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Are dog thieves to blame for fatal vigilante attacks?

Update: September, 19/2013 - 08:48

by Hong Minh

Local authorities seem to be sitting back as dog thieves supplying Vietnamese tables furtively carry out their nasty work. How, therefore, can the ordinary public be blamed for taking matters into their own hands?

Unofficial statistics show that since 2010, when, for some reason, dog napping began to become a popular crime, especially in the countryside, dozens of thieves have paid with their lives as angry villagers catch up with them.

Most were beaten to death by angry mobs. Two were drowned after jumping into a river to escape the wrath of local people. Other were beaten within an inch of their lives. The villagers even burn motorbikes owned by the thieves.

According to a report from police in the central province of Thanh Hoa, since last year, eight dog nappers have been killed while trying to stuff unfortunate canines into their bags. However, many thieves are still prepared to risk their lives for a few hundred thousand dong. Some are said to be drug users in need of cash.

Nowadays, many gangs use sophisticated measures to catch their prey. Some will create a distraction at one end of a village to enable others to round up the dogs at the other end. Others will drop sleeping mixture into meat to make it easier to catch the animals. Some dogs are actually killed with poison, a fact that diners at dog-food stalls are never told.

In neighbouring Nghe An province, police said that groups of dog thieves went from district to district or even to other provinces to catch their prey. And, to be prepared for villagers' anger, many thieves are now carrying guns and knives to protect themselves.

The situation has become so serious that many residents in villages and hamlets in the southern region have reportedly fenced their houses to protect their dogs, despite the cost and the inconvenience.

The odd thing is that many local authorities claim they can do nothing about the widespread problem because they say the law only comes into force if stolen goods are worth more than VND2 million ($95). This is why locals have been forced to respond in their own ways to protect themselves and their dogs. Many of them do not know, or care, that their actions may be considered as crimes.

Police in the northern province of Bac Giang are now prosecuting seven people over the deaths of two dog nappers, which happened late last month. However, when they heard this, hundreds of other villagers flocked to the police station to admit that they had also taken part in the incident.

When the story went public, it created a huge debate as residents now start to put together all the stories they have heard about dog thieves being forced to pay for their actions - because no one else would do it. Some say that local residents have rights to protect themselves and punish the thieves. Others say the villagers are acting like barbarians, taking lives of a human because of a dog.

But why shouldn't hard working people labouring in their fields all day be able to exist in peace, protected by loyal dogs left to guard the household? What would you do if you returned home to find your dog gone and the children crying?

Many Vietnamese, like Westerners, love dogs and see them as close friends, house keepers - and even as part of the family. The typical image of a house in the countryside is a deep well, a haystack, a few chickens, some snorting pigs, happy kids - and a few dogs running around to protect everything.

Even if dog thieves are caught and handed over to local authorities, the hardest punishment they face is said to be a small administrative fine and, rarely, a few days in prison. Local authorities generally want to have nothing to do with the problem.

This is a call for some serious penalties to deter the thieves. Otherwise the problem will continue to be a blot on the Vietnamese way of life. As many owners of dog stalls are apparently paying the thieves, it mightn't be a bad idea also to close down these eating places - or strongly supervise those supplying their food. — VNS

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