Hong Sung


IDA visited several farms outside Seoul, one of which had 150 dogs living in rubbish-strewn barns, as macabre a scene as can be imagined. There were a few striking-looking large brown dogs called Dosa who were attached to chains, guarding the barns. They enjoyed being touched. Walking into the stink and murk of these wretched barns, a few of them illuminated from the light of nature, most swathed in darkness, all packed with wire cages, was like entering some Dantean hell out of one’s childhood nightmares. The smell was overpowering and nauseating, with piles of excreta amid the merciless conditions. The air was rent by shrill cries, the same sound that neighbors living near farms describe when the notorious blue trucks arrive with the familiar engine noise that sends the dogs howling with fear.

Everywhere in the cages were the “edible” Dosa (apparently, also used for fighting), too many to count, their arresting faces taut with pain, uttering tremulous moans upon seeing us. Dosas grow quickly and sell fast, bringing handsome profits.  Some of the dogs were standing, others pacing, many reaching out through the bars, heads leaning forward, all staring desperately, puzzled, prisoners in a cage. There were also the ubiquitous so-called yellow dogs, “best for meat,” or Nureongi, and the popular yellow and white Jindo mixes. In one cage, there was a small black and white terrier licking a Dosa. And then there were several cages of small dogs together, “the purebreds,” including grotesquely matted apricot Poodles, Chihuahuas, and Mini Pinschers.

One of the enduring myths is that only certain dogs are eaten, the “meat dogs,” but in fact all dogs, no matter the size, the breed, are eaten, including countless former animal companions who have been abandoned, which is endemic, or stolen. Prized Shih Tzus, Maltese, Schnauzers, Poodles are at the farms, markets, slaughterhouses, and restaurants, with their unremittingly bleak fates, to be tortured and killed, a gruesome ending.

This particular farmer started his business with a puppy mill, then became involved in dogs of a certain aesthetic who were in demand just for show (Dosa), then to “meat” dogs and occasionally dogs bred for fighting. The selling of dogs, he insisted, is more profitable than the farm, given the small size of his land. The farm began as a vegetable farm and then he planted fruit trees to sell but the vegetables didn’t make enough and the trees are still too young. Only the dogs have worked. He gets $100 for a puppy and $200 to $300 for a bigger dog. He has invested about $40,000 for the facility. How could he replace the animals and keep the facility? There was a conversation about repurposing the entirety of the farm, demolishing the cages, using the big barn for storage. Blueberries were mentioned. The farmer said the dog business is a hard industry to give up, because it is so lucrative: the farmer breeds the dogs and sells to the trader who sells to the restaurants by the truckloads, a very systematic enterprise. He acknowledges that he makes a living at the expense of the dogs but feels confident that he is doing nothing wrong, because it is his business. He admits that his wife and children don’t visit the farm because it upsets them, but his wife recognizes that her children can go to college on what her husband makes from “edible” dogs. A few days later, his story is told at a meeting with the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Although almost all the dogs are bred at the farm, some neighbors show up to drop off their own dogs, or frightened strays are brought in for money. Restaurants and the markets and the slaughterhouses are the final destination for all the captives. The dogs are usually under the age of two when their young lives are destroyed.

Korean dog farms are modeled on United States factory farms. And if dog farms were ever to be regulated in South Korea, which they currently are not, they would become even more industrialized and murderous, which is why animal-protection organizations in South Korea and around the world are working to persuade the South Korean government to legalize a ban on dog and cat meat.

There was a tiny, white dog running around the farm, favoring her leg and gingerly running around. She had a horrible skin condition. The farmer was asked about her and it was obvious that she held no value for him (too small to sell as a “healthy product”), but it is later learned that she could have provided a meal for someone, even in her sickly condition. She is named Angel and put in a small crate, heading for a vet visit.