The Real Deal on Dog Eating Practices in the Philippines

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Dogs are considered as “man’s best friend”. As a pet, their owner provides them proper shelter, food, love and care. In return, dogs give home security, companion, and happiness. They are not just pet animals, but some even consider them as their own children. These gentle beings do not only provide company at all times, but also a companion that plays a vital role in hunting, herding, police assisting, exercising, and sometimes pets that help aide handicapped individuals.

Dogs are animals that have been domesticated by humans; they have special forms of social cognition and communication that may be accountable for their playfulness, trainability, and capability that fit into human social situations and households. Their unique abilities have enabled them to surpass centuries, and a chance to have a remarkable relationship with humans above all animals.

Eating of dog meat

In spite of the given characteristics of dogs, there are still some parts in the world where people are eating dog meat. In Asia, these countries are China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. Nowadays, a lot of people believe that dog eating is inappropriate and offensive, calling it a Taboo in most part of the world. But some people view dog eating as part of their culture, and even considered it as their traditional cuisine. It was definitely a subjective matter, others might call it cannibalism. Also, others might oppose or defend that it’s not, saying that there is no difference in eating dog meat from other animal meat that people usually eat.

Human consumption of dog meat can be dated back in ancient China, ancient Mexico, and ancient Rome. There was a record of eating dog meat in times of war and other hardships, thus making it a survival food. In Islamic and Jewish dietary law, eating dog meat is forbidden.

Asocena in the Philippines

In the Philippines, people call dog meat as “Asocena”, a compound word from Aso, a Filipino word for Dog, and Cena meaning “dinner” or “an evening meal”. So, the literal meaning of the word Asocena is “Dog-meal”. It is also a play on the Spanish word “Azucena” meaning a variety of fragrant white rice.

The word was first used in 1980, it was also became popular because of the movie entitled Asucena, written by Enrique Ramos and directed by Carlos Siguion-Reyes, and was shown in 2000. The movie was about a father (without a job) who brought a dog to be butchered. In the Philippine setting, Asocena is usually cooked by istambays (from the English word Stand-by) for them to prepare the pulutan (a food that usually goes along with beer, etc.).

In Baguio, or in most places up north, dog eating is prevalent because of the cold weather, base on the report. Eating dog meat makes them warm. Despite being illegal, as enshrined in Republic Act 8485 or Animal Welfare Act, Asocena has become a popular specialty in Baguio City, Iloilo, and other parts of Luzon and Visayas.  But when and where did dog killing and eating start in the Philippines? There was an account of dog killing and eating in the book of Felix M. Keesing entitled Taming Philippine Headhunters, in the Cordilleras dog killing was traced from 6,000 to 8,000 years ago more or less. In the book he says:

“Perhaps six to eight thousand years ago, according to Professor Beyer’s estimate, there came by sea in canoes a folk to whom he gives the rather formal name ‘Type A Indonesian’… The dog seems to be their only domesticated animal, and was apparently used – as it is today – for religious sacrifices and ceremonial feastings.”

Way back Spanish colonization in the Philippines, Filipinos had already found their means of livelihood. Another account reads:

“Culturally, the Malays were more advanced than the Negritoes, for they possessed the Iron Age culture. They introduced into the Philippines both lowland and highland methods of rice cultivation, including the system of irrigation; the domestication of animals (dogs, fowls and carabaos)…”

According to William Henry Scott in his book Discovery of the Igorots, he mentioned animal slaughtered for offerings, which includes pigs, carabaos, and cows, but no mention about dog killing up north. They usually slaughter these animals as a ritual for them to make a conclusion whether they will win or lose the battle. However, according to a Filipino American Historical Society founding president Dr. Virgilio R. Pilapil, in his essay Dogtown USA: An Igorot Legacy in the Midwest, Igorots have known eating dog meat in St. Louis World’s fair in 1904. The world fair was also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a fair that commemorate USA’s 100th anniversary purchase of Louisiana from France. During that time it was the biggest and longest world exposition that had been joined with representatives of 50 tribes who lived in 1,500 buildings built on 1,275 acres of land for six years. In Dr. Pilapil essay he said:

“The head-hunting, dog-eating Igorots were the greatest attraction at the Philippine Exhibit, not only because of their novelty, the scanty dressing of the males and their daily dancing to the tom-tom beats, but also because of their appetite for dog meat which is a normal part of their diet.”

Being open to the public about their “dog appetite”, the city of St. Louis provided them a supply of 20 dogs a week. Though there are people in the community who object the idea of eating dog meat, particularly the Louis Women’s Humane Society, a lot of people sympathize too with the Igorot’s need for dog meat. After the fair, the small village had come to be known as the Dogtown, after which it had been burned down, later on another place in St. Louis was renamed Dogtown.

As time passed by, Filipinos somewhat have this kind of questions in mind “Does all Igorots really eat dogs?” the answer is No, not all Igorots have tried eating dogs as a traditional cuisine. In an article regarding Asocena, Bing Dawang, Igorot editor of The Junction, a newspaper in Mountain Province said that, “Igorots slaughter dogs for spiritual practices, usually done in solemn rituals much like the early pagans.” He also disclosed:

“It is true that in ancient times some Igorot tribes butchered their dogs before going to war. It was the belief of the then pagan Igorot that the spirits of the sacrificed dogs would guard them in battle. At times of tragedy, the family dog might also have been sacrificed to appease the spirits, and to assign the soul of the dog to guard the spirits of the living family members.”

