My Volunteer Work with Shelter Dogs in Vietnam
Vietnamese Dog Culture
It is true that Vietnamese eat dog meat, especially in the north and Hanoi but they are not cruel, and to those that eat dog meat they view it in the same way we do cows and pigs meat. As I understand it, dog meat is not mass produced on farms in the same way that there are pig farms.
Dog meat is more likely to be consumed in small rural villages where meat is scarce. And not all dogs are eaten in these parts either, only those that have no practical use and serve better as a food source; if a village dog does not become a guard dog or help when hunting for example.
This way of life is survival of the fittest and would have been no different to how our ancestors lived when dog first became domesticated. Some Vietnamese eat dog meat at the end of the lunar month as they believe it will bring them good luck for the future but in most cities, and with a large population of expats moving to the area, dogs are being seen more as companions that culinary delights.
With this increasing popularity towards dogs are pets, comes the need for veterinary clinics and it is at the Saigon Pet Clinic in Thao Dien that ARC is based, and where I go to help the shelter dogs that currently reside there waiting to be adopted. I have been volunteering at the local ARC (Animal Rescue and Care) centre here in Vietnam for a while now.
Tipps, my Greyhound
Deciding not to bring our greyhound out with us was tough but the best decision for him. He is currently living a life of luxury with the in-laws, and I am halfway through my time apart from him. Volunteering at the centre not only allows me to spend time with the dogs to study them but it is good for my soul!
Every morning at 8.30am, myself and fellow volunteers take our merry band of assorted mutts out for their first walk of the day. Parks are scarce in Ho Chi Minh City, and where you can find a park, dogs are not allowed off the leads or on the grass. Thankfully, there are a few homeowners in the nearby Villa complex that allow us to bring our strays to their large and shaded gardens to spend time off the leads in an enclosed and safe area.
During these mornings I get to observe how this assortment of dogs interacts with each other. It is safe to safe that none of them has a history with each other. They have been abandoned at the local boarding kennels or given in after being found in bad condition on the streets. One was saved from a home that was neglecting him.
Henry, a four-year mixed breed was tied up outside in a small garden area all day and night, no walks and was half starved. He had developed a stomach issue, or perhaps always had it and was extremely thin and timid when he arrived.
However, after a few months of rehabilitation and some 1-2-1 training session he is now becoming an active and spirited member of the group. He is more confident during rough play and no longer backs away when being introduced to new people. His 1-2-1 trainer has him following three commands already, and he is delighted with each successful completion and the praise that he is heaped on him.
All the dogs have very different personalities, but on the whole, once they get to that garden they are playful and happy in each others company. There are certainly more assertive characters within the group and those that are more interested in playing or relaxing than confrontation.
There is a mixture of ages from 5 months to 8 years, and a split between sexes. They are all mixed breeds and all different mixes to each other. The dogs have all had quite different backgrounds, some histories are unknown to us, but it's fair to say none were in loving homes.
Ricky, a six year who will be off to his new home in Canada this week, is very shy. He is an incredibly sweet natured dog but tends to find a spot in the garden and hunker down there until the hour is up. Enjoying the shade and watching the goings-on of the other dogs. He will occasionally join in and run with the others, but I believe, being that tad bit older, he is happy to take a back seat and not because he feels threatened in anyway.
Ricky has been adopted and will be flying to his new home to live alongside his old ARC kennel buddy George. His new owners couldnt bear the thought of Ricky being back here without George and decided to adopt him too. What a great story.
Coco and May
Coco and May are the youngest of the group at 5 or 6 months. They are gorgeous girlies, playful and very friendly to everyone and every dog. Coco hangs back if there is an altercation, preferring to stand next to the legs of whichever human is far away from the fracas then be involved in the feistiness.
As soon as it calms down, she is straight back in the middle of the action. I am pleased to report that altercations are seldom, something that I am pleasantly surprised by considering that these dogs have not chosen to live together as many streets dogs have the freedom to do.
May is more relaxed, but just as animated, they both love human attention and show no signs of fears or trepidation that the others did when I first joined the team. The older dogs never seem to get annoyed with them; they appear to be well liked by all, dog and human.
Misty, a King Charles Cocker spaniel cross and Ziggy, a Bichon cross are fostered out with two of the volunteers at the centre. They come with us on the walks while their owners stay behind cleaning or tending to the cat house.
Both look longing at the gates of the Villa, patiently waiting for them “Mums” to come. However, they soon want to get into the water bucket or see what all the other dogs are up to and join in with the group's antics.
Spotty, Oscar & Briane
Spotty, an 18-month typical looking Vietnamese street dog is the only dog that really shows aggression and who outwardly attempts to intimidates Oscar, an eight-month Husky mix. It works!
Oscar tends to stay on the outside of the group and away from Spotty. He is the newest member of the rescue centre posse, and I am yet to understand why Spotty behaves like this. The other volunteers tell me that Spotty treats all the newcomers in a hostile way initially, so the issue is probably not Oscar at all but a new dog on his territory. I am not a believer in the “alpha dog” theory, but I do believe that dogs guard their territory.
Spotty is a very alert dog; he is constantly on the lookout and apprehensive. He is vocal and shows his teeth, growls and barks when he notices an unfamiliar dog but is at complete ease with the rest of the motley crew that is currently being housed in the rescue home.
Briane, a two-year-old female, that is fostered with Spotty is also a strong personality, but they get along fine. Each day I see poor lovable, bouncy Oscar ventures closer into the circle and Spotty, although keeping an eye on him, doesn't push him back out. It's interesting to see how these dogs interact in what must be quite an unusual environment for them.
What shelter dogs have taught me
These dogs show great resilience, and I love being met with affection and wagging tails each morning. Some were at the brink of survival and were nursed back to health by the centre's fantastic staff and vets. It is not only physical recovery that allows the dogs to be adopted out into loving home. The centre has to ask them to trust again and to bring happiness back to their lives. It is hard watching one of these dogs cower in fear or lash out in defence when all you want to do it help.
With time and patience, they do learn to trust again and become happier with each passing day. Eventually, they are running around the villa gardens, having fun and, seemingly, all memories of their past forgotten.
Having taken on an ex-racing greyhound and bringing him into a domestic home, I have some experience on what a huge transition it can be for a dog. Our greyhound was accustomed to being handled by people but socialising and communicating with other dogs was a challenge for him. For these shelter dogs, it seems to work in reverse. They are more comfortable around each other and need to learn to socialise and communicate with humans.
Living in Vietnam currently, and having travelled much of SE Asia, streets dogs are common and appear to live alongside people amicably. The dogs will often be roaming freely within near or in open buildings, and none of the locals shoos them away. The dogs I have met on the street have always been friendly, approachable and laid back characters. They are welcoming and enjoy human interaction, tottering off when they have had enough.
I get the impression that if they turn up at the rescue centre, it is because they have been mistreated or were not naturally built for a life on the streets - something that is not common but happens from time to time with such a large population of street dogs.
Until we head back to the UK in a couple of months, I will continue to volunteer my time to this worthy cause and will be forever grateful to the dogs for allowing me into their lives. I hope that in some way I help them on their journey to being adopted and restore any lost faith in humanity.
Working with these dogs reminds me of how far my own greyhound has come from career hound to domesticated pet and what remarkable adaptability they possess. If you have any stories of dogs from around the world, shelter dogs or adopted dogs I would love to hear and share them with my readers.
ARC - Animal Rescue Centre
If you are interested in donating or adopting a pet from ARC, please take a look at their website below. As I mentioned earlier Ricky travelled to Canada to find his forever home so do not be put off if you are not a local in Vietnam.