The last of the day’s hot sun-rays filter through the tree leaves as the puppies – poodles, Huskies, and Labradors to name a few – bound down the grassy slope like a scene from a Kleenex toilet paper commercial. Though different breeds, they all share the same trait: expensive pedigrees. That makes them desirable to both those in the rising moneyed-class of pet owners as well as criminal dog-napping gangs.
While the idea of dogs being “dog-napped” sounds much like a Disney family movie, in reality the issue is much more serious. A June 26th article by Thanh Nien newspaper reported that dog owners across the country not only fear for their animals’ lives but also feel threatened by the violence and intimidation tactics employed by the gangs of canine thieves. With rewards of up to $700 being demanded in ransom negotiations, the situation seems more akin to a Hollywood blockbuster, with Liam Neeson swooping in to rescue the Taken dogs.
“There is increasing demand for pedigree dog breeds,” says Hisui Kobayashi, a Hanoi resident and recent victim of dog-napping. “As the middle class grows, pedigree or ‘designer’ dogs are seen as a luxury item.” When Hisui first adopted her Siberian Husky Kuma very few people outside of the expatriate community owned pedigree dog breeds. Today you only have to visit one of Hanoi’s leafy parks in the evening to see groups of dog-owners meeting to socialize the puppies and show off their breeds like an expensive handbag, the rarer the better.
“The majority of dog napping still occur for sale to dog restaurants,” says Marilyn Drinkwater, vice-president of Friends of Happy Pet Clinic, an animal-awareness organization in Hanoi, “but as the popularity of pedigree breeds grows, the frequency of stealing dogs for ransom is becoming increasingly common. The people that work in these dog-napping gangs are usually desperate for money and these expensive dogs are easy cash.” With hundreds of U.S. dollars being handed over in ransom, the profit criminals stand to make on stealing dogs is considerable, particularly in a country where the average monthly salary is $185.
Fear and rumor of dog napping cases infect the dog-owning community across Vietnam. Ask any dog owner and they will have a plethora of horror stories, many repeated throughout the dog-owning community. “You have to watch out, the nappers drive by on scooters and lasso the dogs right off the street” says one dog owner. “I heard of a person getting their fingers broken when their dog was snatched from their hands” said another. Then the kicker: “Did you hear about the teenage boys who were murdered for trying to save stolen dogs?”
Earlier this year, three teenage boys were murdered in Ho Chi Minh City when they attacked a gang of dog thieves. Stolen dogs fetch approximately 200,000 VND in restaurants and abattoirs. “Those boys died for less than $10,” says Drinkwater. “In the end these people are stealing property that does not belong to them. Whether it’s a phone or a dog, they are thieves and they need to be held accountable.”
Back at the sunny park where the dogs play happily in the grass, it’s hard to imagine the world of puppy-ownership as anything but joyful. “I don’t really know what the solution is,” says Kobayashi “but I recommend that dog owners keep a very close eye on their pets.” Drinkwater agrees: “You can think you have the situation under control but the dog-nappers are so fast that you turn your back for one second and the dog can be gone.” Taken.
Katie Jacobs is a Hanoi-based writer.