It’s a far cry from the thrills and spills of the slopestyle and the halfpipe to the shabby squalor of a dog meat farm, but that did not deter Gus Kenworthy from making the journey. As the Winter Games at Pyeongchang came to an end, the U.S. freestyle skier joined the Humane Society International rescue team at a dog meat farm in South Korea’s Gyeonggi-do province where HSI is now working on rescuing more than 80 dogs destined for the stew pot or the grill. It was so moving for Gus that he decided to adopt one dog, Beemo, who will live with him in the United States once the farm closure is complete.
Gus has worked with HSI before to protect dogs. I had a chance to meet him four years ago when we worked with him to rescue street dogs in Sochi, Russia, during the 2014 Olympics. Gus, who won a silver medal at Sochi, was determined to rescue a mother dog and her puppies and HSI was able to send them home to the United States. But this was his first experience at a dog meat farm, the 11th such farm we are closing in three years. The rescues are part of our wider strategy to show the South Korean government a working model for phasing out the industry for good, and to show dog farmers how quickly and easily they can shift to more humane livelihoods; the Gyeonggi-do farmer, who has been in the dog meat business for 10 years, plans to grow mushrooms.
Gus recently appeared with fellow Olympians Meagan Duhamel and Lindsey Jacobellis in our #EndDogMeat PSA video, hoping to shine a spotlight on dog meat cruelty. But he also wanted to experience a dog farm first-hand, and that’s what led him to join the HSI team. It was, he said, “so upsetting to see these dogs in such appalling conditions, many of them crammed four or five to a tiny cage with absolutely no room to move.” Still, he noted, despite their inhumane conditions, “they remain gentle and eager for attention.”
Gus wasn’t the only rescuer moved by the sight of the dogs. HSI’s Nara Kim, a team member of our dog meat campaign in South Korea, took a special fancy to Christopher, a Great Pyrenees the team found chained up on the farm. “He’s as wonderful and loving as a dog gets. Upon seeing us, he starts to wag his tail and his whole big, furry body nearly levitates with his eagerness. We shower him with affection whenever possible; he’s a love bug of a dog, despite his circumstances.”
An estimated 30 million dogs are killed and eaten each year in parts of Asia. In some nations, it’s banned or restricted, but in South Korea it’s in a kind of limbo, neither legal nor illegal. An estimated 2.5 million dogs of all types are still bred and killed each year for human consumption in South Korea, most by electrocution or hanging when they are just a year old.
HSI has worked in South Korea for the past three years. The more than 1,200 dogs rescued to date have been flown into the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom for a chance to find a loving forever home. Most of the dogs from this farm will be heading to Canada, except Beemo, who will fly to the United States to be with Gus.
We had long been looking to the Pyeongchang Games as an opportunity to focus attention on the cruelty of dog meat farming and the dog meat trade. And with Gus’s globally-reported farm visit, our eye-catching full-page advertisements in national Korean newspapers, face-to-face meetings with Korean National Assembly members, and our mobile dog farm campaign bus driven across Seoul and beyond with partner group KARA, we’ve certainly achieved that. But the Olympics was just one juncture in a much longer campaign that we’ll wage until there are no more dog meat farms or dogs on the dinner plate. It’s a year-round, multi-year effort and one that we’re pushing forward in a number of countries, and we need your help.
We’re grateful to all the other athletes who spoke up for dogs this month, but we’re especially indebted to Gus Kenworthy, a true champion in our book. He didn’t take home the gold but he certainly has a heart of gold. As for Beemo, she is a lucky dog.