Madeline Warren has travelled to South Korea since 2015 to work with the charity Save Korean Dogs. She lives in Scotland and gained an Honours degree in Zoology.
In many countries around the world dogs are eaten as food by humans. Media campaigns raising awareness about the dog meat trade have gained a lot of publicity in the last few years. These campaigns have mainly focused on Yulin, a town in China where they celebrate an annual dog-eating festival but the practice occurs in several Asian countries all year round. In most countries the dogs are strays or discarded or stolen pets, gathered in their millions to be brutally killed and eaten.
South Korea is different in that its meat dogs are raised on farms, in cramped cages, exposed to the elements, with only metal bars to stand on. Stocks of dogs are topped up with abandoned pets and unwanted puppy mill dogs. The dogs are born and raised in these filthy cages and are normally killed before they reach one year old, as this will be when their meat will be most tender. Barbaric methods of slaughter include electrocution, boiling alive, beating and hanging, as it is believed that the more pain and fear a dog experiences as it dies, the better tasting and more medically potent their meat will be. The layout of these farms means that many dogs are forced to watch their cage mates being tortured and slaughtered, knowing that they await the same fate.
Diseases and Antibiotics
Because of the stressed and unsanitary conditions the dogs live in, they are very susceptible to diseases, tumours and infection which are counteracted with vast doses of antibiotics. These diseases and medications are passed on to the humans who eat them. The large doses of antibiotics being fed to farmed animals are a major factor in growing antibiotic resistance and the rise of the superbug.
About 2.5 million dogs are killed for food in South Korea, servicing 17,000 restaurants and private customers. In the countryside, dogs are commonly seen tethered or in cages outside people’s homes until the day they are killed as food for a party or celebration. It is believed that eating dog will invigorate the person, cool the blood during the hot summer months, and increase stamina and virility. The majority of consumers are older men, while most younger people shun the practice, thinking of it as an embarrassing part of their cultural past.
The Role of Korean Catholicism
Another major customer for dog meat in South Korea is the Catholic Church and their congregation to whom it has become a symbol of Korean Catholicism. During the 19th century, Catholics were persecuted in this country and had to flee to the mountains to escape. They were starving and were forced to eat anything to survive- and this included dogs. The situation is very different today – there is poverty. However no-one is starving in South Korea any longer but the Catholic Church continues to celebrate its martyrs by eating dog meat on special occasions. With almost six million Catholics in the country, they contribute a considerable amount to the dog meat economy.
On a hopeful note, dog meat eating is on the decline, with a poll showing that 70 per cent of Koreans would not eat it. Surprisingly, many Koreans do not even know this industry exists in their country, and when it is brought to their attention they are shocked and distressed. There has been a huge increase in pet ownership with one in four households now owning a cat or dog, which is helping to raise awareness of animal welfare.
At the forefront of this awareness is a growing army of native Koreans fighting against the dog meat trade by political campaigning, rescuing dogs and closing down the farms. This has gained a lot of attention from media and the public. The current President, Moon Jae-in, even based some of his pre-election manifesto on promises to abolish the trade (although he has yet to honour any of these promises since his election in 2017). One of the major charities in this fight is Save Korean Dogs – they have rescued and rehomed more than 3,000 dogs since 2014 (the majority going to homes in the USA and Canada), and have closed down many dog farms. Their political campaigns have attracted people from all over the world to South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, to protest outside everything associated with the trade, from dog markets to Presidential buildings. They have liaised with mayors of several cities to make them dog meat free and have promoted this to the public using billboards and bus banners, and creating dog play parks.
The fight can be a dangerous one, with the charity’s founder, Nami Kim, being threatened with beatings and death from the dog farmers. Her job is made more difficult because she insists on never paying for the dogs she rescues but instead negotiates with the farmers and local councils. Most farms are closed down and forced to hand over their dogs due to flouting environmental laws because of poor waste management and being an eye-sore. Lack of correct licences and tax evasion are other reasons these farms are put out of business. There are no welfare laws in Korea to protect meat dogs which are considered inferior and different to pet dogs.
Support from Catholic Concern for Animals
Catholic Concern for Animals are hoping to help our friends in South Korea in the fight against the dog meat trade there. If we want to see an end to the dog meat trade worldwide then South Korea is one of the best places to start. It is highly regarded by, and very influential to, other east Asian countries as it is a leader in style, entertainment and industry. South Koreans are very image conscious, both on a personal and national level. They are very shocked and saddened when they find out that the main image of Koreans to foreigners is that they eat dogs! If dog-eating became illegal in their country, potential tourists could instead focus on the other wonderful things about Korea like its wonderful movie and TV industry, it being a leading figure in science and technology, K-pop, and its beautiful countryside and exciting cities. Ending the dog meat trade would be a win for the people of South Korea, and most definitely a win for the dogs.
If you are interested in helping Save Korean Dogs you can find out more about their work at savekoreandogs.org