The worst form of dog abuse in the world – in raw numbers and intensity of suffering – is flourishing in South Korea. In that industrialized nation, there are 17,000 dog meat farms operating mainly in rural enclaves and responsible for a scale of exploitation that far exceeds even the puppy mill industry in the United States.
But through the work of Humane Society International, we are starting to chip away at the problem, beginning the long process of shrinking the industry, and providing a new and better ending for these dogs.
Last week, our Animal Rescue Team began the shutdown of yet another dog meat farm in Korea – turning around the fortunes of 270 dogs slated for slaughter.
It was a bitingly cold day when our team reached the farm located on a hill in a remote, rural area of South Korea called Wonju. “The smell hit us hard when we entered the plastic-covered metal enclosures where the dogs were housed,” said Kelly O’Meara, HSI’s director of companion animals and engagement. “The sound of the dogs barking was almost deafening.” In the long rows of raised, cold, metal cages, with no cover from the frigid temperatures that dipped into the single digits during our rescuers’ visit, were huskies, golden retrievers, mastiff mixes, and some small breeds, like maltese mixes. Many were puppies, and a number of dogs were suffering from health conditions ranging from malnutrition to eye infections. Beneath the dogs’ cages, piles of feces had accumulated for several months.
Despite their miserable lives, most of the dogs were surprisingly friendly and curious and eager for human attention. But some were scared too, and retreated to the back of their cages, staring downwards to avoid eye contact. “These dogs received little to no care or human interaction, so our presence was likely both exciting and terrifying for them,” Kelly said.
The world’s eyes are increasingly set on South Korea, the venue of the Winter Olympics in 2018, and we believe this is the right time to make a push to end the dog meat trade there once and for all. South Korea is one of a handful of Asian countries where dogs are consumed, but it is the only one that intensively raises dogs on meat farms. Wonju is in the same province where the 2018 Winter Olympics will be held.
HSI has been working directly with dog meat farmers to help them to transition into humane trades. This is our fifth dog meat farm closure since last year, and our largest one so far. To date, our work has helped more than 500 dogs from the Korean dog meat trade, and most of the dogs we have transported here to the United States have found loving homes in the United States. Just as significant, we are winning support from dog meat industry workers and the Korean public who want an end to this gruesome business. Our next steps include a mass public awareness campaign, to dispel the widely held belief in South Korea that there is a difference between a “pet” dog and a “meat” dog. A majority of Koreans do not eat dogs, and increasingly Koreans are welcoming dogs into their homes as pets.
But dog meat is not a problem limited to South Korea; we are fighting this practice across other parts of Asia, including China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In China, we work with and support our local partner groups in rescuing and caring for dogs rescued from trucks on their way to various slaughterhouses in the country. To date, more than 10,000 dogs have been spared from being butchered and skinned and cooked, thanks to our efforts. We target and push for the end of cruel dog meat festivals, such as the well-known Yulin festival held annually. In Vietnam, we have worked with the government to put in place a ban on cross-border trade of dogs from Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos into the country.
Meanwhile, 55 of the 270 latest rescues from the Wonju meat farm are on the verge of beginning new lives drastically different from their old ones: we have transported them to the United States, where they will have the opportunity to find homes through two of our Emergency Placement Partners – the San Francisco SPCA and San Diego Humane Society. The remaining dogs will arrive here in March and April, and HSI will set up an emergency temporary shelter in the Northeast to care for them before they are placed with various Emergency Placement Partners in the region. Three dogs have been transported to Canada for placement through our HSI Canada office.
But millions of dogs on meat farms in Korea still need our help. An estimated 2.5 million dogs are consumed annually in the country, and there are thousands of farms throughout the country ranging in size from 50 dogs to over 1,000. For confined, shivering dogs in South Korea, and for dogs in other countries caught up in the meat trade, it’s a fight we must win.