The 23 survivors of the Korean dog meat trade arrived in the United States on a cold January day amidst bone-chilling temperatures and a bracing snowstorm, but theirs is a truly heartwarming story. For Snowball and the other dogs, the new year ushers in a new life, in a new country, with new and hopeful prospects as beloved companions. They will not be someone’s dinner. They are the beneficiaries of the first dog rescue operation of its kind. And they owe their journey to freedom and forever homes to a Humane Society International rescue team, its strong global partnerships, and a Korean farmer’s change of heart.
Their story began in Ilsan, north of Seoul, on one of the thousands of dog farms that supply animals for the dog meat trade in South Korea where 1.2 to 2 million dogs are eaten annually. South Korea is unusual among those few countries involved in the trade because of this intentional breeding of dogs to supply demand. In other nations, the trade gathers up stray dogs, and then butchers them.
With the 2018 Winter Olympics on the horizon as a global showcase for South Korea, and dog meat enjoying so little social and cultural sanction in the world, HSI has begun reaching out to Korean dog meat farmers with offers to help them to transition into other activities. Pressure is rising on the South Korean government to do more about the trade and its cruelties. As part of the Asia Canine Protection Alliance Korea, HSI is working to address the worst cruelties of the trade, and to create greater public awareness campaigns aimed at reducing the demand for dog meat in the country.
The recent rescue operation involved extensive logistical work in both South Korea and the United States. In-country partners, our Animal Rescue team, and our friends at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria joined together to ensure safe passage and to lay the groundwork for placing the animals in loving homes here in the United States. They’re the talk of the town in Washington, D.C. and a short video of Snowball has already secured more than one million hits on the HSI Facebook page. If every dog has his day, this was Snowball’s, for sure.
The media attention that the dogs and the hosting shelters receive will not only bring scrutiny to the dog meat trade, but it will hopefully encourage more people to visit the shelters and adopt other pets in those communities. But this is not just a feel-good story in the United States. It has also made a big impression in the Korean news media, stoking rising negative opinion of the dog meat trade. Koreans are praising the farmer who relinquished the dogs and declared his intention to transition to blueberry farming, and a growing chorus is encouraging other farmers to make a similar transition from the trade.
These actions are part of a broader field of battle against the dog meat trade, in China, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and elsewhere. In China, HSI has supported numerous local animal welfare organizations working to suppress the dog meat trade there. Since August 2014, over 7,000 dogs have been rescued from large transport vehicles carrying hundreds of captured dogs in crowded cages to their deaths at various slaughterhouses in the country. In the summer of 2014, HSI joined massive global protests against the Yulin dog meat festival, bringing unprecedented attention to the issue in China.
The commercial trade in live dogs for meat is intensely cruel, with animals typically taken from the streets, hundreds crowded on top of one another in trucks, and transported long distances (often days) without food or water to a location for an inhumane slaughter. In many places, it is strongly correlated to the challenges of street dog overpopulation, and anxiety over the spread of rabies – a major public health issue in many of the countries that consume dog meat.
The footage I’ve seen of the dogs buoyed my spirits, but I was also moved by the farmer’s decision to shift to a new line of work, because that’s the kind of thing we want to see occur across the board whenever animal cruelty is concerned. We must believe in the ability of others to alter their thinking and their practices, if we are to be successful in our broad goals of building a better world for animals. In Korea, we’ll continue to work with farmers in helping them transition from dog meat into alternative trades, providing financial incentives where needed.
As for the rescued dogs, after some quarantine time and health checks, and some additional socialization, they will begin the final leg of their journey: finding homes. Some dogs will stay at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, which coordinated the shelter placement of the dogs here in the United States. Snowball and several other dogs will go to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, and still more dogs will head to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, the City of Manassas Animal Control and Adoption Shelter, Loudoun County Animal Services and the Washington Animal Rescue League. These dogs are, in their own way, agents of change – the kind of change we’re committed to pursuing every day throughout the world.