I confronted a dog meat trader in Vietnam today over the theft and slaughter of family pets for food – then watched in horror as he had two terrified dogs butchered in front of me and thrown alive into a vat of boiling water.
The bloody show of defiance took place beside a row of dog meat restaurants just two miles from the centre of the capital Hanoi as Mail Online investigated the country's brutal and lucrative trade in dogs for food.
More than 500,000 people have backed a campaign fronted by Ricky Gervais and Judi Dench to halt the trade in dogs in neighbouring Thailand which leads to pets being snatched off the streets to be slaughtered and served up in dog meat restaurants in Vietnam.
But the callous and stomach-turning reaction of the trader in Hanoi shows how ruthlessly determined dog meat traders are to carry on with their illicit and unregulated trade, whatever the outside world may think of them.
I confronted the trader at his grubby tin-roofed shop in the capital's Linh Nam Road, a popular area for dog meat restaruants, on Wednesday morning with experienced Vietnamese animal rights campaigner Le Duc Chinh,
We approached the filthy open air meat shop with two cages of traumatised live dogs trucked in from provinces across Vietnam at the front, and the carcasses of slaughtered dogs hanging up above its entrance.
As we began asking an employee about the business and the source of the dogs, the owner got up from a bamboo reclining chair at the back of the café and began shouting at us to leave.
'This is nothing to do with you. Stop asking questions because I won't speak to you,' he yelled at us. 'Go away and stop taking photographs. You're hurting our business.'
Then, glaring angrily at me, gestured to his employees to prepare for what appeared to be a brazen display of defiance against someone he saw as an interfering foreigner.
As I stood beside him, he picked up a pair of long metal tongs and lifted the hatch on one of the cages where around seven dogs were being held. He used the tongs to pull a yelping dog up by its neck and, when it reached the hatch, clubbed it on the head with a heavy iron bar.
He hauled the dazed dog out and flung it onto the ground where one of his employees cut its throat with a butcher's knife over a plastic tug. As the dog kicked and struggled, blood sprayed out across the ground in front of my feet.
The employee then carried the dog, still kicking its legs, twisting and clearly alive, to a vat of boiling water 10 feet away and dropped it in. The animal was removed seconds later and put into a revolving drum which stripped off its loosened fur.
As we watched in stunned silence, the meat trader hauled a second dog howling and squealing in fear and pain out of the cage by the neck and repeated the process, delivering a single club to the head before throwing it to ground to have its throat cut.
'Why did you do that in front of us?' I tried to ask as he strode past us. He made no reply and gestured at us to leave as his employees washed the skinless corpses of the two slaughtered dogs in front of the cage while the other terrified dogs looked on.
Appalled and numb with shock, we walked away. Chinh, Vietnam coordinator of the Asia Canine Protection Alliance, told me later he was still shaking 15 minutes after leaving the scene.
The dogs had been killed early as a macabre show, it seemed. Dogs are never normally killed in mid-morning and are usually slaughtered in the early morning or just before the evening when restaurant trade began, said Chinh who has campaigned for years against the trade.
'I have never seen dogs killed so close to me before. It was terrible, and desperately sad,' he said.
'The other dogs in the cage were aware of what was happening and were obviously very frightened. There was no humanity or emotion on the part of the men as they killed these dogs in such a needlessly cruel way.
'Most Vietnamese people never see this and have no idea of the cruelty involved in the dog meat trade. They just go to restaurants where the meat is already prepared. If people saw this, I believe many of them would stop eating dog.
'We always try to tell people about the terrible cruelty of the process and what happened here proves it.'
An estimated five million dogs a year – many of them stolen family pets – are eaten in Vietnam with the dog restaurants of Hanoi the top location for illicitly smuggled animals.
Most dogs are trucked into Hanoi from Son Dong, a village 100 miles south of the capital that is the epicentre of the country's massive dog meat industry.
Here, the terrified dogs are kept for days and have food forcibly pumped into their stomachs – some suffocating in the process – to increase their weight before they are stuffed back in cages and trucked to restaurants and slaughterhouses for around two pounds a kilogram.
We visited the village a day before travelling to Hanoi and met trader Nguyen Trong Minh who boasted how had just sent nearly 400 dogs to their deaths in a single day. 'Yesterday was a good day,' he grinned.
The dog meat trade has made Son Dong stinking rich – literally. Most dog traders have two homes – one for business amid the squalor of the caged dogs and a second, opulent three-storey on the quiet side of the village where they relax with their families at night.
Ironically, the halting of cross-border trade in dogs has made the ordeal of Vietnam's dogs crueller still with animals travelling for days over huge distances over periods of days cramped into tiny cages on the backs of trucks before being slaughtered and eaten.
Pet dogs are snatched and sold for a few pounds and then smuggled over provincial borders from as far south as Ho Chi Minh City to the capital Hanoi 1,000 miles away where dog meat is most popular and the prices highest.
Five to 10 dogs are crammed into tiny pages too small for a single person to fit inside and travel for days with no food or water. Many die on the way.
The shortage of animals has made dog snatching a major problem across Vietnam and although traders in Son Dong insist they do not handle stolen dogs, campaigners say there is no way of telling if a dog is stolen or bred for meat when it arrives.
Paradoxically, while the number of dog restaurants continues to rise in Vietnam's capital, pet ownership is also on the rise. Dogs can be pampered and spoilt or eaten within a few feet of each other.
At the popular Nha Hang dog restaurant in Tam Trinh, up to 50 dogs a day are butchered at the front of the restaurant in front of diners for dishes of boiled stir fried dog meat sold at three to six pounds each.
Bizarrely, 20 metres along on the same side of the street, is a dog grooming and accessories centre with expensive leather collars and leads hanging outside, catering to the city's growing ranks of pet owners.
'That's just life in Hanoi,' said owner Vu Van Vuong with a shrug when asked about if pet owners minded taking their pampered pets so close to dog meat restaurants. 'They have their business and I have mine.'
Inside one dog meat restaurant, Duc – a 43 year-old businessman with his own public relations company – said he kept a pet dog at home but still liked to eat dog meat. 'I eat it once a month with my male friends,' he said.
'It's traditional and brings you strength and good fortune. I have a pet at home but these are a different kind of dog. They are bred to be eaten.'
Attitudes were changing in some unexpected quarters, however, he said. 'There used to be many big dog restaurants in the West Lake area but many of them have closed down because the owners do not want to run dog meat restaurants anymore,' said Duc.
'They made their fortune from selling dog meat. They bought their big houses and they got rich and then they decided it was time to get out of the business. I hear it was because they felt guilty for killing so many dogs.'
John Dalley, founder of the Soi Dog Foundation which is leading the campaign to stop dog eating, said: 'Many Vietnamese people are Buddhists and eating dog is bad karma for them so a lot of them do want to get out of the industry apparently.
'People say it is a long tradition but it isn't. It was only introduced during the war years in the last century at times of famine. Chinese military advisors suggested it and it stuck. There is no long tradition of eating dogs in Vietnam except among one or two hill tribes.'
Dogs have traditionally been snatched from the street in their tens of thousands Thailand - despite the government attempting to crack down on the trade - and smuggled to Vietnam under cover. In Vietnam there is no sign of a slowdown as dogs are stolen from villages all over the country, despite a campaign by charities to bring in laws against it. They are working to improve the plight of the animals.
To sign the campaign supported by Ricky Gervais and Judi Dench to end the dog meat trade in South East Asia visithttps://savedogs.soidog.org/petition