COMMENTARY: The truth about dogs in Korea

by Madeline Warren

For many people who have traveled to South Korea, the first response from their acquaintances is often a joke about making sure they don't eat dog by mistake when they get there. A tourist to this country would be hard pushed to find evidence of this tradition particularly as many Koreans don't even know it exists or think of it as an embarrassing and old-fashioned part of their cultural past. But the truth is, an estimated 2.5 million dogs are slaughtered here every year, supplying about 20,000 restaurants and private customers eating gaegogi (dog meat), bosintang (dog meat soup) and tonics. We are now entering the time called Boknal when many of these killings occur: 3 of the hottest days of the year chosen according to the lunar calendar when it is believed that eating dog will invigorate the diner, increase virility and cool the blood, the majority of customers being older men. This year the dates of Boknal land on July 17th and 27th and August 16th.

Online and media campaigns against using dogs as meat have gained lots of publicity in the past few years. These campaigns have mainly focused on Yulin, a town in China where they celebrate an annual dog-eating festival but the practice occurs in many Asian countries all year round. In most countries, dogs are stolen pets or strays gathered in their millions to be killed and eaten but S. Korea is unique in that most of its meat dogs are raised on farms, in cramped cages with only wire mesh to stand on. The dogs are born and raised in these filthy cages and are normally killed before they are one year old as their meat will be more tender. Barbaric methods of slaughter include beating, hanging, boiling alive and electrocution as it is believed that the more pain and fear an animal feels when it dies, the more medically potent and better tasting the meat will be. The design of the farms means that many dogs are traumatized after seeing their cage mates being tortured and butchered in front of them as they await the same fate. The dogs favored on these farms are known as yellow dog, a mixed breed also called Neurreungi. Jindo dogs are also surprisingly used despite them being regarded as one of the country's national treasures. Stocks of dogs are topped up with unwanted companion pets, dogs from puppy mills and it is thought that some may be transported from China to fulfil the large demand.

Protestors also focus on the threats to human health that dog meat imposes. The dogs are fed on human food waste which is often old, infested and unhygienic. Because of the stressed conditions the dogs are kept in they are very susceptible to infections and most have diseases such as Parvovirus and Coronavirus, which can be deadly if left untreated. They are fed huge amounts of antibiotics to keep them alive and all of these diseases and medications end up in the human food chain.

For people around the world who are concerned about the Korean dog meat trade, Nami Kim's name is well known to them. A true hero, Nami returned to her native Korea 4 years ago after having married and lived in the USA for many years. She has devoted her life to working for the dogs and puppies of her country, spending every waking minute to do so- raising funds, multiple vet trips, liaising with pollticians, fighting court cases and arguing with angry farmers are just some of the tasks she has to deal with on a daily basis. Her considerable efforts have contributed to rescuing dogs, closing down farms and trying to help the farmers find alternative employment. This has led to many successes, culminating in the most recent rescue of an incredible amount of 300 dogs from one farm who have now been rehomed at a recently opened sanctuary. Nami hopes to send most of these dogs to loving homes in the USA and Canada as she feels that their non-pedigree pet status keeps them in danger of being killed and eaten in the future if they remain in Korea. Despite their bad start in life, the dogs available for adoption all have a clean bill of health after veterinary care given to them when rescued.

Nami is always appreciative of help with donations, volunteers who can escort dogs on flights, adoptions and fostering. The shelter also needs carriers for the dogs. Most of the dogs are healthy and very friendly but many are traumatized by what they have seen and experienced so they need socializing and exercise to get them used to being with people and to gain their trust. is a petition website run by a Korean/ American woman from her home in California.

There will be a quiet protest outside the National Assembly in Seoul during July and you can find out more about that here

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