Editor's Picks Op/Ed

Addressing readers reactions to the dog meat industry in Korea

South Korea Dog Meat Farm Rescue
James Hyams
Written by James Hyams
This is the first time in my career where it has been necessary to write an opinion piece after the publication of an article. The reactions to the article titled ‘Former pets slaughtered for dog meat across Korea’ have been varied and mixed. I will address some of these reactions.

In a few hours this article was shared on Facebook more than 400 times and the Korea Observer was getting many new viewers to its site – 66 percent first time viewers to be precise.

This article roused an emotional reaction in many and they felt obligated to share their opinion on this cruel industry.

Some readers were horrified and made comments demanding the end of the dog meat industry in Korea.

A few readers stated that Westerners kill and eat cows, chickens, pigs, and so on, and that those Westerners criticising this practice are hypocritical. Their point is duly noted.

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The treatment of battery hens (egg laying chickens) is appalling. Like the dogs in Korea, these animals are put in tiny cages unable to move. Meat chickens live in similar conditions. Their lives are short and their feed often contains additives. The treatment of chickens in the West is an abhorrent practice. The treatment of pigs is similar.

Cows are treated humanely for the most part. People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals demonstrate there are significant steps required before one can argue that Western society humanely treats animals prior to their slaughter and consumption.

The fact that some animals are mistreated before being consumed in the West does not diminish the cruel treatment of dogs in Korea. It also does not make it acceptable.

Even the creator of the Korea Observer wanted to express his rebuttal.

“The difference is that cow and other animals are properly slaughtered and monitored whereas for dogs, there are still people who kill them brutally. Also it doesn’t matter which animal it is, they deserve proper treatment while being raised,” said Lee Tae-hoon, publisher at the Korea Observer

Also, in most Western countries the chicken and pig farm industries are regulated by government and when there is a breach there are penalties imposed.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that dogs are mistreated and the law breached in the dog meat industry, I am yet to see the prosecution of those hanging dogs, setting them on fire while still alive and then hitting them on the head with a metal bar.

The dog meat industry is not tightly regulated and, by extension, allowed to continue the cruelty. Several charities fight for the ethical treatment of dogs in Korea and have a mammoth task ahead of them.

South Korea Dog Meat Farm RescueInterestingly, I had a few Koreans deny the footage of dogs being slaughtered inhumanely was taken in Korea. They also rejected the evidence that some pets eventually become dog meat.

This implies that the undercover Co-existence of Animal Rights on Earth (CARE) volunteers were lying when they conducted thorough investigations of the dog meat industry. That all the photos and footage they gathered were a concoction of lies. I have first hand confirmation from an investigator about the authenticity of the information.

“I wrote CARE’s report on the dog meat industry, and can attest that all the footage, pictures, and quotes are %100 authentic…I worked “extremely close” with investigators,” he said.

I want to say two things to the few doubters. The first is to watch our YouTube footage and compare it to footage also posted by dogisdog.org and various other activists wanting to expose the dog industry for what it is.

The second is to add more information to this story. The Korea Observer received messages from readers thanking us for publishing the article and some shared their experience, which reinforced the accuracy of the articles content.

A few readers wrote that they purchased their dogs from owners that occasionally supply the dog meat trade.

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More to the point, as KoreaBang clearly demonstrates dogs are considered by the judicial system as property such as a car or a computer.

February 11, 2014 a man in his 50s killed his neighbors Rottweiler with an electric saw. He was charged with damaging property and received a 300,000 won fine ($276).

In Korea, police charge those who harm animals with property damage because the maximum sentence for cruelty to animals is only 12 months imprisonment or a fine up to 10 million won whereas property damage fosters a sentence up to three years or a fine of 7 million won.

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The animal cruelty laws in Korea are too lenient especially when killing someone’s pet dog, which is endemic of a wider issue – many members of the older population see dogs as meat and not pets.

Lee Kyung-hee, a cultural anthropology graduate, said that meat was scarce in Korea in the early and mid twentieth century.

“Families who had cows or other large livestock used them to help plough fields.

South Korea Dog Meat FarmThe cow was their biggest asset. Pigs were uncommon and not everyone had access to pig meat. Dogs were often seen as a viable meat source and their consumption became an acceptable practice in Korea. There is no reason why this practice should continue today,” she said.

