Vietnamese dog breed lovers in US

By Phan Duong   November 22, 2023 | 05:03 am PT
After seven months of paperwork and countless fees, Anny Yang was finally able to bring a Hmong bobtail dog from Hanoi to the state of Washington.

"I lost sleep for several months because of my excitement and anxiety. The day the dog and I met is the day I’ll never forget," said Yang, a 32-year-old graphic designer from Vancouver, Washington.

She named the 10-month-old dog Hua, meaning "cloud" in Hmong.

Anny Yang, 32, with her 10-month-old Hmong bobtail that she bought from a farm in Hanoi, Nov. 2023. Photo courtesy by Anny Yang

Anny Yang, 32, with her 10-month-old Hmong bobtail that she bought from a farm in Hanoi, Nov. 2023. Photo courtesy by Anny Yang

Anny is an American-born Hmong. Her ancestors migrated from China to Laos and then to the USA. A few years before adopting Hua, she came across a picture of a Hmong dog in Vietnam.

"I decided I want to bring a Hmong bobtail dog from Vietnam to America," she said.

During this process, she met Kira Hoang, a fellow Vietnamese dog enthusiast in the US, and was directed to a breeder in Vietnam. Anny began keeping track of Hua when the puppy turned three months old.

But bringing the dog over to America was a lengthy and expensive process.

Hua had to be vaccinated and verified with a certificate of health by a laboratory in the US. Then the dog had to be transported in a specialized cage for 20 hours.

"I paid US$3,000 in total to bring Hua to America, but the biggest risk was that I didn’t know the puppy’s personality, and wasn’t sure what could go wrong with adopting a dog from the other side of the world," Anny said.

Anny Yang is one among thousands of Americans enthusiastic about purebred Vietnamese dogs.

Dog lovers all over the world began taking notice of native Vietnamese dog breeds in 2015, when Catherine Lane, 42, brought a pair of black Phu Quoc Ridgebacks from Vietnam to East Sussex, England. The pair gave birth to four puppies, with each puppy selling for up to GBP10,000. Word of the breed began to spread and a trend of raising Vietnamese dogs began to form.

According to Lieu Jean, a Phu Quoc Ridgeback breeder, trainer, and rescuer in the US, in the state of California alone there are more than a thousand Phu Quoc Ridgebacks, with a few hundred more in neighboring states. One can find dozens of social media groups dedicated to this dog breed from the island of Phu Quoc.

Lieu and her dogs as they climb a snowy mountain, 2022. Photo courtesy of Lieu

Lieu and her dogs as they climb a snowy mountain, 2022. Photo courtesy of Lieu

Kira Hoang, the President of the Phu Quoc Ridgeback Association, shared that her group has about 200 Phu Quoc Ridgebacks. There are also communities dedicated to Hmong bobtails, as well as Bac Ha and Lai dogs, but these have relatively few members.

To bring a Phu Quoc Ridgeback from Vietnam to the US, a person has to pay anywhere from US$2,000-3,000. Even if they bought the pet from an American market, they would have to pay US$800 to US$1,500. Lieu Jean said that her trained dogs go for at least US$4,000, and the owner has to sign a contract vowing to never use it for breeding. If they want to breed, they have to pay US$10,000.

Lieu, a doctor, has been raising Phu Quoc Ridgebacks since 2015. After she and her husband became breeders, they then became trainers, and rescuers of this dog breed. They soon became a reliable source for families wanting to raise ridgebacks. The couple now teach have hundreds of learners – both offline and online – from all over Europe, America, and Canada.

Lieu also said that in order to live in the US, purebred Vietnamese dogs, especially Phu Quoc Ridgebacks, need to be properly trained. Ridgebacks are hunters, and although they are intelligent, they are also fairly wild. If the dog is not trained, it will do whatever it wants.

"Buying the dog is one thing, but training fees can be 10 times higher," Lieu said.

Dan Khanh, a Vietnamese-American game artist and owner of a Phu Quoc Ridgeback named Kairos, confessed that she was anxious when she first brought the dog home. Her fears were dashed when she found out that Kairos was a fast learner and could even carry out two commands at once.

"Kairos was smarter than I expected and always managed to surprise me," she said.

Kairos’ loyalty and intelligence motivated Dan Khanh to connect with the Vietnamese dog lover community. With her research ability, Dan Khanh scoured the Internet in search of historical records about the four national dog breeds of Vietnam in order to build a resource and share it with everyone.

Along with Kira Hoang, she researched and compiled the family tree of hundreds of dogs, hoping everything she found could help Americans understand more about these purebreds.

"My goal is simple. I want everyone to love and appreciate Phu Quoc Ridgebacks as well as other Vietnamese dogs like I do," she said.

After learning about Vietnamese dog breeds on the Internet at the end of 2020, Kamiko Kourtev, 26, and her husband in Chicago, Illinois, became interested in them. She is waiting to buy a puppy from Kira Hoang.

Kamiko is currently raising a Chow Chow and an American Pitbull. However, her purpose in adopting a Vietnamese purebred is to help preserve the breed in the US.

"Purebred preservation has been my goal for a long time. When I learned about Vietnamese purebreds, I realized I’d found what I wanted to help preserve. I also plan to raise them as guard dogs, because I heard Vietnamese dogs are good at this," she said.

Lieu Jean’s efforts in training and rescuing Phu Quoc Ridgebacks is also a way for her to prevent the breed from gaining a bad reputation.

In 2019, she worked with famous geneticist Elaine Ann Ostrander t the United States National Institute of Health on the Dog Genome project to collect the DNA of purebred dogs. Lieu went back to Vietnam to obtain the DNA of over 200 Phu Quoc Ridgebacks for the project.

Lieu Jean and her Phu Quoc Ridgebacks at her home in California, November 2023. Photo courtesy of Lieu

Lieu Jean and her Phu Quoc Ridgebacks at her home in California, November 2023. Photo courtesy of Lieu

In January of this year, Kira Hoang also went to Vietnam to collect more than 100 DNA samples of native dog breeds to ensure the accuracy of the breeding profile. She recently announced that a scientific report about the results will soon be published.

"There are many Americans interested in purebred Vietnamese dogs, but they haven’t been recognized by the international canine federation FCI so not a lot of people want to own them," Kira said.

Currently, she and other Phu Quoc Ridgeback lovers in the US are fighting to let these dogs enter dog shows all over the country. Eventually, they want to have Vietnamese dog breeds be recognized by canine organizations in America and all over the world.

Under the shade of ginkgo trees in Vancouver, Anny now walks with her Hmong bobtail every day as the leaves fall. For her, being able to get to know and bond with Hua is the greatest thing that has ever happened to her.

"I also want to contribute to the process of getting the world to recognize Hmong bobtails, and I believe Hua will be the one to pave the way," she said.

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