The relationship between the canine and the Vietnamese is not a simple one. Not all Vietnamese embrace dog meat, and not all Vietnamese regard their dogs as companions.
In Vietnam, those who consume dog meat often try to compartmentalize their feelings toward dogs, just as Westerners who eat meat might try to compartmentalize their feelings toward livestock—particularly small livestock, such as chickens. In the United States, urban poultry keeping, or backyard chickens, has become quite the hobby for some. The California Department of Food and Agriculture estimated in 2002 that there were 62,000 backyard poultry owners in the state with a projected increase of 400% to 500%. That means there may be as many as 248,000 to 310,000 backyard poultry owners in the state today. The main motivation for urban chicken keeping is the ability to obtain fresh eggs and know what goes into them. Hens can live over ten years, but what happens when the hen—whose production usually diminishes after the age of two—stops laying eggs? Many urban chicken keepers are as reluctant to keep a non-productive hen as they are to turn her into dinner. But some do eat them.
One urban poultry keeper in Alameda, California claims to eat them. Or rather, she has her parents come over to her house to take the non-productive hen, and then joins them for a chicken dinner later in their home. She avoids intimate connections with her hens as well as taking part in their demise: “[the hens] don’t have names because I don’t want to get too attached.” It makes sense. Just as the Vietnamese who consume dog meat compartmentalize their feelings toward canines, so must this urban poultry keeper in Alameda compartmentalize her feelings toward chickens.
Dog meat consumption, primarily in northern Vietnam, are full of diners who may have pet dogs at home too. One diner in Hanoi says he frequents dog meat parlors on special occasions like celebrations or get togethers because "dog meat brings luck and it's good for you." He reveals that he has his own dogs at home and says, "I would never consider eating them. I love them. But dog meat [from the restaurant] is different."
Since many restaurants and food stalls that sell dog meat are unregistered, it’s difficult to determine whether the dog meat industry is increasing or declining in Vietnam. However, instances of dogs kept as pets are climbing. For the Vietnamese, pet dogs can provide great companionship and can also serve as a symbol of social class, as signified by the rise of imported dogs in Vietnam. Throughout the country, dogs can be seen both roaming the streets as strays and pets riding motorbikes with their humans as furry family members. In 2006, the first registered pet store opened in Saigon. Since then, there has been an increasing trend of dog services such as grooming and training, kennels, and pet stores that cater to the family dog according to EuroMonitor International’s 2016 report on the pet care industry in Vietnam.
While canine humanization is a recent phenomenon in Vietnam, it has also experienced a recent boost in the West. In the United States, pet stores and services have surged across the country, with pet food sales doubling since 2000. Premium and gourmet pet food has been a mega success as more and more pet parents reach for higher quality diets with organic, ancestral blends, grain free, or raw ingredients.
A study conducted in 2011 showed that 52.9% of Californians own dogs. Therefore, an estimated of number of 441,500 Vietnamese Americans living in California own dogs. This U.S ownership pet statistical breakdown shows that 76% of Americans consider pets part of their family and 54% consider themselves as “pet parents” rather than “pet owners.” Considering this data, roughly 335,000 Vietnamese Americans living in California consider their pets family members and 238,000 regard their pets as their furry, feathered, or scaly children. However, these numbers only offer a small glimpse to the possible relationship between the canine and the Vietnamese American since there is little actual data on Vietnamese American dog owners. What we do know, however, is that there is an increasing number of Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans, especially youth, who treat their dogs as their dearest companions.
Click here for the second part of this article,"Challenging the Stereotype: Do Vietnamese People Eat Dogs?—Literature by Andrew Lam."
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A San José native and a recent graduate from University of Santa Cruz with honors in Literature, Carolyn has a deep appreciation for Vietnamese American literature and the Vietnamese American community. She is excited to be a part of an organization such as Chopsticks Alley, one that celebrates Vietnamese American culture and encourages positive self-identification. Driven by her educational background in literary criticism, she seeks to empower those who are historically marginalized, underrepresented, and underdeserved through literature and writing. She is also a dog-lover and has been a professional Dog Training Instructor for over 7 years!