(ANIMAL NEWS/DOG MEAT TRADE) In a new campaign, animal rights group Humane Society International (HSI) is offering to pay South Korean dog farmers to release dogs so they can be sent to the U.S. and elsewhere for adoption.

Financial incentives range from $2,000 to $60,000–depending on the number of dogs involved–to pay off farmers who give up their dogs to be adopted as family pets abroad and switch to more humane livelihoods, like farming peppers or berries.

So far, the group has been effective in shutting down five dog meat farms, but the fight against the industrialized South Korean dog meat trade is not over. Read on to learn more about HSI‘s rescue initiatives and see how South Korea’s attitudes towards dog meat are slowly evolving.– Global Animal

Photo Credit: Jean Chung for The New York Times
A dog is rescued from a dog meat farm in Wonju, South Korea. Photo Credit: Jean Chung via New York Times

New York Times, Choe Sang-Hun

WONJU, South Korea — On a farm nestled between hills of chestnut and acorn trees, the aging Spitz has had an easy life. She follows her owner, Gong In-young, everywhere. And he dotes on the dog, whose name is Snow White.

Yet on his farm in a valley southeast of Seoul, Mr. Gong, 55, also raises dogs for their meat.

Locked up in steel cages their entire lives, the animals are fed with discarded food Mr. Gong collects from restaurants in nearby towns until they are ready to be sold to the slaughterhouse, 200 to 300 each year.

Referring to the lives of Snow White and the dogs raised for meat, he admits, “It’s the difference between heaven and hell.”

Mr. Gong recently struck a deal with Humane Society International, an animal-rights group that has begun a campaign against dog farms in South Korea. It is offering financial incentives to farmers — $2,000 to $60,000 depending on the number of dogs involved — who give up their animals to be adopted as family pets in the United States and elsewhere and switch to other livelihoods, like growing pepper or blueberries. Since last year, the group says it has shut down five farms.

Mr. Gong agreed to free his 260 dogs only weeks before many of them were scheduled to die.

It is difficult to measure the global dog-meat trade, an industry that is deplorably regulated. Animal rights groups estimate that 30 million dogs, mostly stolen or feral, are killed each year for their meat in Asia, in countries such as China and Vietnam.

South Korea has industrialized its dog-meat trade. Each year, more than 17,000 dog farms, some of them raising more than 1,000 animals each, supply 2 million dogs to meet the country’s centuries-old appetite for dog meat, according to government data.

In Mr. Gong’s warehouselike complex of cages, visitors walk into a deafening cacophony. Huskies, Rottweilers, golden retrievers and other breeds bark and paw at the wires. Retired Tosa fighting dogs lie listlessly, some with their snouts badly mangled. Below the cages, feces piles up, creating an overpowering odor.

About 30 million dogs are killed each year for their meat in Asia. Photo Credit: Jean Chung via New York Times
About 30 million dogs are killed each year for their meat in Asia. Photo Credit: Jean Chung via New York Times

Dog traders visit these farms to buy animals when the summer’s dog-eating season approaches. At current rates, an 80-pound dog goes for $250. They transport the dogs in cages so crowded they can barely move or even suffocate before they arrive at slaughterhouses for electrocution.

From the slaughterhouse, wholesale meat dealers supply the carcasses to back-alley dog-meat restaurants, where customers, many of them older men, enjoy a hot bowl of vegetables, spicy condiments and shredded dog meat.

“Dog is raised and supplied just like cabbage is,” Mr. Gong said.

Koreans call the dog dish “bosintang,” or “soup good for your body.” It became popular when the nation was destitute and meat was scarce.

Koreans are fiercely proud of their culinary history. Even those who shun dog meat often bristle at foreigners who criticize the practice; to them, eating snails is unthinkable and force-feeding ducks to produce foie gras cruel.

But as South Korea has become wealthier, its tastes and attitudes toward animals has changed. Keeping pets has become more commonplace. Television programs on raising companion animals or rescuing abused dogs are popular. In parliamentary elections in April, one small party championed animal rights.

Increasingly South Koreans, especially the younger generation, find the idea of eating dog meat appalling.

“Grandpa strokes my poodle on his lap and says, ‘This is just the right size for a bowl of bosintang,’ ” said Kim Yoo-na, 14, who recently visited a pet accessory store in Seoul with his mother. “He’s joking, but whenever he says that, I snatch my dog from him.”

Animal rights groups hope the campaign to free more dogs will boost public awareness about the animals’ plight ahead of the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018, when the country will be more sensitive to its international image.

“There is widespread public ignorance about the dogs bred for meat — the myth that these dogs are somehow different from ‘normal dogs’ has fostered a societal indifference to their suffering,” said Wendy Higgins, a Humane Society International spokeswoman.

“Our experience at all farms has shown that every breed of dog imaginable is found on a dog meat farm, including the pure breeds that are popular as companions,” she said.

A rescued dog waits for a flight out of Seoul. Photo Credit: Jean Chung via New York Times
A rescued dog waits for a flight out of Seoul. Photo Credit: Jean Chung via New York Times

Mr. Gong said he had moved into this valley southeast of Seoul to breed special-purpose animals, like guide dogs for the blind, after his music cafe in Seoul went bankrupt in the 1990s. Oversupply and plummeting prices for specialty dogs forced him to sell the animals for meat. Ten years ago, he began to raise dogs for meat full time.

“I am not particularly proud of eating dog meat, but I don’t think it’s something we should be ashamed of either,” he said. “No nation should be criticized for its food.”

Andrew Plumbly, a Humane Society International campaigner, said, “Culture is never an excuse for cruelty.”

When the two sides met recently, they found common ground.

Mr. Gong saw no long-term future for his trade. Surveys show that most South Koreans now eat chicken, beef or pork instead of dog meat on boknal, days when they traditionally eat food they believe helps beat the summer heat. None of the young people Mr. Gong knew, including his son, would touch dog meat. He said the image of dog farms was “not good.”

On a recent day, Mr. Gong saw off 17 of his dogs, the latest batch to be flown to the United States under the deal with the animal protection group. He said he “felt better” when he saw pictures of the dogs living happily as family pets abroad. He said he might try growing mushrooms now.

“I was not ashamed of my way of making a living, but I was not proud of it either,” he said, gazing at the dogs still held in cages while they were vaccinated and awaited flights out of South Korea. “No one would do this if he could avoid it.”

More NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/18/world/asia/south-korea-dog-meat-trade.html