I first heard about Filipinos eating dogs when I was in the 7th grade. I was in the library where a cultural forum was held with student representatives from each cultural group from the school. Our Filipino representative was an 8th grader who was widely known in our group of friends; he was “Mr. Popular, Mr. Cool.” He often wore a Cross Colours denim jacket, won multiple breakdancing battles and had a sister who could sing like Whitney Houston. If anyone was going to speak on my behalf, I guess he was the best.
The moderator asked each panelist, what is one thing you would like the audience to know about your culture. I was expecting “Cool Joe” to offer many insights: the traditional dances, attire, music. Because his family was musically inclined, I thought his remarks would head in that direction. “Cool Joe’s” response: “Filipinos do not eat dogs.”
There was a palpable gasp in the room. Some snickered. Others had a look of disgust. Me? I was in shock- literally. I had never heard this accusation before. I thought about all the dishes my mom and family made and the only two that were out of the ordinary from the American palate were balut and dinuguan. But dog meat? It seemed bizarre, uncivilized, savage. I thought about all the stray dogs during my visits to the Philippines- the ones who roamed the streets, ate leftover rice and mango skins, who despite all the trash they rummaged, had ribs protruded from their lanky, malnutrition bodies. Why would anyone kill them? I immediately accused “Cool Joe” of lying, and I suppressed anything he said as a fact. I was humiliated by his misrepresentation.
For me, dogs were never served for dinner, or for any special occasion, nor known to be hidden meat in adobo, pinakbet or kare kare. Dog meat was not a known cuisine. I’m pescatarian now but growing up, my family ate the usual: chicken, beef and pork. Sometimes we’d have special proteins like oxtail, squid and pork belly. but the idea of consuming dogs seemed foreign. Because it wasn’t in my reality, this taboo simply didn’t exist.
It wasn’t until last night that I was reminded of the truth. I had encountered my first real example of dog eaters from an unexpected place: Jose Vargas.
Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize winner, PEN award receipt and writer of Dear America, a novel that chronicles his life as an undocumented immigrant. In one of the chapters, Vargas wrote about his acclimation in the United States and how, in a middle school version of show and tell, he told his classmates about his pet dog Rambo who was killed, ceremoniously, for his mom’s birthday.
Believe it or not, this was the first time I had witnessed someone testifying what I once thought was once a figment of my imagination, was now confirmed as the truth.
I was visibly upset. I put the book down and told my husband right away. My voice cracked. I felt my eyes welt. My reaction came from a disturbing, true place.
The following day i went down the rabbit hole and googled dog meat consumption. I found out that it in the Philippines, eating dog was once a traditional consumption but is now a very popular commercial consumption. It is the “third most consumed meat, behind pork and goat but ahead of beef,” and half a million dogs are slaughtered every year for consumption.
The stray dogs are dognapped, rounded up off the street, paws tied with steel cans around their noses. Half of the dogs don’t make it alive to their final destination.
I wondered about all the times I had reached out my hand and felt the comfort of thick, soft dog fur or the salty licks on my cheek or the wet nose nuzzled on my neck. Our family dog Friday, before she passed away from cancer, walked with me for 5 miles in the rain and never left my side. Or how our current family dog Lucky sits on top on my feet when we’re snuggled in bed and I can hear her deep breaths through my goose down blanket. It’s hard for me to fathom that someone, a family, let alone an entire half of a country is looking for their dog while the other half is eating them.
I know that many animals are killed every year for consumption. I don’t shame anyone in their dietary practices. I understand that at the end of the day people need to eat- cow, pig, dog- to stay alive. Sometimes there’s no choice. And there is no shame in eating certain proteins for cultural, traditional reasons. In fact, some countries believe eating cows is barbaric! The food chain is a complex and vast one.
When I think about my 7th grade experience in the stuffed crowded library, I often wondered why “Cool Joe” chose his remarks as his last impressions to the audience. Obviously, it was something that meant a great deal to him. It certainly wouldn’t be the first thing that would come to my mind if I was asked about my culture. But it was 7th grade. Stereotypes, subjugation, bullies were often at the crux of peer acceptance. Perhaps eating dog was more of a reality than I had accepted. Either way, I’m not sure why “Cool Joe” left with that last impression. As an 8th grader, he was brave enough to address it. Despite the reaction, he taught the audience, including myself, a difficult truth to swallow.
“Friday” she was our first dog
“Lucky” our second family dog
Lucky and my dad enjoying the sun