Millions of rabies-infected dogs are being slaughtered in horrifyingly cruel ways as the demanded for their meat grows.
A special investigation by the Mirror has revealed the extent of the gruesome trade in Cambodia.
Cages stuffed with man’s best friend line the floor of a dark and foul-smelling shed outside of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.
At the end of the dungeon, covered in cobwebs, are giant concrete tubs known as ‘drowning pits’.
A young macaque sits chained above the putrid water and as cages of dogs are brought to the pit, the monkey watches on.
Realising their fate, the animals cry out in terror before they are hauled up and dunked into the tanks.
The water bubbles and churns, as the dogs fight in vain to survive. Finally, it turns still. And then the process is repeated, cage after cage, day after day, year after year.
Leading the fight against the barbaric trade is animal welfare organisation, FOUR PAWS, spearheaded by a heroic Brit.
Leeds-born Matt Backhouse, along with the charity, have unearthed numerous locations around the country where dogs are slaughtered.
The gruesome scenes have now been captured by British environmental photojournalist, Aaron Gekoski.
He said: “I’ve been covering stories of human-animal conflict for over a decade, but this is one of the toughest assignments I’ve ever worked on.
“This imagery has been haunting my dreams, I can’t get the dogs’ terror out of my mind.
“The slaughterhouse with the macaque was a scene from hell. The stench, the sounds the dogs were making, the implements used to kill them scattered everywhere.
“A professional set builder couldn’t conjure up something so macabre if they tried.
“It was heartbreaking to see the dogs put through such ordeals. Some were shaking and trembling, others throwing up or defecating everywhere.
“Some were biting at the cages, causing their teeth to fall out.
“Some people say why’s eating a dog different from eating a chicken or cow? First off, 50% of these dogs may have rabies, which can be transmitted to humans.
“Also, the methods used to collect, store and kill them are incredibly cruel and inhumane.
“Dogs are loyal and intelligent. They supposed to be man’s best friend, yet look at what we’re doing to them.”
There are more than half a dozen dog meat restaurants within a three-mile radius of Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s most famous tourist attraction.
Over a million people visit these temples every year, oblivious to the suffering that is happening close by.
In the capital city of Phnom Penh, there are more than 100 dog meat restaurants alone, and that figure is growing.
“The industry involves an extensive network of traders, dealers, suppliers, and slaughterhouses,” says FOUR PAWS’ consultant Matt.
“Between two to three million dogs are now being consumed in Cambodia every year.”
The 34-year-old has been living in Asia for more than a decade, dedicating his life to helping stray animals.
“I’ve seen the dog meat trade all over Asia. However, what is happening in Cambodia receives almost no attention as compared to the Yulin dog meat festival or the farming of dogs in South Korea.
“The industry here is growing, out of sight and at a worrying rate.”
To supply the growing demand, dogs are rounded up from the streets daily.
Some are unwanted pets that are either exchanged for a pot or pan or purchased for £2.35 per kg.
Others are strays, whose bones can be broken during brutal collection methods.
The dogs are then forced into small cages, loaded onto mopeds or specially equipped cars, and transported to slaughterhouses across the country.
“On these journeys, they aren’t given any food or water and are left to bake in the heat. Some will die of stress or dehydration en route,” adds Matt.
For those that arrive at the slaughterhouses alive, hell – and death – awaits.
Most of the dogs are killed in mass drowning pits, however other methods are used, all of which are inhumane and cause intense suffering.
Dogs might be clubbed over the head and stabbed in the neck, put in a pot of hot water which aids in ripping out their fur or being hung from a tree, which takes more than 20 minutes for them to die.
Often, the penises of black dogs are removed and hung from trees to dry, before they are made into bracelets or attached to belts.
It is believed that wearing a dog’s penis will stop spells being cast on its owner.
The carcasses are sold to local restaurants, and whipped into curries and soups, or grilled over hot coals.
Both the tail and head are considered delicacies: a single dog’s head, with a brain still inside, will sell for around £2.
FOUR PAWS investigations found that it is young men in Cambodia who have a growing taste for the meat,
Many women think it is shameful to eat dog but may do so for perceived health benefits.
Doctors in Cambodia often recommend eating the meat to improve circulation and wound healing, especially during or after pregnancy, and for other health complaints.
In reality, dog meat poses a serious public health risk.
“Rabies in Cambodia is a public health emergency, killing over 800 people a year,” says vet Dr Katherine Polak, who has been working on the dog meat trade in Southeast Asia since 2013.
“The dog meat trade encourages the slaughter and consumption of potentially rabies-infected dogs, even those that are sick and dying.
“In one study, 200 biting dogs were tested for rabies, and nearly 50% of them were positive.”
“Although many of the traders and restaurant owners believe that the risk of rabies from dog meat is minimal, that isn’t always the case.
“There are numerous published reports of people dying after slaughtering, butchering, and consuming dog meat.”
Since quitting his job as a scrap dealer in Siem Reap, Kut Lan makes living selling dogs to local restaurants.
“When we have a dog with rabies, we kill it first, so it doesn’t infect the others. It can be very dangerous collecting dogs as they have many diseases,” he says.
Kut Lan also risks being ostracised from his community.
“It isn’t a part of Khmer culture to eat dog meat, and many are against the trade.
“However, it helps to support my family, and I can make a good living. There aren’t many job opportunities here.”
Another trader, Chan, has been involved in the dog meat industry since 2014.
He would keep dogs in a cage under a tree next to his house, which he would then slaughter by hitting over the head and then stabbing them in the neck.
The dogs were left to bleed out in front of full view of the other dogs waiting in fear for their turn.
He estimates he has killed tens of thousands of dogs over the past five years.
With the help of FOUR PAWS, Chan has now closed his business and is pursuing a new career as a rice and vegetable farmer.
In an emotional scene, 10 dogs were rescued from imminent slaughter from under the tree, including two that he’d kept in the cage since they were puppies, believing them to be ‘lucky charms’.
Matt explains: “The closure of the slaughterhouse was a testament to what is possible when people are given the opportunity to get out of the trade.
“But the reality is that the dog meat trade causes immeasurable animal suffering, and jeopardises the health of millions of people across the country.
“We’re hopeful that with support, the Cambodian government will take action to end this cruel trade.”