“When I first entered the darkness, the overpowering stench of feces and urine made me retch,” said Adam Parascandola of Humane Society International. “The ammonia burned the back of my throat. We could hear the cacophony of desperate barking but we couldn’t see their faces, just their eyes peering out.”
Some of the dogs cowered as their rescuers approached. Others tried to hide. Loving human contact was an alien concept to them.
In a dog meat farm just 10 miles north of the capital city Seoul — in an indoor, labyrinthine maze of barren metal cages — were 55 dogs, including five puppies, living without any access to daylight or fresh air. The animals lived in pure darkness, and drew their breath from air that was fetid and overpowering. There were miniature pinscher mixes, Jindo mixes, a Great Pyrenees/Golden Retriever mix, a German short-haired Pointer, Shih Tzus, and a little Corgi/Chihuahua mix. A Maltese mix caged in isolation wore a very tight electric shock collar that was so tightly fitted, it was starting to dig into his flesh.
But this is a story with a happy ending: This weekend, we’re flying all 55 dogs to the United States. Once they arrive, they will be placed with our partner shelters and put up for adoption into forever homes. Never again will they know the kind of misery that haunted them since they came into this world.
Over the past two years our HSI team has been working in South Korea, closing down half a dozen dog meat farms and bringing the animals back to the United States or to Canada and the United Kingdom for adoption – to save lives and also to draw attention to this dark, dirty industry. They have seen it all: starving, thirsty dogs with no human or medical attention, locked up in tiny crates or cages, before they meet their final, gory end. But the extent of the cruelty our team encountered this time, during their seventh dog meat farm closure, was particularly jarring to them.
During previous dog farm closures we conducted, HSI worked with farmers on a business plan to transition them to humane livelihoods such as chili or blueberry farming. But the couple who owned this farm, both in their 80s, were finding it increasingly hard to sell the dogs and they were failing miserably in their animal care duties. This couple also wanted to retire, and ironically, they wanted to leave the animals in kind hands.
Appetites in South Korea are changing, and younger generations are turning away from dog meat. HSI has also been working in Korea to encourage adoptions from dog meat farms and dispel misconceptions that dogs raised for meat are somehow different from companion dogs.
With the closure of this farm, HSI has now rescued 825 dogs in its campaign to end the dog meat trade across Asia. But there is a long road ahead, and HSI cannot do it alone: South Korea has an estimated 17,000 dog meat farms, and more than 2.5 million dogs are killed there each year for human consumption. With these farm closures, we are designing a blueprint for change, allowing the South Korean government to begin in earnest the immense task of closing out thousands of farms and helping the operators transition to more humane businesses.
With the 2018 Winter Olympics coming to Pyeongchang in South Korea in just under a year, the time has never been better for the country to turn global attention away from this kind of unsavory and unpleasant cruelty, focusing it instead on a great sporting event in a country that its leaders want the world to admire. If South Korea doesn’t address this problem, and fast, it will be a stigma on the reputation of this fast-growing and important nation, and that’s a perception that will be hard to unwind once the cameras and the world’s attention focus elsewhere.