October 26, 2015
Up Close: Visit to a South Korean Dog Meat Farm
HSI Vice President Kitty Block describes her reaction to visiting a South Korean dog meat farm for the first time, as seen in the video above. All of the dogs featured in the video were subsequently rescued, and the business shut down.
Have you spent much time “in the field”? What have you witnessed during your career?
I started working for The Humane Society of the United States in 1992. As part of my initial job as Legal Investigator, I had to review countless hours of footage for prosecutors and media. I viewed tapes depicting so much cruelty, from horse slaughter to dog and cat slaughter for food and leather in China. I always had the greatest respect and admiration for our investigators. I could hardly bear to view the footage, never mind witness such atrocities firsthand.
In 2000, I moved over to HSI to work on international protection and conservation agreements for wildlife. During those years, I focused on whales and dolphins and viewed too many videos showing their slaughter by Japan. But again, it was from the comfort and safety of my office.
Now, as VP of HSI, I supervise global rescue and disaster teams. I strategize, provide direction and support to our folks in the field. I realized that I would have a much better understanding what our teams have to navigate on the ground if I witnessed it for myself — hence, this trip to South Korea.
Did you meet the dog meat farmer while you were there? Impressions of him? What did he have to say?
I met the farmer on my first day. I had imagined beforehand how I would react; how would I feel meeting him. I wondered if I would be able to shake his hand if extended to me. We needed to communicate through a translator, which created a welcomed distance.
He wasn’t intentionally cruel to the dogs. But he was indifferent to their suffering. This was a business, nothing more. When he walked down the rows of caged dogs, they moved to the back of their cages and cowered. By contrast, when the farmer’s wife walked past, the dogs moved to the front of their cages, seemingly unafraid. The farmer’s wife seemed genuinely relieved to be out of the dog meat business. The farmer seemed pleased because the enterprise was proving not to be lucrative.
You had a strong reaction to this scene. What about it hit you so hard? What made you say “I have to get out of here”?
In thinking about that day — it is still hard. When we arrived at the farm, the sun was just rising. The stench hits you first. Then you see the dilapidated rows and rows of cages. It was eerily quiet. I actually wondered if there were any dogs on the farm. But when the dogs first recognized we were there – the barking became deafening.
I walked up to the cages and pressed my hands against the wires. The dogs threw themselves against the front of their cages just to be touched, just to lick your hand. They were so desperate for any human kindness. They all were clearly too thin, but when we gave them food — they actually knocked over or stepped into their bowls just to be closer to us. They were more starved for affection than food.
At the point where you see me on camera, I’m walking into the “nursery.” Seeing the moms and their babies in those rusted cages lined with their own feces for the duration of their mistreated lives was more than I could bear. The moms seemed desperate and their puppies, hungry and wanting out. In that moment, I felt both immensely sad and intensely angry. Tthe feelings were overwhelming and I needed to step away.
What is the latest on HSI’s campaign against dog meat in South Korea? What is the ultimate goal?
The team is headed back to the farm at the end of the month to ensure the cages are destroyed and that the farm is being converted to agriculture. Our staff will also meet with other farmers and economists to determine the next farm and area to target.
Our goal is to create a groundswell of support for closing down all the farms and enacting legislation to ban the dog meat trade. Our approach is innovative and one that sees animal protection groups and industry workers uniting in a call for an end to the trade.
We will continue working with dog farmers and other key stakeholders to develop realistic and economically viable alternatives to the dog meat industry.
Is there a particular anecdote about your trip to South Korea and/or your visit to the dog meat farm that stands out?
Just as we were leaving the farm, having crated and readied the adult dogs for transport to the airport, we decided to take one of the puppies back with us to the hotel. Some of the puppies and the moms couldn’t fly to the U.S. until the puppies were older, so we found foster care for them until they were ready to make the journey to their new homes. We took little Adam (later named Freedom) not because he needed a place to stay that evening, but because we needed him to stay with us.
We each held him close, took turns playing with him, smiled and teared up watching him take his first steps outside of the metal cage and onto grass. We brought him everywhere with us that day. We took him to the press conference, to our meetings and then with us to dinner. I kept him until he flew to California the next day with one of my colleagues.
Knowing that we were going to save every dog on that farm helped me get through the day. Holding little Adam close as we left the farm allowed me to heal and strengthened my resolve to shut down the next farm.
Anything else to say?
To our donors: We are so grateful for all your support and kind words. Your contributions enabled us to save these dogs and give them new lives. Thank you so much!