In a first for a country that considers cat and dog meat specialties, officials at a popular Vietnamese tourist town have announced that they will begin phasing out the sale of meat from these animals.

Hoi An, a World Heritage Site and historic trading port, has signed an agreement with animal rights group Four Paws International committing to phase out sales and consumption of cat and dog meat.

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“We want to help promote animal welfare by eradicating rabies, phasing out the dog and cat meat trade and making the city a prime destination for tourism,” the deputy said. -mayor of the city, Nguyen The Hung.

Vietnam consumes around five million dogs each year – the second highest consumption in the world after China – and some believe the meat can help dispel bad luck.

It was a watershed moment, said Julie Sanders of Four Paws International, who could serve as an example for other places in Vietnam.

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The animal rights group this year commissioned a nationwide poll which found that only 6.3% of the 600 Vietnamese surveyed consume the four-legged creatures, with 88% in favor of banning their consumption.

In some parts of the country, dog meat is considered a delicacy to eat with rice wine or beer. Although less popular, cats are also served on some menus and are referred to as “little tigers”.

Although the practice has declined as incomes rise and more affluent people keep dogs as pets, dog meat remains readily available in Hanoi with some animal welfare concerns.

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“I don’t think anyone should ban eating dog meat. It’s our culture,” said Hanoi resident Phan Van Cuong.

Authorities in Hanoi encouraged people to stop eating dog meat in 2018 because it damaged the capital’s reputation and was associated with the possibility of exposing people to deadly rabies infections.

(With contributions from agencies)