Restaurant that drowned 300 cats a month to make cat soup shuts down for good

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A Vietnamese slaughterhouse that drowned 300 cats a month for the Southeast Asian country’s feline meat trade has been closed down for good.

Pham Quoc Doanh, 37, ran the Gia Bảo restaurant in the Thịnh Đán ward of Thái Nguyên, the capital of the northeast province of the same name, for five years.

‘Specialty cat meat,’ the sign outside the eatery on Quang Trung Street once read, with a photograph of a wide-eyed black cat in the top-right corner.

Eating cats is relatively common in Vietnam, where the decade-old appetite for felines has seen their meat be considered an aphrodisiac, lucky charm and even a health-boosting superfood that combats Covid-19.

Doanh never wanted to sell cat meat. He never wanted to run a slaughterhouse drowning the animals to keep his diners’ bellies full, adding to the one million cats, mainly strays and stolen pets, killed for their meat a year in Vietnam.

‘Before selling cat meat at this restaurant I served other normal food and drinks,’ the father-of-two tells Metro.co.uk.

‘However, the income was not enough to cover the living cost of my family. It was then I tried selling cat meat since there was no other available restaurant serving this in the area.’

Cats at a holding facility in Thinh Dan ward, Thai Nguyen city. The facility owner, Pham Quoc Doanh, 37, has joined HSI's program Models for Change to stop slaughtering cats for food. His restaurant is in Thinh Dan ward, Thai Nguyen city.
One million cats a year are killed for their meat in Vietnam (Picture: Chau Doan)
Cats at the slaughterhouse for a cat meat restaurant in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam.
The restaurant owner said he deeply regrets killing hundreds of cats a month to keep a roof over his family’s heads (Picture: Chau Doan)
Cats at a holding facility in Thinh Dan ward, Thai Nguyen city. The facility owner, Pham Quoc Doanh, 37, has joined HSI's program Models for Change to stop slaughtering cats for food. His restaurant is in Thinh Dan ward, Thai Nguyen city.
An international animal rights charity has worked together with the restauranteur to shut down the cat slaughterhouse for good (Picture: Chau Doan)

One by one, Doanh would drown the cats in a bucket, holding them down with a stick. Knowing that some of the animals he was butchering were people’s beloved pets weighed heavily on his mind.

‘I felt sorry for them when I saw them suffering during slaughtering. It was all about money since I had to make money for my whole family,’ Doanh adds.

But earlier this month, he stood outside surrounded by plastic yellow tables and chairs and nearly two dozen cats as he tore down his restaurant sign.

He had reached out to Humane Society International (HSI), an animal rights group that began a campaign against the cat meat trade in Vietnam last year, for help.

As part of the organisation’s ‘Models for Change’ programme, Doanh struck a deal with HSI for a one-time grant to shutter Quán Gia Bảo for good, saving the lives of 20 caged cats and kittens.

The programme offers financial incentives to cat meat restaurant owners to switch to other livelihoods and give up their animals for adoption.

Pham Quoc Doanh, 37, owner of a cat meat restaurant, tears down his restaurant sign.
Pham Quoc Doanh, 37, tore down the sign of his cat meat restaurant after five years of business (Picture: Chau Doan)
Cats at a holding facility in Thinh Dan ward, Thai Nguyen city. The facility owner, Pham Quoc Doanh, 37, has joined HSI's program Models for Change to stop slaughtering cats for food. His restaurant is in Thinh Dan ward, Thai Nguyen city.
Doanh has joined HSI’s Models for Change to stop slaughtering cats for food (Picture: Chau Doan)
Claudia Edwards, HSI/Mexico, and??Nicole??Jaworski, HSI, carry cats out of the slaughterhouse. The cats were transported by truck to a cat shelter at the Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry.
The remaining cats were transported by truck to a cat shelter at the Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry (Picture: Chau Doan)

The cats were taken to an animal rescue centre run by the Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry for much-needed veterinary care, vaccination and rehabilitation.

The animals will now be given to new owners to be loved and treasured as pets.

HSI, which successfully campaigned in South Korea to close down dog meat farms by 2027, has additionally helped close two dog slaughterhouses/restaurants in Thái Nguyên.

‘We are thrilled to be closing down our first cat meat trade business in Viet Nam, and hope it will be the first of many as more people like Mr Doanh turn away from this cruel trade,’ Quang Nguyen, HSI’s Vietnam companion animals and engagement program manager, says.

Raising dogs and cats for meat remains popular in some countries, such as Switzerland, Indonesia and Nigeria, where it is often cheaper than other meats, part of the local tradition or thought to have special health properties.

It’s tricky to measure the global dog and cat meat trades. These industries often operate underground and are barely regulated, if at all.

