A Marine aims to keep dog off menus

By Steve Chawkins
Sunday, January 23, 2011

LOS ANGELES - More than three decades after the war in Vietnam, a Marine named Robert Lucius had a moment of reckoning on the road to Lai Chau.

A naval attache at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, he was bound for a rural clinic with a donation of medical equipment.

When his car was passed by a motorbike with a wicker basket full of dogs, he locked eyes with one of them.

"There was an immediate sense of connection," he said. "You could see the fear, the dread, the helplessness."

A vision raced through his mind: Liberate the dogs. Have his driver overtake the bike and dig into his wallet - anything to keep them from being served up in restaurants down the road.

Lucius, now 42, did nothing. He didn't, he said, want to be seen as a "cultural imperialist" bent on changing a local custom merely because it offended him. But later that day, after a celebratory meal with Vietnamese colleagues, he saw a dog skinned and splayed out on a restaurant kitchen floor.

"That dog was every dog," he said. "Like a light switch, my life flipped . . . from darkness to light."

Lucius renounced meat. Then he became a vegan. Now, two years after his return from Vietnam, he has started the Kairos Coalition, a nonprofit aimed at ending animal cruelty and making amends for what he sees as his cowardice on the road to Lai Chau that day in 2006.

Kairos is a Greek term loosely translated as "timely opportunity." For Lucius, who today is a lieutenant colonel and assistant provost at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., that means training young people in Vietnam to stage performances about the immorality of animal cruelty. He calls it "humane edutainment."

Like the wandering "culture and drama teams" that Ho Chi Minh employed to rally support decades ago, the Kairos troupe is being trained to use puppets and masks, songs and dance. The members have put on a couple of events and have more scheduled at schools and universities throughout Hanoi.

The idea is to draw audience members into the action, getting them to think about everyday cruelty.

At a workshop in Hanoi last fall, Lucius and two American volunteers gave their players a situation that called for quick ethical thinking: A couple come upon a suffering watchdog, chained outside a shop with no food or water. After discussing a number of alternatives, the actors decided to pressure the shop owner indirectly - by appealing to his neighbors.

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