China’s massive dog meat festival is an annual source of international outrage, and the Humane Society has recently announced extraordinary successes in helping curb the farming of dogs for human consumption in South Korea—but it’s certainly worthy of note that in much of the United States it is still legal to kill and eat dogs and cats. Yes, really. While it’s illegal for slaughterhouses to handle our canine and feline friends, and it’s also illegal for stores to trade in their carcasses, the vast majority of the U.S. still permits individuals to kill a dog and toss it on the grill. And this has lead over 100,000 people to sign a petition calling on the FDA to enact a strict ban on eating pets.
According to the Humane Society, only Virginia, California, Hawaii, New York, Georgia, and Michigan have laws that specifically prohibit the consumption of dogs and cats—and the specifics of those laws do much to help understand the vagaries that have resulted in it remaining legal elsewhere.
In New York State it is expressly prohibited for “any person to slaughter or butcher domesticated dog (canis familiaris) or domesticated cat (felis catus or domesticus) to create food, meat or meat products for human or animal consumption.” Not covered are eating the meat, or killing your pet gerbil/hamster/etc. California however, bans the consumption of “any animal traditionally or commonly kept as a pet or companion,” which is at once stricter and even more vague—pigs are, for instance, rather easily and not infrequently domesticated. Bizarrely, Virginia has perhaps the most straightforward laws; it’s illegal to kill an animal not used in farming activities.
One simple explanation for why there is no federal law prohibiting the consumption of dog or cat meat is that it does not appear to be an especially a widespread problem—while the New York Times reported in 1904 that miners were eating dog meat during times of food shortages, the practice largely petered out after that. But there are a few occasions when law enforcement officials have happened upon individuals preparing dogs and cats for consumption. Slate reported in 2010 that a man was pulled over for blowing a stop sign, only for law enforcement to find “a live cat in his trunk, covered in cooking oil, peppers, and salt. Korkuc told authorities that his pet feline was “possessive, greedy, and wasteful” and that he intended to cook and eat it.” As he had not yet killed the cat, he was charged with animal cruelty.
In Pennsylvania, where there are not laws to prohibit dog meat consumption, officials in 2003 seized 150 Jindo dogs, which are widely bred for meat in South Korea, who were being held by a man who admitted he was raising them for their meat—his operation was shut down and the animals saved on the grounds that the dogs were being held in unsanitary conditions. In both cases common sense and decency prevailed and regional law enforcement were able to find appropriate ways to address cruelty within the current letter of the law.
But with some claiming that there are puppy mills breeding dogs for human consumption right here in the U.S., it does seem reasonable—and long overdue—that the Federal government clarify and unify animal cruelty laws to explicitly ban the killing and consumption of domesticated animals.