When working in a pagoda in Siem Reap, I would come across kittens abandoned at the pagoda every week. Puppies were sometimes abandoned too, but those were usually stolen for dog meat. My friend’s dogs would often go missing, never to return. They would either be stolen from their homes or out on the street. These dogs are then served up at restaurants to locals and tourists from countries like Korea and China.
One time, when riding my bicycle to Human and Hope Association, my tire punctured just two hours after having it repaired already. I walked to a bicycle repair shop on the side of the road, and with limited Khmer, asked the man to fix my bicycle. While I sat on a broken plastic chair, waiting for his daughter to go and purchase the replacement part he needed to repair my bicycle, a man on a motorbike pulled up to the shop. On the back of his ancient motorbike was a box with a wooden frame and chicken coop wire on the outer perimeter. Despite the box being no more than one metre long, there were three dogs locked inside.
I stared at the box of dogs while they cried out. The man got off his motorbike, and armed with a long stick, he opened the box from the top. The crying and barking intensified. He then spent the next two minutes or so pushing one of the dogs to the side of the box with the two others, and pushing down a wooden barrier to split the box into two. Now, three dogs were squished into a 30cm box, their eyes full of terror, their voices howling.
“Excuse me, that is not good,” I said to the man in my limited Khmer.
He looked at me, half amused, half annoyed.
He spoke back to me in Khmer, though I didn’t understand what he had said.
“That is not good,” I repeated, pointing at the box of dogs.
He looked at me, anger growing in his eyes. He proceeded to yell at me, though I thankfully had no idea what he was saying.
I remained silent. Although I wanted a better fate for those dogs, I knew that if I were to talk back to this man, who obviously had no empathy for animals, that I would be putting myself in danger. I gave him one of my famous Angry Bird looks (what my workmates referred to as my normal face), and he climbed on his motorbike and drove off, with the dogs destined to become someone’s meal within the next few days.