Every week, only a handful of dognapping cases are reported in Saigon – the actual numbers are more staggering.
The speed, frequency and brazenness of the Saigon dognappers is mindboggling. Sometimes the outcome is favorable and the dog is returned – a little traumatized, perhaps, but safe in your arms. Other times, the outcome is dire and completely heart-wrenching.
Caution and vigilance is required to safeguard your dog, or any pet, from being stolen. Never assume anything, or think that owning a pet here is the same as in the West – there is a new ‘normal’ in Vietnam regarding pet ownership. Earnings gained from stealing dogs to ransom back to their owners, compared to selling them to restaurants for consumption, are lucrative.
Breeds with some degree of pedigree are traded and moved like commodities, upping the value of ransom. And with a fine of under VND2 million if caught, it’s hardly a deterrent to the thieves and they know they will never be prosecuted. Warning: These people work for gangs and most are junkies, armed with knives or worse. Do not confront them directly, approach with extreme caution.
We don’t want you to feel paranoid, but maybe you should. Dog nappings are organized and planned. They wait for the right scenario where you lose control of your dog for a spilt second, possibly distracted by a combination of noise, heat and chaos that is part of daily life in Saigon. Unaware, your dog has bolted from the house and out the front gate, off-leash, eventually running into a blind spot…
If this happens, get proactive ASAP. First, go online to the Facebook groups “Dog Owners of Saigon” and the new “Stolen Pet Support HCMC.” Become a member, post a message with current photos of your dog and members will be alerted and will offer advice immediately. Some will begin their own search in areas that are known for harboring stolen dogs. You are not alone; there are others that share your grief.
Second, create a poster with a contact number, post them around your neighborhood, chances are your dog has been taken out of your neighborhood, but the dog thieves will return looking for a contact number.
There is a direct link between dog thieves and the pet shops on Le Hong Phong Street in District 10. The 300-block area is the first place to begin your search, but do not go alone. If you are emotionally distraught, suppress your hurt or appoint someone to speak for you. If you do not speak Vietnamese, bring a translator, and ransom money. You might be able to secure a deal in the first meeting, however these pet shop proprietors are sadistic and will play your grief and make you wait, so try to be calm and work with them. The rate of recovery is high if your dog is spotted in one of these shops: just don’t give up.
Always be aware of where your dog is before opening your front gate or door. The few seconds it takes to secure your dog is worth the peace of mind. Never allow any roaming around the neighborhood or sleeping outside unsupervised, day or night. Always walk your dog on a leash. If you want your dog to get some exercise, buddy up with other dog owners to increase the number of eyes in public spaces. A gated, monitored dog park has opened at 582 Huynh Tan Phat Street in District 7.
Always walk your dog into the flow of traffic so you can see who is coming; looking backwards is healthy paranoia. Be alert when you take your dog or cat to a pet or grooming shop or vet clinic; thieves may be lurking. If possible, arrange pet care professionals to come to your home. Consult a veterinarian about tagging your dog with a microchip. A microchip implant is an identifying integrated circuit placed under the skin of an animal. Some have GPS tracking and are supported by smartphones apps.
With a family that includes six cats, two dogs and a couple of dozen fish, Wayne Capriotti is a zoo curator and, along with his wife, publishes Vietnam’s first pet magazine Me Thu Cung .