Animals are my friends… and I don’t eat my friends. (George Bernard Shaw)
Every dog is a story. And in South Korea, we know the endings for millions of dogs who are subjected to the most unimaginable agony until their last breath, spending their lives at these grim and squalid dog meat farms—the very bowels of existence—with their pitiless smell of human injustice and cruelty. They come to sorrow in these hellish places, imprisoned in filthy and desolate cages, where the puppies will soon be separated from their mothers, all awaiting their fate. The accumulation of so much grief, so many lives snuffed out, extinguished, day after day, year after year, for food. Everyday cruelties perpetrated casually and without remorse.
FARM IN HONG SUNG
At daybreak, on our first morning in South Korea, volunteers from a local animal-protection group and I drive two hours south of Seoul to a small farming community, where the farm we visit has about 150 dogs. I feel my heart racing as we approach the barns: rubbish-strewn squalor everywhere, as macabre a scene as I’ve ever encountered, where a few striking very large dogs are attached to chains guarding the barns. They are sweet and affable and enjoy being touched. Walking into the stink and murk of these wretched barns, a few of them illuminated from the light of nature, others swathed in darkness, all packed with wire cages, is like entering some Dantean hell out of one’s childhood nightmares. The smell is overpowering and nauseating, with piles of excreta amid the merciless conditions. The air is rent by shrill cries, the same sound that neighbors living near farms describe when the notorious blue trucks arrive with the familiar engine noise that sends the dogs howling with terror.
What you first see are the “edible” large dark brown, Mastiff-looking dogs called Dosa (also used for fighting), too many to count, their arresting faces taut with pain, uttering tremulous moans upon seeing us. Dosas grow quickly and sell fast, bringing handsome profits. Some of the dogs are standing, others pacing, many reaching out through the bars with their paws, headsleaning forward, all staring at me desperately, puzzled, prisoners in a cage, as I speak to them quietly. The din soon dies down. There are also the ubiquitous so-called yellow dogs, “best for meat,” or Nureongi, and the popular yellow and white Jindo mixes. In one cage, there is a small black and white terrier licking a Dosa. And then there are several cages of small dogs together, “the purebreds,” including grotesquely matted apricot Poodles, Chihuahuas, Mini Pinschers. One of the enduring myths is that only certain dogs are eaten, the “meat dogs,” but we find that all dogs, no matter the size, the breed, are eaten, including countless former animal companions who have been abandoned, which is endemic, or stolen. Prized Shih Tzus, Maltese, Schnauzers, Poodles are at the farms, markets, slaughterhouses, and restaurants to be tortured and killed, a gruesome ending.
Leaving all the cages behind I feel a terrible pang. Dogs imprisoned in cages for the entirety of their short, bleak lives, to be electrocuted, and not die immediately, or hanged, or even beaten to death. We see some evidence of dogs being killed here (a photo from a previous visit by the South Korean animal-protection organization, People Defending Animals, reveals bones and skulls that little Chi mix pups played with like toys). Up until last summer, the farmer had a refrigerator that stored the meat of dead dogs but it is no longer here. He tells us that he raises them and sells them all off.
MAKING A LIVING
We go to the small farmhouse to have tea with the farmer, who is eager to speak with us. We have found him with the help of one of the volunteer’s parents who live in the area. We discuss his business and what it would take for him to find another source of income. He says he started with a puppy mill, then became involved in dogs of a certain aesthetic who were in demand just for show (the Mastiff-like dogs), then to “meat” dogs and occasionally dogs bred for fighting. The selling of dogs, he insists, is more profitable than the farm, given the small size of his land. The farm began as a vegetable farm and then he planted fruit trees to sell but the vegetables didn’t make enough and the trees are still too young. Only the dogs have worked. He gets $100 for a puppy and $200 to $300 for a bigger dog. He has invested about $40,000 for the facility. How could he replace the animals and keep the facility? We discuss repurposing the entirety of the farm, demolishing the cages, using the big barn for storage. We try to steer him away from replacing dogs with other animals. Blueberries are mentioned. The farmer says the dog business is a hard industry to give up, because it is so lucrative: the farmer breeds the dogs and sells to the trader who sells to the restaurants by the truckloads, a very systematic enterprise. He acknowledges that he makes a living at the expense of the dogs but feels confident that he is doing nothing wrong, because it is his business. He admits that his wife and children don’t visit the farm because it upsets them, but his wife recognizes that her children can go to college on what her husband makes from “edible” dogs. A few days later, his story is told at a meeting with the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Although almost all the dogs are bred at the farm, some neighbors show up to drop off their own dogs, or frightened and doomed strays are brought in for money. Restaurants and the markets and the slaughterhouses are the final destination for all the captives. The dogs are usually under the age of two when their young lives are destroyed.
When we arrived at the farm, we saw a tiny white dog who appeared to be favoring a leg and was gingerly hopping around. She was afraid but inched her way toward us. Upon closer inspection, we noticed that she had some sort of terrible skin infection but allowed us to touch her. We inquired about her and were told that she appeared a few months ago as a stray. It is obvious that she holds no value for him (too small to sell as a “healthy product”), but I later learn that she could have provided a meal for someone, even in her sickly condition (see Public Health) and I know that we will try to leave with her.
The farmer says we can take her and we grab her and place her in a small crate for the ride home. When we leave everything grows quiet. Even Angel, as we call her, doesn’t emit a sound.
Korean dog farms are modeled on United States factory farms. And if dog farms were ever to be regulated in South Korea, which they currently are not, they would become even more industrialized and murderous, which is why animal-protection organizations in South Korea and elsewhere are working to persuade the South Korean government to legalize a ban on dog and cat meat.
Angel was treated for her skin condition and after several weeks was transported to Los Angeles, where she was diagnosed and treated for heartworm. Now fully recovered, she has since moved to Austin, Texas, to live with an adoring Junghee, and is basking in a delicious reverie of a wonderful new life. Angel has been renamed Banji, meaning ring in Korean. (See Rescues)