Upwards of 2 million dogs on thousands of farms are kept in small, barren, filthy cages, exposed to the elements and given little food and no water. Many suffer from disease and malnutrition and all are subjected to daily, extreme neglect. The methods used to kill the dogs are brutal—electrocution is most common.
Since 2015, HSI has worked on the ground in South Korea coordinating an ambitious program of dog meat farm. We’ve so far permanently shut down more than a dozen such farms, ranging in size from backyard breeders with 50 dogs to large operations with 250+ dogs. HSI has rescued nearly 1,800 dogs so far, and coordinated their placement in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and the Netherlands, as there is currently insufficient widespread acceptance of dog adoption, particularly of large dogs, in South Korea. There is also a misconception that “meat dogs” are different from “pet dogs.” HSI seeks to effect a change in perception through public education, adoption stories, working with policy makers in favor of reform and urging the national government to phase out dog meat farming.
Our ultimate goal is a ban on the dog meat trade. Dog meat farm closures are part of HSI’s strategy to facilitate the political and societal circumstances to make this possible. A critical factor in achieving the necessary political and social support is demonstrating that the dog meat trade can be phased out in cooperation, rather than conflict, with dog meat farmers.
To show that this is possible, HSI works collaboratively with dog meat farmers who wish to leave the controversial industry, to facilitate their transition from dog meat farming to more profitable—and humane—business models, such as medicinal herb farming, water parsley farming, and blueberry farming. Many of the farmers with whom we have worked had faced mounting criticism from family members for participation in the trade, and faced decreasing profits as fewer people in the country want to buy dog meat. Some had also begun to have ethical qualms themselves about their means of livelihood. Some were eager to leave behind farming altogether and move to the city. Some of the dog meat farmers were operating illegally without a license.
While the majority of South Koreans don’t routinely eat dog meat, the “right” for others to do so is still strongly felt. Dog meat is mostly eaten by older, male citizens who have the misguided belief that it is beneficial for health when consumed either as a soup called “boshintang”—which is believed by some to invigorate the blood and reduce lethargy—or as a tonic (gaesoju), which is sold in traditional medicine shops.
The dog meat industry is largely seasonal, with dog meat particularly popular during the summer months, especially during “bok nal”—the three hottest days between July and August according to the lunar calendar when 70 to 80 percent of the dog meat is consumed. Many farmers have their dogs slaughtered for bok nal, when they fetch the highest prices. The suffering of so many dogs every year is predominantly to supply boshintang soup during Bok Nal. Unlike China’s Yulin festival, bok nal is not a single event, so combating bok nal is more about changing hearts and habits during a particular time of year.
Reason for hope
There are a growing number of passionate and dedicated animal groups and activists in South Korea who care deeply about ending the dog meat industry, and vocally and visibly oppose the trade with protests and demonstrations. HSI works with two leading Korean groups, Korea Animal Rights Advocates and Korean Animal Welfare Association, to support their efforts and end this brutal industry.