In an article, it was said that the Kankanaey and the Ibaloi tribes of Benguet also do the same, and that it equates with the number of slaughtered family dogs to the number of tribal wars and internal conflict.

How to cook Asocena

An article in the web will give you an idea on how to cook Asocena, it is as follows:

1. Strangle the dog from behind by surprise. Do this swiftly to prevent the dog from biting. Gag its mouth. Throw the dog in a waiting jeepney, tricycle or van. Drive as fast to avoid apprehension. When accosted though, bribe the barangay tanod or police with your crispy Php 500 bill. Should you bought the dog from a nearby area from an owner who is in dire need of money; put the dog in a sack. Carry the sack on your back.

2. Remove the dog from the sack. Tie the dog in a post. Do not hear its barks, cries and howls for dear life. Hit its head with a two-by-two inch piece of lumber with a nail at the end. Do this several times until it is dead.

3. Hang the lifeless dog on a tree branch or post upside down. Slit its throat. Place a basin underneath to catch blood. Sprinkle rice and salt on blood until it solidifies. (Blood of black dogs is a potent medicine against tuberculosis, says a folk belief in Negros.)

4. Burn the dog coat with a flame thrower. Release the lifeless dog from the post. Shave until its smooth white skin shows.

5. Slice to pieces. Wash.

6. Put the dog meat in a kawa or a big pan. Boil in vinegar for an hour.

7. Add a little water and sprinkle salt. Do not mix yet. Let it stand for a few more minutes.

8. Cook again in low, cooking fire. Add potatoes, soy sauce and sprinkle with black pepper.

9. Pour tomato sauce, tomato paste, yellow and green peas and garnish with plenty of laurel leaves.

10. Serve with plenty of ice-cold beers or gin.

 By reading the know-how on how to cook Asocena, you are probably thinking how gross, horrible, or nasty the description was—at least from step one to four, and by step ten you’d probably have an idea that the usual Asocena is served as a main fare for alcohol drink, especially for Istambays. Dog eaters would usually describe dog meat as tasty like pork meat, or much more tastier and softer, but it really depends on the way it is cooked—can be a dish of adobo, caldereta, menudo, or anything that has sauce in it will do.

In an interview with Arnold Rodeo, 27 years old, a dog eater from Cagayan Valley, he said that, “Masarap yung aso, mas malasa pa nga kesa sa baboy, (The dog meat was tasty, much more tasty than pork).” The same answer goes with Madel Villena, 16 years old, from Lagonoy, Bicol. Rodeo added that eating dogs is like eating pigs, cow, carabaos, etc., and that it is not unusual slaughtering dogs in their province, he also said that almost all the people in their town have at least experienced tasting dog meat. He first tasted the dog meat at an early age, seeing his parents and neighbours eating it. He revealed that at the age of 20, he have learned how to strangle and slaughter dogs together with some of his friends, but they only do this occasionally, usually if there are birthdays, fiestas, or during harvest season. He added:

“Kadalasan nag-aalaga kami ng aso namin para katayin din, kapag minsan naman bumibili nalang kami sa kapit-bahay, (Usually we took care of our dogs so that we can slaughter it (eventually eat later), sometimes we bought our neighbours dog)”

He added, when buying dogs (Askal), it usually costs around 1,500 pesos to 2,000 pesos in their town. A normal sized dog would weigh around 10 to 15 kilos he said. When questioned about his feelings toward the dog when he’s preparing it for a dish he said, “Minsan nalulungkot din lalo na pag alagang aso namin, pero nasanay nalang ako, (It’s sad sometimes knowing that it is your dog that is about to get slaughtered, but eventually you’ll get used to it)”, the same answer goes with Madel Villena. With the case of Villena, she was ten years old when she tasted Asocena; she said her parents made her taste a certain dish unknowing it was made with dog meat. She said that it wasn’t taste bad after all, and that it was actually delicious. She admitted that she haven’t tried slaughtering dogs, but have seen men doing it. In their town she said that buying dogs will only cost you 100- 150 pesos.

Actions of the NGOs

A lot of non-government organizations are actually against animal cruelty. Aside from PAWS or Philippine Animal Welfare Society that deals with cats and dogs, there is a non-government organization called Animal Kingdom Foundation Inc. That also deals with dogs, primarily against dog slaughtering for human consumption. Its mission is to support, protect and promote the welfare and the rights of animals. Animal Kingdom’s advocacy is further strengthened by a Memorandum of Agreement with the Philippine National Police, using Republic Act 8485- Animal Welfare Act of 1988 against illegal dog traders. The NGO has been concerned with the alarming rate of dog eating in the country, and is the reason why they are also committed in educating people about the life threatening effects of rabies to the public, they brief the criminal by using the Republic act no. 9482 also known as the “Anti-Rabies Act of 2007”, that prescribe penalties to the offenders when caught committing an illegal detention of dogs.##

by Erika Caleja

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