South Korea hides a dirty secret in shadow of Olympics

Leila, center, and her puppy, Stacey, left, are shown locked in a cage at a dog meat farm in Namyangju, South Korea, on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. The operation is part of HSIs efforts to fight the dog meat trade throughout Asia. In South Korea, the campaign includes working to raise awareness among Koreans about the plight of meat dogs being no different from the animals more and more of them are keeping as pets. .?? South Korean farmers are trying to get out of farming dogs for meat and to farm blueberries ahead of the Winter Olympics in February. Photo by / Humane Society International
Leila, center, and her puppy, Stacey, left, are shown locked in a cage at a dog meat farm in Namyangju, South Korea, on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. The operation is part of HSIs efforts to fight the dog meat trade throughout Asia. In South Korea, the campaign includes working to raise awareness among Koreans about the plight of meat dogs being no different from the animals more and more of them are keeping as pets. .?? South Korean farmers are trying to get out of farming dogs for meat and to farm blueberries ahead of the Winter Olympics in February. Photo by / Humane Society International
Claire Bass, HSI-UK Director, pets Henry inside his cage at a dog meat farm in Namyangju, South Korea, on Wednesday, November 29, 2017. The operation is part of HSIs efforts to fight the dog meat trade throughout Asia. In South Korea, the campaign includes working to raise awareness among Koreans about the plight of meat dogs being no different from the animals more and more of them are keeping as pets. .?? South Korean farmers are trying to get out of farming dogs for meat and to farm blueberries ahead of the Winter Olympics in February. Photo by / Humane Society International

Claire Bass, HSI-UK Director, pets Henry inside his cage at a dog meat farm in Namyangju, South Korea, on Wednesday, November 29, 2017. The operation is part of HSIs efforts to fight the dog meat trade throughout Asia. In South Korea, the campaign includes working to raise awareness among Koreans about the plight of meat dogs being no different from the animals more and more of them are keeping as pets. .?? South Korean farmers are trying to get out of farming dogs for meat and to farm blueberries ahead of the Winter Olympics in February. Photo by / Humane Society International

(from left) Abby Hubbard, Deputy Director of Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Nara Kim, Campaign Manager in South Korea of Humane Society International (HSI), and Wendy Higgins, HSI Director of International Media, hold and cuddle Tosa puppies that were born on the farm at a dog meat farm in Namyangju, South Korea, on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. The operation is part of HSIs efforts to fight the dog meat trade throughout Asia. In South Korea, the campaign includes working to raise awareness among Koreans about the plight of meat dogs being no different from the animals more and more of them are keeping as pets. (From left) Abby Hubbard, deputy director of the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria; Nara Kim, Humane Society International's campaign manager for South Korea; and Wendy Higgins, HSI director of international media, hold Tosa puppies that were born at Mr Kim's dog meat farm

(from left) Abby Hubbard, Deputy Director of Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Nara Kim, Campaign Manager in South Korea of Humane Society International (HSI), and Wendy Higgins, HSI Director of International Media, hold and cuddle Tosa puppies that were born on the farm at a dog meat farm in Namyangju, South Korea, on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. The operation is part of HSIs efforts to fight the dog meat trade throughout Asia. In South Korea, the campaign includes working to raise awareness among Koreans about the plight of meat dogs being no different from the animals more and more of them are keeping as pets. (From left) Abby Hubbard, deputy director of the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria; Nara Kim, Humane Society International's campaign manager for South Korea; and Wendy Higgins, HSI director of international media, hold Tosa puppies that were born at Mr Kim's dog meat farm

Mr Kim had been farming dogs for their meat for 20 years and was looking to start a new business, possibly in construction, and to grow vegetables on his land.

His farm in Namyangju, a city in Gyeonggi Province, is about 100 kilometres from Pyeongchang, where South Korea will host the 2018 Winter Olympics in February.

The farm is one of about 17,000 in South Korea; they breed more than 2.5 million dogs a year for human consumption, Humane Society International (HSI) says.

This grim, hidden trade stands in stark contrast to the pomp and ceremony of the Olympic festivities.