It is unthinkable to kill someone else’s pet with the intention of eating it but it occasionally happens in Korea. In 2013, Park Ji-hye’s pet dog of eight years was killed and eaten by her 60-year-old neighbour after it briefly left her yard. This supports Lee’s explanation of dogs being seen as meat not pets by some of the older generations in Korea.

But, as noted by some readers, there is a positive shift away from cruelty to dogs.

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The opinion poll conducted by the Han Gil Research [http://www.hgr1993.com] and cited by CARE supports this. Seventy percent of the 1,000 respondents believed that all dogs should be protected equally under the Animal Protection Act. It is unfortunate that this leaves 30 percent who do not or are undecided.

It is this element that is likely to eat dog meat and perpetuate the inhumane industry in South Korea. It is also this element that most Koreans are ashamed of.

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International animal rights movements are attempting to address the cruelty in the dog meat industry. The Change For Animals Co-Founder Lola Webber says it is a very difficult campaign – one that requires the socio-legal status of dogs to be redefined in South Korea.

The words from Lola Webber are a fitting way to finish this opinion piece:

Culture evolves as times change. This is not an issue of ‘culture’ or ‘personal preference’. This is an issue of animal cruelty.

We are working to move this campaign forward, to support those in Korea calling for an end to this industry.

By working with multiple stakeholders, including those involved in the industry itself, it is our hope that we can move on from the circular arguments that detract from the real issue.

Let’s not use the suffering of some species in one country as an excuse for that of a different species in another.

As I was once told by someone who had committed their lives to fighting the dog meat industry in South Korea: until we can gain support for a dog meat ban, what hope do we have for other animals.

About the author

James Hyams

James Hyams

James Hyams juggles several careers including being a journalist and a social worker. James has an avid interest in 'telling it as it is', exposing matters of public interest, and reviving investigative journalism in the new digital era. Testimony to this is his thesis titled: “U.S. Government secrecy and the withering watchdog: Is WikiLeaks the answer?”

  • Jo

    If it is an issue of animal cruelty then making dog meat legal will put it in the same regulations as pigs and cows. Is that an acceptable compromise? Or is it something not about animal cruelty but about dogs being a special type of animal?

    • James

      My personal opinion is that dogs are pets and should not be eaten. However, if someone is going to eat a dog, I’d prefer there be regulations around minimising distress to the animal. These regulations would need to be enforced and punishment for non-compliance should be harsh.

    • Lorne

      I think that it is about regulation. As much of a libertarian as I am, the same standards need to be applied to dog meat, as to cow, chicken, or pig meat. That such regulations need to be re-worked is a different issue. This barbarism, however, cannot be allowed to continue.

      • Jo

        Problem is that there was push to legalize dog meat to use regulation to stop the torture but animal rights blocked it. What do you think might work? Everyone knows the problem. No need to state the obvious that have been repeated hundreds of times. The problem is no one seems to offer a realistic solution.

        • Lorne

          How are the actions of these handlers not illegal? If they are illegal, then they should be rounded up and punished. If they are not illegal, then animal cruelty laws should be enacted.

          • James

            Unfortunately the regulation of the dog meat industry is non-existent and the culture of the older generation, those in positions of power, do not see this as a problem large enough to warrant special attention.

    • Becca Ashworth

      No animal should be treated without compassion, but no other animal comes close to the loyalty and service of dogs, who lead the blind, search for the disaster victims, keep us from being blown to bits by bombs, serve the disabled, and detect impending medical emergencies in humans. Dogs are on a dfifferent level.

