11 July 2024

Thai animal lovers would have been better off not watching the news this past week. Those who did learned about a pregnant Siberian Husky named Muay-Lek being brutally abused by her owner.

Though she has now found a new, loving home, the image of her being scalded with hot water while tied up in a bathroom, remains fresh in everyone’s minds.

Another blow occurred on Tuesday morning, when Thailand woke up to shocking news: Thailand’s biggest pet market at Chatuchak in Bangkok was on fire.

Fire broke out at the Pet Zone of Chatuchak market around 4 am and raged for over 30 minutes. This was long enough to gut over 100 shops and claim the lives of roughly 1,000 animals – dogs, cats, birds, pythons, even rats.

The blaze left no escape for these creatures. Many were burned alive, while others succumbed to the suffocating smoke.

Those familiar with Chatuchak’s cramped pet zone need not watch any news to imagine such a horror.

The news is heartbreaking, confirming the long-held concerns of pet lovers and animal advocates.

Even on a normal day, the conditions here have raised red flags for most animal lovers.  Imagine a sun-loving iguana crammed into a tiny cage, far from the open spaces and basking areas it craves.

In fact, all the animals are crammed into tiny cages, far from their natural habitats, enduring questionable hygiene and unbearable heat.

The inferno that gutted the animals at the market underlines one big problem: the complete lack of safety standards. Unlike the weekend market section, this portion of pet market is open every day.

Animals kept there face a daily struggle for survival. There have been no reported safety measures, let alone features like natural water sources or trees that could provide some semblance of a proper habitat.

This tragedy exposes a critical question: Is it not now time for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), the market’s landlord, to close this controversial market permanently? The market clearly does not operate in the best interests of genuine animal lovers or the animals themselves.

Responsible pet markets can exist, but they must prioritize safety and ethical treatment.

The current market thrives on impulse purchases driven by trends, leading to overcrowding, carelessness, and ultimately, animal suffering.

Many people acquire pets based on fleeting trends, not genuine love and commitment.

This lack of commitment is a major reason behind the rise in pet abandonment. Just 3 weeks ago, a Golden Retriever in Chiang Mai made headlines after its owner cruelly dumped it from a pick-up truck.

Pets are not toys; without lasting love and care, pets will soon be abandoned. The Chatuchak pet market, where animals are sold based on trends and cater to fashionable owners, perpetuates this cycle of neglect and should be shut down.

For decades, the BMA has turned a blind eye to the deplorable conditions at the Chatuchak pet market.

This lack of regulations has persisted, allowing the market to prioritize profit over animal welfare. Standards are urgently needed to safeguard not only domesticated pets but also the welfare of wild animals sold as exotic “curiosities”.

Responsible pet ownership requires commitment and understanding.  This is why phrases like “Cat Slave” (Taas Maew) are so popular in Thailand.

They understand that animals are not commodities, and most opt for reputable breeders or adoption rather than impulse purchases at a market like Chatuchak.

The outpouring of grief on social media following the fire at Chatuchak is a powerful testament to the deep love Thais have for their animal companions.

Closing this market is a crucial first step towards ensuring the welfare of animals in Thailand. This, however, should not be the end of the matter.

The Thai government must implement stricter regulations for pet ownership and breeding practices.

A licensing and control system can elevate the standards of pet markets across the country, ensuring responsible practices and preventing future tragedies like the one at Chatuchak.

By Veena Thoopkrajae