February 14th, 2014 by Robin Dorman
In the margins of an unfathomable existence—in dog farms, slaughterhouses, butcher shops, “health” food stores, among other wretched places, with their smell of human injustice and cruelty, dogs in South Korea are subjected to the most unimaginable suffering until their last breath. Huddled together in filthy cages or on unforgiving slabs of cold cement, gripped with fear, faces looming out of the black depths, they await their unremittingly bleak fates. A life snuffed out. Millions of lives. Everyday cruelties perpetrated without remorse. Dogs plagued by disease consumed for good health.
As every dog is a story, every rescue is a story—jubilation-bringing rescues that are rays of light amid darkness.
Lola Webber, programmes leader at Change For Animals Foundation, and I, recently visited South Korea for meetings with local animal-protection groups and prominent leaders with whom we are working to help secure a permanent ban on the dog and cat meat industry. And while there, on a January night in Seoul, with snow beginning to fall, we tied our heavy scarves against the icy air and drove to Moran Market—Seongham-city’s infernal outdoor nightmare and the largest distributor of dog meat in Korea. We walked past covered cages crammed with dogs, chickens, ducks, roosters, black goats, bunnies, and kittens. No one stirred; their desolation was voiceless and frozen but for a few heartbreaking barks and clucks and bleats.
As we were about to head back to the car, a little white and apricot Jindo suddenly appeared, running around, loose. Did she escape from one of the cages? Skittish, shivering with cold and fear, she ran along the parking lot and then finally darted beneath a car. Lola and I, accompanied by a couple of local activists (Yuni and BK), were worried that we would draw attention to her, as there were still several market vendors packing up, so quietly whispered to her to come out. After some coaxing, the white figure emerged, licking some fingers, tail wagging, and was immediately wrapped up in welcoming arms and put in the car. On the way to the vet, we named her Nun (meaning “snow” in Korean) or “Nunnie” as we called her. Her appearance at one of the most appalling places on earth seemed more and more magical. A sign of hope, a miracle. Where had she been and how did she manage to choose that moment to appear before us?
Nunnie was given a good bill of health except for her stress levels, which were alarmingly high. But after the drive to the shelter, she calmed down considerably and is now possessed of a new fervor for life, being cared for by the wonderful Kang Kyongmi of Llsan Shelter, and awaiting transport and a glorious home in the States.
Right before we left Moran Market, we spotted a brown Jindo mix, around the back of the 21 Moran Market stores that sell dog meat, who was also loose, but barely able to move. She looked up at us and the light of the snow caught a glimmer in her frightened eyes. She was lying amid a pile of garbage, directly beneath a rotating drum—during slaughter, dogs are thrown into a tub of boiling water, and then into a rotating drum for the removal of their fur, and finally blowtorched, often while still alive. (The area right next to her was where, on a previous trip, much to my horror, I witnessed two dogs being blowtorched.) And across from her was a large uncovered cage filled with desperate and pacing dogs. We vowed to go back but needed to first leave with Nunnie to get her shots and get settled into a shelter.
At 2 AM, we returned for the dog we named Somang (meaning “wish” in Korean). We knew she wasn’t well, and after initially being startled, she allowed us to pick her up and we then drove quickly to Seoul Animal Medical Center, a 24-hour referral hospital, operated by specialists, where we met Somang’s personal vet and savior, Dr. Jeffrey Suh. He performed various tests and told us that she had heartworm, a few tumors (benign), and a right limb that immediately needed to be amputated. He confirmed that she is an older girl (could be seven or perhaps eight) but the heartening news was that her blood work was fine. Dr. Suh was so enamored of her that he said she could stay at the hospital for as long as she needs to recuperate. And she’s doing splendidly and eating like a champ.
There was one more unexpected turn of events. On the following morning after Moran Market, we drove down a narrow street in a residential section of Seoul, a subway stop from a well-known university, where we came upon covered cages with dogs inside. We went around to the side and saw the typical Mastiff-looking “meat dogs,” or Dosa, the ones people often say have no souls, as they are born and bred at one of the many farms throughout South Korea.
What was palpable in these beautiful dogs’ eyes was pain, fear, need, stricken despair. Before we entered the butcher shop, there was a plate of what appeared to be freshly killed dog meat, including paws. We then went inside, which was permeated with the smell of dog meat coming from two huge black pots. It was hard not to choke. And there before us was a cage packed with about 20 dogs, no food or water anywhere, since dogs are always starved to eliminate any fecal matter. Death hung in the air, and the dogs had about them a terrible air of resignation.
There was a hole in the floor, where the blood of the murdered dogs flowed to the drain. Gas pipes were connected to the furnace, where dog meat was made into “health tonics.” Dogs are routinely butchered in full view of their fellow dogs, in direct violation of Article 8 of the Animal Protection Act of 2007, which states, “An act of killing in a cruel way such as hanging” and “an act of killing in an open area such as on the street or in front of other animals of the same kind” are explicitly prohibited.
No country in the world has ever devised a humane way of slaughtering dogs or cats for human consumption.
We managed to leave with a dog we called Gracie, who had trouble walking—her paws may have never touched the ground—as she trembled in the back of the car on her way to the vet. But once inside, she seemed to relax more, was pronounced in good health, and off we went to a shelter, where she now enjoys the host’s Sunyi Kim’s delicious homemade soup and the gracious company of Suyeong Oh. And along with Gracie came another “meat dog” we named Hyung, who shares a space next to Gracie at the shelter. Hyung, licked by the flames of misery, has a lingering sadness about her, retreating when anyone at the shelter comes to say hello to her. But with each day she is said to be slowly coming out of her shell. Never have these dogs had such kindnesses so lovingly bestowed upon them.
IDA, in concert with our partners in our continuing anti-dog and cat meat campaigns toward achieving a ban on the dog and cat meat industry, is working to rid South Korea of the old way of thinking—the myths and prejudices about dogs (two distinct types of dog—edible or “meat” and companion) and cats (reviled) and their monstrous consequences, as well as the hollow and contradictory laws referred to as a “ legal blind spot,” and the very definition of what is a dog—livestock vs. non-livestock. As was stated by the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF), “there are no legal grounds for the practice of eating dogs in Korea. A vacuum exists in our legal framework.” Our hope is to inspire thinking anew, a deepening of consciousness about the anguish and cruelty that animals suffer daily, and cultivating relationships with influential individuals and key stakeholders to win both political and public support. As Bertrand Russell said,” Moral progress has consisted in the main of protest against cruel customs, and of attempts to enlarge human sympathy.”
For information on how to help our rescues—and perhaps open your heart and home, please contact email@example.com. Or your contribution to ongoing veterinary care, sheltering fees, and transport to the States would be profoundly appreciated! We are also looking for a rescue group to help with fostering or adoptions.
Nunnie, Somang, Gracie, and Hyung are but four survivors bearing witness to the tens of millions of dogs and cats who have suffered and died in this unspeakable industry of horror.
Please donate now and help us put an end to this abominable industry, so that all dogs and cats can be free to live their own joyous lives.