja shelter, and have received vaccinations and care from veterinarians, thanks to Dog Meat Free Indonesia, a coalition of activists and animal welfare groups (Humane Society International is a founding member). Sadly, as is often the case, some dogs did not survive the trauma of the grueling 10-hour journey, packed and bound up on the dog dealers’ truck. But the 63 rescued dogs are receiving the care and attention that all dogs deserve.

Humane Society International has been fighting the dog meat trade in Indonesia for years. Even though the Indonesian government has declared that the dog meat trade is illegal, the trade still claims the lives of over a million dogs each year across the country. This truck is one of thousands each year transporting dogs on long and grueling journeys that sometimes last for days. It will take the strengthening of laws and strict enforcement to deter the people who keep this illegal industry going, even though most Indonesians don’t eat dogs and cats, and 93% oppose the trade.

The 63 surviving dogs are safe. They and received vaccinations and veterinary care, thanks to Dog Meat Free Indonesia.
The 63 surviving dogs are safe. They and received vaccinations and veterinary care, thanks to Dog Meat Free Indonesia.

This rescue is the latest in a string of official crackdowns on the dog meat trade resulting from tireless campaigning by the Dog Meat Free Indonesia coalition. After years of national-level inaction and lack of legal enforcement, local authorities are taking matters into their own hands by passing new laws explicitly prohibiting the trade in their jurisdictions, on public health and animal welfare grounds.

  • In June 2019, the Karanganyar Regency in the province of Central Java, became the first jurisdiction to explicitly prohibit the dog meat trade. In a similar fashion to HSI’s dog meat farm closure program in South Korea where farmers commit to transition to humane livelihoods, the Karanganyar authorities offered a small financial compensation to traders and vendors to incentivize their adoption of alternative trades.
  • In the popular tourist destination of Bali, dog meat vendors are also being closed down.
  • In April 2021, Sukoharjo Regency in Central Java announced a ban on the trade, followed weeks later by a similar move in nearby Salatiga.

These are incredibly encouraging signs of progress, turning policy into life-saving action and reinforcing the social consensus that the dog meat trade must be abolished. But the developments in Karanganyar, Sukoharjo, Salatiga and Bali also demonstrate that it takes real leadership to tackle animal cruelty and threats to public health. The latest rescue highlights the need for strong and collaborative action between provinces to end the supply and demand of dogs and to ensure enforcement and strengthening of existing laws. More action is especially necessary in some of the most problematic hotspots:

  • The need for urgent action and leadership in the city of Solo is obvious: More than 13,700 dogs are slaughtered and consumed there each month.
  • In North Sulawesi there are hundreds of markets where public health laws are routinely flouted; dogs and cats are sold and slaughtered alongside snakes, lizards, bats and rats. Here, the trade continues unhindered despite the opposition of some local authorities.

Together with our Dog Meat Free Indonesia colleagues, we are determined to drive the dog and cat meat trade out of existence. We will continue to expose the cruelty in the dog meat epicenters, identify dog supply hotspots, where dogs are stolen from the streets and people’s homes, and work with progressive authorities to strengthen and enforce laws that could eradicate the trade for good.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made painfully clear that human and animal health are inextricably linked, making global calls to end dangerous and illegal animal trades especially urgent. We will continue to highlight the suffering of the animals, as well as the threats this trade poses to public health, because everyone ultimately stands to gain from ending Indonesia’s dog meat trade and saving these animals.