Thousands of dogs have been stolen since the beginning of the year in Thanh Hoa Province, 150km south of Hanoi, according to a report by local police.

In total, the authorities have questioned more than 40 suspects linked to the ring and arrested 16.

"This ring has operated for a long time, stealing many dogs and causing outrage among local people," a local policeman who declined to be named told dpa.

On Sunday evening, police detained Le Thi Phuong, 34, Tran Van Thang, 33, and Lai Khac Hung, 38, who were identified as the leaders of the gang responsible for carrying out dozens of dog thefts.

The gang has reportedly been riding motorbikes through residential areas late at night to steal dogs using stun guns, baits and bags.

Under Vietnamese law, only thefts of items with a value higher than US$86 (S$118) is treated as a criminal offence, which means dog thieves can often avoid being charged.

Earlier this week, food safety officials in Ho Chi Minh City urged locals to stop eating dog meat in an effort to improve the national image.

Dog meat is considered a delicacy by many in Vietnam.

The country's dog meat consumption has made it the target of animal welfare campaigns in the past, and the Asia Canine Protection Alliance estimates that five million dogs are killed and eaten in the country every year.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - September 17, 2019