A brutal event brings some uncomfortable reality

I stopped the car beneath the drizzling rain, as creaking wiper blades ploughed through the blurred images of this soggy afternoon. Next to my car, behind a market restaurant on the trunk-road to Kuching, stood parked a number of pickup trucks, the owners of which had left to find a bowl of soup, the rest room, or a cheap 'saloon' girl. On my right, at a dress shop, stood shopkeepers in front of their piles of faded clothes. No customers were in sight. Puddles of murky rainwater stained with silt shed-off from truck tyres had formed in every depression of the wobbly market road crossing.

The salesmen watched the rain clouds drifting along from the jungle and getting hooked up in hilly canopy, enveloping and painting the landscape in a gloomy gray.

“I’ll come back in a minute," said Maureen, who sat next to me. She opened the car door and rushed to the food shop to buy a plate of rice, and some dried river fish, the sort we can't find in coastal Miri. I gave her a sleepy nod and watched the boring view ahead, while the engine rumbled, the fan blew cool steam, and blurred monochromatic pictures on the screen came and went bye.

I had been sitting behind the wheel waiting for some five minutes, when I heard a screaming sound. It originated from a small sheepherder dog that tried to escape from the back of a pick-up truck parked a few yards away. My eyes followed the scene. As the dog squealed, a lad of some 20 years, armed with a metal stick, rushed out off the cabin, jumped up to the deck, and started to beat the dog.

First I though it was about punishing the animal. But as the man continued to fiercely beat on the animal, the dog wildly screaming in despair, a more sinister thought came to my mind. Some passengers had stopped, and looked at the scene, too, a bit baffled. At this moment Maureen came back from the restaurant, one hand carrying a plastic bag with food, the other hand holding a newspaper over her head, as the rain poured down stronger compared to a while ago.

I opened the window, and shouted to her: “The man is killing the dog,” half sure of what I was saying, half bewildered and incredulous about my own words.

“That’s the way the Chinese are,” she said. “They kill dogs, and if needed, people. They love to eat dog meat.”

I was shocked. I hadn't expected that particular reply. I had secretly hoped that I was wrong, that this was only an average outburst of day-to-day agression against a pet. Yet at this moment I understood, the dog was beaten to death to serve hungry customers in the food place nearby.

Having crossed a cultural borderline, I felt powerless and saddened. “Can’t we do anything, Maureen?” I asked with a low voice.

She just shook her head, and spoke with a sad voice: “We Kayans (a Borneo tribe) respect animals, in particular dogs. But we are only a small minority on our island, these days. The (Borneo) Chinese, however, kill and eat anything. The Government also wants street dogs to be killed, as by far too many populate roads and villages. What to do?”

The noise had stopped. The killer from the pick-up truck carried the dead dog to the restaurant. We drove ahead, in silence. What we had witnessed was a brutal event, a shocking intrusion of brutal reality into my idealistic and sometimes naïf world view.

In the end my mind drew a painful question. Was it really a crime to kill a dog in public, whilst other intelligent animals – horses, pigs, cows and even sheep – are systematically killed in slaughterhouses, with plain public approval and a legal license to kill? Is it really that important that animals are being killed in a "humane way", if killing itself represents the most cruel (and definitive, irreversible) action on earth?

© 2006 by Franz L Kessler