If you’re a dog owner and this isn’t your worst nightmare, that’s only because you haven’t considered the possibility: your pet, your beloved companion, stolen, slaughtered, cooked and eaten. Like a piece of meat.
It happened on Oahu in 2007, to Frank Manuma and his wife Debbie. The couple’s dog, an eight-month-old German shepherd-Lab mix named Caddy, was stolen from the Moanalua Golf Club while Frank played a round. Eventually police arrested two golf club employees—58-year-old Saturnino Palting and 48-year-old Nelson Domingo—and charged the pair with second-degree theft and first-degree cruelty to animals after they admitted to loading Caddy into their car and later butchering and eating him.
The case was shocking, but to some the verdict was worse: both men got five years’ probation and one-year suspended jail sentences (Domingo wound up serving three months, while Palting did no time behind bars). Even that relative slap on the wrist was possible only because of a 2007 law that changed animal cruelty from a misdemeanor to a felony.
That doesn’t go far enough for animal rights advocates, who have been pushing for years to put a law on the books that bans the possession, sale and consumption of dog meat in Hawaii. This year, Sen. Clayton Hee introduced SB 2026, a bill that would do just that. It passed through committee last week and could come to a vote soon.
“The legislature finds that despite the enactment of several animal cruelty offenses, local humane societies, law enforcement agencies, and animal protection groups continue to receive reports of dogs and cats being sold, trafficked, or slaughtered for human consumption,” reads the bill, which would outlaw the “slaughtering or trafficking of dogs or cats for human consumption,” and change language in the Hawaii Revised Statutes so that the term “pet animal” would apply even to dogs and cats that were bred for meat.
At least three similar bills have died quiet deaths in recent years. Which is curious, because no one seems willing to publicly oppose them. Dozens of individuals and organizations—including the Humane Society, SPCA and the Honolulu prosecutor’s office—submitted testimony in support of SB 2026. Previous efforts to ban controversial foods like foie gras and shark fin soup in the state got at least nominal pushback. Here, no one said a word.
Does that mean the practice isn’t as widespread as some claim? Is the case of Caddy more an isolated incident and less part of a disturbing trend? Inga Gibson, director of the Hawaii Humane Society, doesn’t think so. “It happens much more frequently than is reported and, due to the loophole in our current animal cruelty laws, such reports are not being investigated [or] prosecuted,” says Gibson.
Because it’s not explicitly illegal to slaughter or eat dogs and cats, she explains, violators must be caught in the act (or confess, like Palting and Domingo) to be charged with first-degree animal cruelty. Since most if not all dog slaughter occurs in secret, that’s a tall order.
Dog meat is part of Polynesian and Hawaiian history. When Captain Cook arrived in Tahiti in the late 18th century, he observed small, stout, flat-faced canines that were kept as pets but also slaughtered and consumed. “Few were there of us but what allow’d that a South Sea Dog was next to an English lamb,” Cook wrote in his journal. “One thing in their favour is that they live entirely upon vegetables.” In his book Unmentionable Cuisine, Calvin Schwabe notes that Hawaiians viewed Westerners as odd, since they raised pigs and dogs yet would eat only the pigs.
The poi dog was bred out of existence more than a hundred years ago, but the practice of eating dogs—which also has roots in Filipino and Chinese culture—lives on.
So there’s the cultural argument. No one’s making it, not openly at least, but it’s there. Is this a case where traditional practices deserve precedence over modern mores? Is there room in a society that overwhelmingly views dogs (and cats) as members of the family for people who view them as dinner?
“I don’t buy the cultural argument, not at all,” says Barbara Steinberg, a Kihei art teacher and self-described animal lover. “People can say it’s their culture, but it’s cruel. It doesn’t have a place today.”
Steinberg says she’s devoted hundreds of hours to getting a dog-meat ban passed, and was disappointed that bills introduced each of the last two legislative sessions went nowhere. “I don’t know what happened,” she says. “I never really got a straight answer.”
Steinberg seems cautiously optimistic about SB 2026. If it does pass, she says much of the credit should go to Carroll Cox, an Oahu radio host who has conducted several independent investigations into the dog meat trade.
Cox declined to comment for this story, or to provide a video he says shows the graphic slaughter of dogs, but he pointed us to his website (carrollcox.com). A few bits of information Cox says he gathered: the going rate for a slaughtered dog is about $35, though bulk discounts are available; dogs are often kept in unsafe conditions and subjected to cruelty prior to slaughter; and some of the dogs he’s encountered were stolen family pets.
Cox highlights the case of Koko (literally “blood” in Hawaiian), a chocolate Lab he purchased for $100 from a man he says offered to butcher the dog for him.
“This beautiful, intelligent, and affectionate animal would have been someone’s dinner by now, had I not rescued him,” Carroll wrote on his website. “I believe it is wrong. Morally and ethically wrong.”
Steinberg concurs: “I can’t believe this is even something we’re discussing in the year 2014,” she says. “We have a responsibility to these animals. We have a responsibility to stop this.”
Click here for more info on SB 2026.
Cover illustration: Drew Toonz