ROME—When most people think of having the family cat or dog at the dinner table they don’t necessarily think of the pet on a plate. But in certain regions of Switzerland, it is apparently quite common to boil the cat or turn the dog into wieners—especially at Christmas time. When news broke last week that around 224,000 people, roughly three percent of the Swiss population, secretly eat domestic pets, we at The Daily Beast thought the story seemed too bizarre to be true.
In fact, the number of feline-feasting Swiss has proven impossible to back up with hard data, although nearly all Swiss animal rights groups agree on the figure. According to SOS Chats Noiraigue, which has gathered more than 16,000 signatures for a petition to the Swiss government to stop the practice of consuming cats, the three percent figure comes from a survey conducted by Swiss media in which they asked “would you” and “could you” eat a cat.
Switzerland’s food safety and veterinary commission spokesperson Sabina Helfer says people do eat cats and dogs, but the figure of three percent seems high. “I don’t know where this number has come from but we certainly cannot verify it,” she told The Daily Beast. “It happens, but you can not call it a habit.”
Swiss animal rights activist Edith Zellweger says the number is plausible, but more likely reflects the number of people who have consumed cat or dog meat in their lifetime, not on a regular basis. “In almost all rural areas of Switzerland, it is customary to eat cats and dogs,” she says. “So the number sounds right in my head. We have been condemning the consumption of domestic animals for more than 20 years.”
SOS Chat Noiraigue founder Tomi Tomek says the practice is such an open secret, many rural Swiss can readily repeat their favorite cat recipe. She says most Swiss pet eaters cook their cats using rabbit recipes, often stewing them with garlic and wine, stuffing several cats into a crock at the same time since there just isn’t a lot of meat on most felines. According to Swiss press reports, younger cats in the litter are the most tender and, as such, are the preferred cat cuts. Dogs, Tomek says, are instead generally ground into sausages and eaten by those who believe dog meat lessons the symptoms of rheumatism.
Tomek’s group, which takes its name from a community in the mountains about halfway between Lake Neuchâtel and the French border, needs 50,000 signatures to get Swiss lawmakers to put legislation up for discussion. Last year, her group successfully helped push through a measure that made the sale of cat fur illegal in the country. Tomek wants an addendum to the current laws on animal cruelty that already bans the commercial sale of cat and dog meat to include private culling and consumption as well. "We are asking simply for a paragraph in the law on protecting domestic animals,” she told the AFP. “A political leader told us parliament won't do anything unless people revolt.”
Dining on domesticated animals may indeed seem revolting, but the practice of eating dog meat is common in certain parts of Asia, including South Korea where an estimated 2.5 million dogs are consumed a year, according to animal rights groups. And that’s not all people are doing with their pets. In October, the government of Denmark announced it would vote on whether to stop the practice of bestiality or having sex with pets, which has, until now, been perfectly legal.
Eating pets as food also has roots across Europe. In 2010, a popular Italian television cook known as Chef Beppe was taken off the air after including cat recipes on his televised cooking class. “If you don’t have meat, kill the cat,” he said.
He later told CNN that eating cat was a pre-war custom across Italy. “In Parma the cat was nicknamed 'the rabbit that runs on roofs,' in Liguria, the cat is nicknamed 'the rabbit with short ears, in Piedmont it is called the 'rabbit that meows.’” he said. “Today we are scandalized by this. Why? Because times have changed. The cat has become a domestic animal. This was not the case before."
According to The Daily Meal food site, the Hawaiian government recently shelved a plan to make eating dogs illegal, apparently because, although the practice is popular among certain communities, there was just not a lot of evidence that crimes were committed between getting the dogs from the back yard to the barbeque.
A simple Internet search turns up countless websites touting cat and dog cuisine, including one site that has recipes for Braised Cat and Beer Can Cat. Another site with disturbing pictures shows how to skin a cat properly and offers links to a surprising number of websites that apparently cater to kitty cuisine.
The folks from the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals known as PETA say there is really no difference between eating a dog or a pig—it is all equally cruel. As an editorial on PETA’s website puts it, “Some might ask, ‘Pigs are bred for food, so what’s wrong with eating them?’ But of course, in many Asian countries, we could pose the same question about dogs.” PETA suggests “basic biology tells us that being bred for a certain purpose does not change an animal’s capacity to feel pain, fear, or sorrow. Animals who are bred for human consumption still suffer greatly at the hands of factory farmers and slaughterhouse workers.”
Chantal Häberling, spokesperson for the Swiss chapter of Four Paws says it doesn’t matter how many pet eaters there are—the practice has to end. “Every few years we hear of these cases,” she says. “Its time for the government to put a stop to it for good and ban eating cats and dogs.”