  • Alice Kang

    When i was a child, my parents took me and my sister to Moran Market in Korea. I think they were there to buy something else, but that market is known for butchering and selling dogs for meat. I still remember clearly the hollow eyes of the dozens of barbecued dogs displayed on tables after tables. Even as a child, i knew it was a horrendous sight. I think my parents took pity on the dogs because we bought a dog from one of the vendors and took it home that day. We named it Bami and i think it grew to be only about 12lbs (cant really rmber i was rly young) big. About a year before that we had bought a sickly looking puppy from a vendor selling puppies out of a box in front of the market for like $5. This one lived with us for many years before it ran away from home. his name was Bawoo.
    i grew up to be so grateful that my parents were and still are dog lovers.
    When my sister passed away when i was 14, it was Gamja, our silky terrier that filled our void. She licked our tears and whimpered when we were sad. She laid her gentle head on my lap and looked at me as if to console me. 20 years later, it is my 5 yr old Maltese Boss that took Gamja’s place.To me, Bawoo Bami Gamja Boss and my parent’s two dogs are family and nothing less.
    We mourn when we lose our family. Our heart breaks and we miss them dearly. I know the twinkle in their eyes when i pull out their leash. I know how fast their tail wags when i come home from work. I alrdy know when i open their treat box that they will come running any second now.
    To think that there are people out there that think its acceptable to treat dogs as mere food… they hv obviously never been blessed to actually get to know a dog. I feel so sorry for these people that they dont understand why we try so hard to save these loving creatures.
    The dogs that are locked up in cages waiting to be butchered…. i bet they were wagging their tail when people feed them to fatten them up. i bet they believed the butchers were their owners. i bet they forgave us heartless people even at their death…
    Saying it’s ok to eat dogs because other people eat cows and chicken is just as absurd as saying its ok to do drugs because other people are smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Mistreating animals in not okay under any circumstances.
    My heart breaks for all the mistreated dogs and for all the ignorant, barbaric and unsympathetic people. I have never been so ashamed to call these people my fellow koreans.

    • James

      Wow. Thank you so much for the above comment. I am sorry to hear of the passing of your sister at 14 – that is far too young. I am also equally sorry to hear about the loss of Bawoo. You represent the younger generation of Koreans that value animal welfare. I really appreciate the comment and wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

      • Alice Kang

        thank you… i can only hope more people start to appreciate how these creatures enrich our lives. creating awareness is the homework given to our generation. i hope and intend to do my share fully. thanks again for your kind words.

    • fortheloveofdogs

      Absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your words and your heart. I cried when I read this as I could not agree with you more and you lived it and saw it with your own eyes. You are the example of how others should be and see this in your country and I hope with all my heart that one day this torture of dogs will end.

    • Cara

      That was so beautifully put. It’s the truth. Keep fighting the good fight to end this horror forced upon man’s best friend.

  • Canis canis

    Firstly, I was very sorry to read you lost your sister so young Alice. And of course I was touched to read how Bawoo, Gamja, Bawi and Boss became family and did their best to help you all when you were sad.
    So the argument that dogs are food is jarring.
    Indeed the justification that it is acceptable because we eat other animals is a betrayal of logic and a thought terminating cliche.
    I am surprised that, as yet, no one has said ‘pigs are as intelligent as dogs’ and shoehorned that into suggesting eating dogs is ok.
    There is a very good documentary called ‘the secret life of the dog’ which is very worth watching. The incredible intelligence and untapped contribution this species can make to humanity is astounding.
    To see dogs as food is to wantonly devalue something precious. Dogs are being trained to detect cancers in humans. To learn a vocabulary of 1000 words. To communicate with humans in ways that are superior to apes. If we eat them, we are choosing to abandon that value.
    It is suggested, through research based on looking at mitochondrial DNA, that dogs have been domesticated for approximately 100,000 years.
    The human dog relationship has been of mutual benefit and has been very successful. This would indeed seem to suggest this species is our best friend and we abandon something precious when we deliberately hold ignorance in esteem.
    Our ancient ancestors, faced with a world far more brutal, recognised dogs as more than calories.
    For me, it is like choosing to warm oneself by burning books or works of art. It is to demonstrate that we do not recognise the value of something.

    • Alice Kang

      thank you for your comment. i can tell you are very well-researched on the topic. i wish i could write as eloquently as you do. i absolutely agree with you on your analogy of burning books and art to keep warm. it is absolutely tragic that some people still do not see the true value of such precious creatures.
      i think the koreans will eventually learn, but it will take time. i can only hope that it doesnt take too long. seeing that Korea saw a rapid growth in quality of life in the last few decades, i know they (we, since i am Korean as well) are capable of making changes for the better.
      i will hv to look for that secret life of the dog documentary you mentioned, thank you.

      • James

        This is wonderful to read.

  • zoso13

    Let’s talking about the scalping of native Americans. For the sake of perspective and ignorance!

    • James

      Sure. Can you let us know more if you think it would help give balance and perspective.

  • DavidE.

    I agree with the quote you included by another reader. Most of the people who still support eating dog meat are the elderly who grew up back when it was a common practice. Once their generation goes, I believe it will become practically non-existent.

