44 puppies are saved as Vietnamese dog slaughterhouse is closed

More than 40 dogs, including a litter of ten-day-old puppies, were set free from a slaughterhouse in Vietnam on Friday after its owner quit the dog meat trade.

An estimated five million canines are killed for meat every year in Vietnam - the second highest in the world behind China - with some believing eating the meat can help dispel bad luck while others consider it a delicacy.

But attitudes towards eating dog meat are slowly changing, particularly in cities, as the animals are increasingly kept as pets.

Kieu Viet Hung, who has been working in the trade for the past seven years, handed 44 dogs over to a shelter on Friday, which will care for the animals and try to find them new homes.

'When I used to kill them, I felt sorry for them,' Hung, 39, said at his farm in mountainous Thai Nguyen City, north of Hanoi.

Hung slaughtered up to 20,000 dogs over the past seven years.

The majority were sold to him by rural families who breed puppies at home to supplement their income.

Traders would deliver around 50 puppies every one or two months to Hung's facility, where they were kept in filthy cages, fattened up over several weeks or months and then killed, according to the Humane Society International (HSI), one of several charities working to end the dog meat trade in Vietnam.

Hung has now switched his business to trading scrap metal and selling fertiliser.

Most of the dogs killed in Vietnam are stolen pets or strays snatched from the streets using poisoned bait, painful taser guns, or imported from surrounding countries such as Cambodia, HSI says.

'Whilst we've seen the government take some measures, (including) increasing penalties for those who steal pet animals, we still know that there's a big problem with lack of enforcement,' Lola Webber of HSI said.

Authorities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have urged people not to consume dog meat, but the trade continues.