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Posted : 2010-04-23 20:05
Updated : 2010-04-23 20:05

How a Dog Ends Its Life in Korea (2)

By Mathias Specht

Sometimes I think it's ironic, seeing how highly Koreans value their ``hanwoo'' (Korean beef), mystifying its purity and superior quality, on the one side and how on the other side these ``precious'' animals are treated terribly, usually raised not on open green pastures, but crammed close together, standing in their own excrement.

Of course, this is probably not vastly different from how livestock is raised in many other countries and apart from this thought; I admittedly never spent a lot of time thinking about the quality of life of animals in Korea. That is, until I was rather abruptly confronted with another facet of this issue, when visiting a market in Shindangdong, Seoul, to buy oatmeal, which also happens to be a trading place for dog meat.

At Jungang Market, not only the meat of dogs is sold, but the animals are also kept within public view and slaughtered there. The dogs, which are similar in size to a Collie, are held in large groups, often in excess of 10 animals, in rusty cages, so small that they should never hold more than two dogs for an extended period of time.

They are killed, chopped up and their meat offered for sale right next to the cages so that the other captives know all too well about the destiny of every one of their friends that the butcher pulls out of their prison. Whether they are also aware that they are next, is something that I leave to speculation, but it is probably clear, even without resorting to more terrifying images of Korean dog farms, that these creatures lead miserable lives before being eaten.

In fact, the low respect they receive seems so deeply rooted in Korean society that it is even reflected in its language and the most commonly slaughtered breed is colloquially referred to as ``ddong-gae," or feces dog. Not only do I find it hard to imagine image a term as ``feces cow" or maybe ``feces pig" for something meant for consumption would persist in Europe, it also seems to hint at certain slumbering aggressions or anger.

Considering that ``boshintang" is not that unique in flavor and there are abundant alternatives, it is hard to understand why Koreans have such difficulties abandoning the practice ― especially in the light of ongoing international criticism. I assume the motives at the heart of this tenacious habit are superstition, nostalgia, and stubbornness.

That is, the already mentioned pseudo-science of ``boyangshik'' as an energizer, or its consumption out of nostalgia for times long gone, or misguided national pride along the lines of ``the more other countries tell us to stop, the more we will eat dogs.'' This mentality is somewhat reminiscent of the whale fishing situation in Japan. It is just tragic that the suffering of certain animals is made for the stage of such international power plays.

Now, whether we should eat dogs or not, will be left to the discretion of the reader, same as whether we should eat other animals. What I am arguing for is a change in the ``default position,'' which in the discussion of whether we should consume dogs in the absence of necessity should be ``no.''

Even more obviously so, with regards to whether dogs should be unnecessarily tortured ― as the still widely used Korean expression ``to get beaten like a dog on 'boknal' (dog days)'' implies. Thus, the burden of proof would be on the advocates of eating dogs and beating them to death and as is usually the case, extraordinary claims shall require extraordinary proof, not simply the assertion that something is ``tradition.''

This is the second installment of a two-part article. The writer is an MBA graduate from Yonsei University and founder of the Korean company Stelence International. He is currently writing a book about Korea and can be reached at mathias@stelence.com.

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