Rescue gives dogs second chance

Posted : 2019-10-02 10:18 Updated : 2019-10-02 10:35
A Humane Society International employee moves a dog from a cage to a transport container at a dog meat farm in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 25. The dogs have been sent to adoption shelters in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. Korea Times photos by Choi Won-suk, captions by Lee Suh-yoon

Frenzied barking broke out behind the fog as volunteers and reporters picked their way down a muddy trail to a dog farm just east of Seoul last week. It was the day the farm was being closed down. The din dropped as the group entered a small lot overlooking a rice paddy between the trees. Eyes peered out from rows of metal cages, studying the visitors.

There were about 90 dogs at the farm, each with its own cage except for the puppy litters. Many were born and raised at the farm that was founded 10 years ago. The smaller dogs squeezed their heads through the wires, apparently looking for a touch from volunteers they recognized. Rats scuttled between feces and shredded cardboard looking for stray food pellets.

Most of the dogs are now at temporary shelters in Canada, the U.S. or the U.K. This was the 15th dog meat farm closed down by Humane Society International (HSI), a U.S.-based animal rights group that pays farmers in Korea to hand over their dogs for overseas adoption. Including last week's operation, the group has freed and sent abroad 1,900 dogs. Over 90 percent of the rescued dogs have been adopted, an HSI spokeswoman said.

At the farm last Wednesday, employees and volunteers moved the dogs into plastic "containers" bound for Incheon International Airport. Big tosa dogs, some with scars on their legs after being used for illegal dog fighting, required more physical exertion than others. The tosas, jindos, retrievers, huskies and even mini pugs ― some being abandoned pets ― were transferred to boxes that had their new names scribbled on the top by a magic marker in English.

Halfway through the operation, the farmer, a lean 39-year-old man, wandered in. Guard dogs, ones he had become attached to and kept, jumped up on him wagging their tails. The owner first reached out to HSI after hearing about its program in Korea through a former dog farmer. In return for closing down the farm and giving up all the dogs for adoption, he will be provided with financial support necessary to settle into a new profession. The exact sum agreed in individual contracts is not disclosed but ranges from $2,000 to $60,000 depending on the size of the farm, according to HSI.

"Dog meat farming is a declining industry now," the owner told reporters. "I'll probably work in the construction sector now."

Dog meat is consumed in about a dozen countries in Asia where the canines are not set apart from other livestock as sources of meat. Koreans used to typically consume dog meat soup as so-called "stamina food" on hot days. In summer, a big tosa dog can fetch up to 300,000 won ($250). However, the perception of dogs as livestock has changed over the last few decades, with more people raising them as pets. Mainstream TV channels broadcast the charm and loyalty of these companion animals regularly. Some malls in Seoul now allow shoppers to enter with their pets.

Though dog meat is still sought after by some older people, the idea of eating dog is sickening for most young Koreans. According to a survey by Gallup Korea last year, only 13 percent of respondents said they consume or had consumed dog meat. Fueled by this change in attitude and falling demand, local animal rights groups had Gupo dog meat market in Busan shut down in July.

Though decreasing, dog farms still number in the thousands in the country, according to activists.

Dog farms are only a tip of the problem for canine rights in the country. Like other nations, puppy mills are a huge problem in Korea. On the same day HSI carried out its operation, some local animal rights groups rescued over a thousand dogs from unsanitary conditions at an overcrowded, illegally-run shelter in Gyeonggi Province.