There’s nothing like the power of video to get your message across, but add in a slew of famous faces as your spokespeople, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a lot of attention.
No one knows this better than Soi Dog Foundation, which released “I Didn’t Know,” a video campaign that exposes the horrifically cruel dog meat trade in Thailand, last fall. The nearly four-minute video includes British comedian Ricky Gervais, actress Judi Dench, and Downton Abbey stars Peter Egan, Laura Carmichael, and Penelope Wilton speaking out against the illegal $25 million trade that tortures and kills thousands of dogs each year for their meat and skin.
Produced by UK-based Environment Films, the hard-hitting video features the five celebrities watching footage of the trade with shocked faces and then speaking about its myriad atrocities over distressing video that shows dogs being crammed into dirty cages and transported via jam-packed trucks to their final destination: the slaughterhouses and restaurants of Vietnam.
Disclaimer: While this video is not graphic, it is disturbing and includes depictions of animal cruelty.
While the majority of Thai people consider eating dog meat abhorrent, it is a lucrative industry for illegal traffickers, who round up large numbers of dogs, many of them stolen pets, and export them into neighboring countries, such as Vietnam, where dog meat is considered a delicacy.
According to Soi Dog co-founder and vice president John Dalley, the intention behind the “I Didn’t Know” video campaign was twofold: to expose the chilling truth about the dog meat trade in Thailand and to back a petition demanding that the Thai government put an end to the illegal trade once and for all.
“First, our intention was to raise awareness of the scale and cruelty involved in the dog meat trade,” says Dalley. “Many people hold the view that there is no difference in eating dogs than any other meat. In reality, in countries where it exists, dogs are not classified as livestock, so they fall out of any laws or standards relating to rearing, transport, or slaughter. In addition, dogs were never bred by man for food. Second, our intention was to put pressure on the Thai government to take action against what is an illegal trade run by criminals.”
According to Dalley, Peter Egan, who is an active supporter of Soi Dog, was able to get Gervais, Dench, and Wilton to participate in the video, while Environmental Films producer Ella Todd asked Carmichael to join the campaign. All five donated their time to participate in the project.
Since the dog meat trade is run by criminal gangs, being caught filming it in action can be extremely dangerous, so much of the high-quality footage used in the video was filmed by undercover operators, says Dalley. In fact, this footage was originally shot for a full-length documentary that Soi Dog and Environment Films will soon be releasing called Shadow Trade, which exposes the dog meat trade in Thailand in much greater depth.
“The shots of dogs in the jungle were taken following a successful but very dangerous night raid on a typical temporary holding area,” says Dalley. “[The dog meat traffickers were] thwarted by our team, firing guns and shouting to imaginary colleagues to give the impression there was a large force there. The film was taken the following morning, and all the dogs were rescued.”
For the video campaign, Dalley and Todd were careful to avoid using graphic footage and only show scenes that were relatively mild but sufficient enough to get the message across: That the barbaric dog meat trade in Thailand and Southeast Asia must be stopped.
That message not only got across, it hit the right target. Since the video’s release last fall, Soi Dog’s petition has garnered more than 1.2 million signatures, and Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly has also passed its first ever Animal Welfare Bill, designed to punish those who abuse or neglect animals.
While Dalley, who advised the NLA on what should be included in the bill, believes the law is a good step in the right direction, he is concerned that it is too vague and open for interpretation, thus providing a potential loophole for traders to continue stealing and trafficking dogs.
“We requested that it be made very clear that the consumption and trade in dogs, cats, and protected wildlife is illegal, and that cruelty be defined as clearly as it is in other countries,” says Dalley. “The bill relies on an exception clause that it is illegal to kill animals for food that are not normally considered food. The NLA state that this covers dogs, but we will have to wait and see how the law is interpreted and what penalties the courts give to offenders. Thailand’s military government is doing far more to combat corruption than any previous government, but catching corrupt officials is not easy.”
Read more about the dog meat trade on Dogster:
About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom, and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, she is especially focused on using her writing to spread awareness about controversial animal welfare issues, including the dog and cat meat trade in Asia and Africa. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work.