Vu Quang Nguyen, Program Manager of??Companion Animals for HSI??Vietnam, and Nicole??Jaworski??pet cats in a slaughterhouse in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam.
All the furry felines were vaccinated for rabies, which still poses a problem for health officials even after stepping up efforts to contain the disease (Picture: Chau Doan)
Cats at a holding facility in Thinh Dan ward, Thai Nguyen city. The facility owner, Pham Quoc Doanh, 37, has joined HSI's program Models for Change to stop slaughtering cats for food. His restaurant is in Thinh Dan ward, Thai Nguyen city.
HSI and Doanh hope that the closure inspires other cat meat slaughterhouses/restaurants to follow suit (Picture: Chau Doan)

Governments typically don’t class cats or dogs as livestock, the way cows and chickens are, meaning farmers don’t have to supply data on how many they’re slaughtering and selling off.

But in countries such as South Korea and China, the practice is falling out of fashion as concern for animal welfare rises.

Eating cats and dogs remains a grey area in other countries. Some restrict the butchering and sale of dog and cat meat while not explicitly banning it, such as in France and the UK.

Dog meat has never been banned by the Vietnamese authorities, costing about the same as beef in the shops.

In 1998, Phan Văn Khải, the then-prime of Vietnam, issued a directive banning the hunting, slaughtering and consumption of cats in a bid to keep rodent populations low and cat ownership high.

However, the policy expired in 2020. Now around two in 10 Vietnamese people eat cat meat, according to a Nielson poll commissioned by HSI.

Claudia Edwards, HSI/Mexico, spends time with cats at a slaughterhouse in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam.
Cat meat is considered a delicacy by some in Vietnam (Picture: Chau Doan)

Sprawling networks of traders, slaughterhouses, market vendors and back-alley restaurants keep the trade alive and profitable, with hotspots including the coastal towns of Đà Nẵng and Hội An, according to research by Four Paws.

Cats aren’t farmed for their meat, so sly suppliers are known to rob pet cats or lure feral felines using homemade spring-loaded snares before keeping keeping them in holding areas for days.

From the slaughterhouse, cat meat dealers hand the carcasses to restaurants where customers tuck into a plate of vegetables, spicy dipping sauce and crunchy cat intestines.

Other traders sell or set up street-side market stands flogging caged cats alongside dead ones as ‘tiểu hổ’, literally ‘little tiger’ or ‘baby tiger’.

Animal welfare groups say 10 to 20 cats and dogs are killed and sold a day in any given meat market.

Cat meat fetches three times the price of their canine counterparts, with vendors charging more than £9 per kilo for a live cat – a black cat carries the higher price tag of £17 as they’re believed to have healing effects.

Vu Quang Nguyen, Program Manager of??Companion Animals for HSI??Vietnam, and Nicole??Jaworski, carry cats out of the slaughterhouse. The cats were transported by truck to a cat shelter at the Thai Nguyen University Of Agriculture and Forestry. On the left is the Pham Quoc Doanh, 37, owner of the restaurant.
All the rescued cats will now be adopted (Picture: Chau Doan)

When bought, some locals will pluck the fur off the cat ‘like a chicken’, one cafe worker in the northern city of Thái Bình told the New Zealand food website Stuff in 2011.

‘The scale of the suffering is astonishing,’ adds Nguyen.

But the majority of people in Vietnam – 71% – are against eating and trading cat meat, the HSI poll found. With nine in 10 saying they or someone they know have had their pet stolen.

The growing cat meat market comes as the country has grappled for the better part of a decade with persistent cases of rabies thought to be transmitted from the bites of stray or wild dogs and cats.

Vietnam has up to 100 deaths from rabies each year, according to the World Health Organization.

The country’s National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology has chalked up the rise to a lack of public awareness and sluggish responses from local health authorities, with the aim to stamp out rabies by 2030.

Vu Quang Nguyen, Program Manager of??Companion Animals for HSI??Vietnam, carries cats out of the slaughterhouse. The cats were transported by truck to a cat shelter at the Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry.
Only a small fraction of Vietnamese people eat cat meat, a poll found (Picture: Chau Doan)

Though experts say that with the cross-country trade in dogs and cats for the table still thriving, and a small number of these animals being unvaccinated, it is possible but rare for transmission to occur from eating infected meat.

For Doanh, knowing he was a part of the cat meat industry is something he will never be proud of. He didn’t have a choice, he stresses.

But knowing his future is one without animal cruelty, he’s now going to try his hand at running a grocery store.

‘Now that I’ve closed my cat slaughter business, I feel more peaceful in my mind and feel confident and happy about my future without killing any more animals,’ he says.

‘I will supply a lot of products like drinks, tobacco, sweets, dry food like instant noodles, and make a living for my family that way instead.’

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