    On a side note, my wife who is Korean, was forced to try dog meat by her father when she was a kid. She thinks it is disgusting and after that incident she never wanted to eat it again.

  • Gracie

    I cannot understand the senseless cruelty of the Korean people. To bring unimaginable pain and suffering to a helpless animal is the act of an evil coward. I do not understand Korean’s ability to inflict such violence against the innocent. How shameful. I can only hope that these heartless individuals experience the same terror and pain they have inflicted on the innocent.

  • http://batman-news.com Linda Jane O’Brien

    There’s a person on Facebook whose page I read where it was
    mentioned that the West have no right to dictate to the Far East on the cat and
    dog eating habits when the West kill billions of animals a day. It is not the fact that it is deemed unnatural
    in the West to consume such meat, but the horrific deaths and uncalled for
    brutality and suffering these animals are put through. The objective of the article was to evoke change,
    get people to think outside the box, but the immaturity of the person, who
    thinks change happens overnight and that until the West don’t stop killing farm
    animals it is okay for the Far East to continue torturing cats and dogs, also
    mentioned words like “white supremacy”, profuse with racism, provocative and promotional
    in creating rifts between the East and West, there was nothing educative or
    creatively evolutionary in this article.
    Even wrote about a young Chinese boy who yelled he hated his people
    after having watched a dog being put to death, that he did so out of the
    ignorance and his youth. How can anyone
    try to build a guilt complex in a child whose gut reaction prompted him to react
    the way he did based on primeval instincts.
    The West, as you rightly mention, have controlled, safe, hygienic
    methods of slaughter. Treatment of
    animals on farms are monitored, not to say that abuse doesn’t take place, but
    effort is made, fines, penalties and other forms of punishment by law
    implemented for the most part. Just
    because you do this, then I can do that (or vise-versa) attitude is ludicrous. Just
    because things have been going on for years, as in pig wrestling (since 40
    years or so), doesn’t mean that it needs to continue, otherwise why bother with
    fighting modern day slavery, child marriage, the dowry system, just let it
    continue as business as usual because, if you indulge in such behavior, who am
    I to throw the stone, when I am guilt of something else equally
    disgusting. No, the consumption of cat
    and dog meat MUST STOP!!! Laws need to
    be put in place and implemented, thoroughly.

  • Mark Riding

    What is the difference between eating a dog or cat versus a chicken? Well, please let me tell you because this is the most idiotic simple minded argument that I have ever heard! It’s not just a matter of cultural preference. It is a sin against God in EVERY religion. The eating of any animal with a paw is forbidden in Christianity and Judaism (see Leviticus). It is also forbidden in the Koran (the eating of any animal with fangs), as well as Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. In fact, I have yet to find any religion that condones the eating of dogs or cats. What does that tell you???? Isn’t South Korea supposed to be a country made of predominantly Christians and Buddhists? Unless you are an atheist, you should be 100% against eating dogs and cats as you are violating your own religion by doing so. For those of you that continue doing this, I pray that God has no mercy on your wicked souls and damns you to hell for all eternity! BTW, I’m a vegan so I consume no animal products whatsoever.

  • roger

    In regard to your article on the dog meat industry – for those who are concerned about this business – go home if you don’t like it. This is not your country or your culture. Stop trying to save the world. You are here by the invitation of a ‘foreign’ government. You are not a citizen of this country and you have no vote in the matter – and that’s it!

    • Alexis

      as an invitee of a “foreign” govt which is receiving goods, services, and billions in my country’s taxpayer dollars for military defense, the “foreign” govt’s local population are all hired and paid above-average salaries from this pot of money and benefit greatly from from the “invitee” govt’s presence…we would happily depart the country and leave it to its pre-Cold War practices born of geographical and cultural isolation….very happily…but we’re taking our jets and high-falutin’ war technology with us, you’re welcome..

  • http://techani.tumblr.com techani

    It saddens me that many Koreans are ashamed. Their self-confidence is extremely low and all what they care about is how the western world sees them.

    I wish they’d realize that they will never belong to the west or be “bff”. It would be appropriate to promote gentle treatment for animals, and that’s it. But being ashamed, why? Pigs eat dirt as their main course and no one was ashamed from consuming them.

    I hope thise many people in Korea would have enough confidence to show who they are without being ashamed of their heritage and culture and names, as many also use english names beside their birthnames.

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