Dogs and cats have been creeping onto menus around Philadelphia. Credit: Wiki Commons
George Bengal won't give the name of the West Philadelphia restaurant.
"But when we went in with the warrant," said Bengal, director of law enforcement for the Pennsylvania SPCA about a case 11 years ago, "they had over 50 cats chained in the basement, and the individual was actually butchering the cats when we walked in."
The SPCA took the animals, and the Health Department shut the restaurant down.
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it's illegal for restaurants to sell and serve cat or dog meat.
However, it is perfectly legal for a citizen to kill a dog or cat and eat it, as long as it is all done humanely, and done in the privacy of their homes.
"When you would tell the average layperson that you were allowed to eat dogs and cats and, you know, domestic animals, most people were appalled by that," Bengal said. "They thought there was a law already in place."
With the help of the state legislature, that may change.
Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny/Washington) introduced the bill in October, and it passed the state house this week. If passed in the Senate, it would be illegal to breed and kill dogs or cats just to eat their meat.
While not many incidents of pet slaughter are reported, the SPCA points to the "private" aspect of the law, which the organization says makes it difficult for officers to pin down offenders. But Bengal said the urban enclave of Philadelphia is where the SPCA receives the most reports. And as word spread of the legality of the act, opposition has grown.
If approved, Pennsylvania would be one of only seven states with a specific law against eating cats and dogs.
According to the legislation, which has drawn 35 bipartisan co-sponsors, violation of the proposed law would bring a $10,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
Rep. Michelle F. Brownlee (D-Philadelphia), a cat owner, also used to own two dogs, a rabbit and a hamster.
"You have to treat domestic animals the best you can," she said, "I don't think they are being born to be eaten."
But that's not everyone's view. Bengal points out that in many Asian and third-world countries where food is not as accessible, domestic animals are used for food.
"In certain cultures, dogs and cats are a delicacy," Bengal said.
But who would eat a dog?
"We're seeing it more and more only because of the population change; everything is more diverse now," Bengal said. "You have a lot more people from other countries living here and coming over here, and they bring their culture with them.