Sun, 13 Feb 2000

How much is that doggie per kilo?

By William Furney

JAKARTA (JP): When recently I asked an Indonesian acquaintance for advice on the feeding habits of young puppies, the reply I got was not one I had expected. He said that he didn't like dogs as pets as he preferred to eat them instead. Unperturbed, I asked some more people, only to end up with similarly unhelpful replies.

For some in this country, the meat of dogs is considered something of a speciality. If, for instance, you are to attend a traditional Batak wedding ceremony, in Medan, North Sumatra, you will likely be served dog meat at some point in the proceedings.

Aside from eating the creatures, the keeping of them as pets is not always accepted in this country. Remember that this is the largest Muslim population in the world and that the Koran has strict rules on dogs. As Indonesian Muslims are quick to point out, it is not they who enjoy dog meat, rather their Christian counterparts. For most Muslims in this country, dogs are a no-no, on a par with the equally forbidden pig.

For instance, if a Muslim is licked by a dog, they must wash the saliva off their body seven times followed by rubbing earth on the area. Recently, a visiting Indonesian friend's jeans were licked by our resident mutt, which necessitated a quick trip home for a change of clothes prior to evening prayers.

The two-month-old terror that we have was given to me by a colleague. When going to the beach for the weekend recently, we took her with us as our pembantu had cried off and, being Muslim, is not overly fond of the animal anyway.

Judging from our unusually peaceful weekend at the beach, I recommend you take a canine companion with you on your next trip. Normally, on our beach sojourns, we spend the majority of the time beating off sellers of everything from bows and arrows to turtles in jars. But this time there was nothing of the sort as the hawkers were fearful of coming near us because we had puppy in tow.

Grown men jumped up and ran away, crying "dog", making us look at the mutt at the end of the leash to see if it had instantly metamorphosed into a doggie Godzilla.

Generally, people in this country are not great pet keepers. Birds are popular, of course, and a recent trip to Pasar Burung (Bird Market) in Pramuka, East Jakarta, demonstrated the popularity of the species. All manner of animals were up for sale, not just birds, including a baby black bear, a baby chimpanzee, Garuda eagles, armadillos, bats from Bogor and a six- month-old orangutan (asking price Rp 3.5 million). Altogether, enough endangered and protected species to send a WWF official into a tizzy.

It's a horrific place and stressful for both concerned animal lovers and the animals themselves. However, I came away with a four-month-old cockatoo from Ambon who is no doubt happier on our front lawn than he would be in Maluku at this time.

There were no dogs for sale at that market and they are quite difficult to find at any rate. However, there are areas in Jakarta where sellers line up on the streets with small puppies in cages for sale.

As we are now responsible dog owners, a trip to the animal hospital was necessitated. We went to the Animal Hospital, next to Ragunan Zoo in South Jakarta.

Where previously I had not seen one dog owner in the city, the waiting room of this hospital was brimming with pooches of all breeds, their owners patiently awaiting their turn to see a veterinarian. The only other animal to be seen was a cockerel, to which one presumed was attached some monetary value.

But it is not just dogs that are eaten here. There is a wide variety of alternative fare on offer. A wander down Jl. Mangga Besar in Kota, downtown Jakarta, will offer you the chance to chow down on reptile dishes -- namely that of snake. For there is a restaurant that offers customers a varied choice of live snake.

Simply choose the one to your liking and it will be slaughtered before your eyes, and shortly thereafter served up as a delicious meal. And like all exotic food, the taste of snake apparently resembles that of chicken. You may also drink the blood of the snake, as it is known to be a powerful aphrodisiac, coursing through your veins and leaving you with thoughts of after-dinner activities.

With a price tag of about Rp 200,000, you either have to be an ophidian connoisseur or be firmly convinced of the health-giving properties.

Other types of food available on this Chinatown street include baby red rats, which are eaten alive (remember the TV series V?) shortly after they are born. One can also sample adult white rats, although this variety is cooked prior to consumption.

Many Indonesians, however, turn their noses up in disgust at the mention of these dishes, saying they are the preserve of the Chinese community here.

From now on, whenever puppy goes walkies, she will be on a lead.