In the United States, cats are beloved pets, often seen as members of the family.
Cat owners in the U.S. spend an average of $17,235 during the lifetime of their pet, according to USA Today — a testament to the special bonds that form between people and their furry companions.
According to The Smithsonian, the relationship between cats and humans could go back as many as 12,000 years.
But in many countries, these felines do not enjoy the same social status.
A case in point from Vietnam shows that economic conditions can make one person’s special friend into another person’s soup of the day, according to the U.K.’s Metro.
Gia Bảo, a restaurant in the Vietnamese city of Thái Nguyên, had been slaughtering up to 300 cats per month to use in a traditional cat meat soup.
Thankfully, it has now permanently closed its doors.
The restaurant sign advertising “specialty cat meat” was dramatically torn down by the owner, Pham Quoc Doanh, in early December. As a result, cats and kittens that were destined for slaughter were rescued and placed for adoption locally, according to Metro.
Restaurant in Vietnam drowning 300 cats/month for cat soup closes for good after owner asks animal charity @HSIGlobal for help – thanks @itsjoshmilton for the great story https://t.co/ShqwN2nA18 via @MetroUK
— Wendy Higgins Ⓥ (@wenhiggins) December 23, 2023
Doanh said he initially started selling cat meat a few years ago in order to earn enough income to support his family. However, he grew disturbed by the suffering the cats endured when being killed.
The common slaughter method involves holding down conscious cats with a stick in a bucket of water to drown them.
“I felt sorry for them when I saw them suffering during slaughtering. It was all about money since I had to make money for my whole family,” Doanh told Metro.
The restaurateur admitted that many of the cats he turned into soup were stolen pets.
“Cat theft is so common in Vietnam that I know many of the cats sold here were someone’s loved family companion, and I feel very sorry about that,” he said.
After reaching out to the Humane Society International, Doanh received funding through its “Models for Change” program, which assists people seeking to transition from animal cruelty businesses to more humane trades.
With HSI’s support, Doanh has now converted his restaurant into a grocery store.
The silver lining to this story is that because of his change of heart, 20 cats and kittens have been transported to a custom-built shelter at the Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry. There they will be vaccinated against rabies and rehabilitated before adoption.
Quang Nguyen, HSI’s Vietnam companion animals program manager, said the group was “thrilled to be closing down our first cat meat trade business in Vietnam, and hope it will be the first of many as more people like Mr. Doanh turn away from this cruel trade,” Metro reported.
“Although most Vietnamese people don’t eat cat meat, the belief still persists that consumption can cure bad luck, and the scale of the suffering is astonishing,” Nguyen added.
By working to transform attitudes and provide alternatives like Doanh’s new grocery business, HSI hopes more Vietnamese will eschew cat meat consumption, protecting feline welfare and public health alike.
Doanh plans to support his family by selling drinks, tobacco, sweets and dry food such as instant noodles at his grocery store.
A restaurant in Vietnam that killed 300 cats a month to make soup has closed after its owner said he felt regretful, knowing that many were stolen pets.
While most of the population is calling for a ban on cat meat, some still believe it cures “bad luck.”https://t.co/yjotFwUJAR
— VICE News (@VICENews) December 28, 2023
The story of the closure of the Gia Bảo restaurant is a story of hope.
While cultural superstitions and traditional culinary practices are difficult to eradicate, with education and economic alternatives, others may follow Doanh’s lead in renouncing the consumption of cats as food.
And the fact that so many of these cats were indeed beloved pets gives reason to hope that Vietnam’s affection for cats as pets may someday override their dietary demands — transforming this cat meat cruelty into a brutal cultural footnote.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.