On Mr Kim's farm, about 170 dogs - including golden retrievers, spaniels, beagles, greyhounds, Korean jindos and mastiffs - were being kept until last month in filthy conditions in rows of wire cages, exposed to the elements and with no veterinary care.

Many had eye infections, skin disease, and leg and paw sores from days of standing and sitting on thin wire mesh.

If they had not been rescued, they would have been killed by electrocution at the local market or slaughterhouse. Hanging is also still used despite laws prohibiting this.

Nicola Beynon, head of campaigns at HSI, told Fairfax Media it took about three weeks to complete the farm closure. Fresh rescue team members were deployed throughout that time.

"We had a core team of three expert rescuers and a rolling team of 10-12 extra members from various Humane Society International offices including South Korea, Britain, Canada, the US and the Philippines.

"We work in partnership with dog meat farmers who are looking to leave the trade to start a new, humane livelihood.

"The process usually takes some months from when the dog meat farm is identified - usually initiated by the farmer approaching us for help - until the last of the dogs leave South Korea on their way to the US, Canada or Britain," she said.

"Like all farmers whose dog meat operations we help shut down, we are helping farmer Kim develop a business plan to transition into his new livelihood and also giving him a small start-up grant to help him launch his new business.

"It's a blueprint for change that we hope the Korean government under President Moon Jae-in will adopt.

"In all the 10 dog meat farms that we have closed, Humane Society International has worked in co-operation with the farmers. Farmer Kim didn't live on site but he attended the rescue almost every day, and happily discussed his journey with attending media."

Up to 80 per cent of dog meat is eaten during the hottest days of summer, during South Korea's dog-eating festival called boknal.

The meat is usually made into a spicy soup called bosintang. Small dogs can also be made into a herbal drink called gaesoju.

HSI says the dog meat industry is in legal limbo in South Korea; neither legal nor illegal.

Many provisions of the Animal Protection Act are routinely breached, such as the ban on killing animals in a brutal way including hanging by the neck, killing in public areas or in front of other animals of the same species.

Nara Kim, an anti-dog meat campaigner with HSI in South Korea, said: "As a Korean myself, I'm hugely proud to be able to save these beautiful dogs and stop their daily suffering.

"Most people in South Korea have no idea how atrocious these dog meat farms are and what physical and mental misery these animals go through.

"Eating dog is already a declining habit in South Korea, but if people could see the sorrow of these dogs and the disgusting unhygienic conditions in which they're raised, I think even more people would stop eating it."

A combination of growing societal shame, increased difficulty in selling dogs as the appetite for dog meat declines, and regret at the suffering of dogs, leads many farmers to seek a way out.

With the help of HSI, some elderly dog farmers will be able to retire without the hard labour of dog farming. Others will work with the organisation to transition into alternative livelihoods such as water delivery or blueberry farming.

Most people in South Korea don't eat dog meat regularly.

In fact, HSI says, opposition to eating dog is growing among Korean citizens, and the President recently adopted a dog named Tory who was said to have been rescued from a dog meat farm.

"I originally started farming dogs because I heard it would make money," Mr Kim said.

"But now in South Korea even in the summer the trade has reduced by about one third,

"I also have a young child, and the dog farming business won't look good for her because she really likes dogs.

"Working with Humane Society International makes me feel great for the dogs, but at the same time I'm nervous to step into a new business.

"Before Humane Society International, I wouldn't talk to the dogs and I stopped myself from caring about them because it made it harder selling them to traders.

"But after I decided to work with [them], I started to talk to these dogs and told them to hang on in there. I told them they are going to have a much better life.

"And I mean it. I feel really great and happy for them."

HSI's president Kitty Block, who joined the dog farm rescue effort, said: "I've worked in animal protection for many years but I can tell you, seeing these dog farms for myself has been one of the most emotionally confronting things I've ever done.

"As we count down to the Winter Games, it's clear that it's not sufficient for South Korea to temporarily hide the dog meat trade in the shadows when the world's media shines its Olympics spotlight. What's needed is a commitment to phase it out for good."

The South Korean embassy in Sydney has been approached for comment.

In June, Chinese animal activists rescued more than 1000 dogs and cats from a truck headed to slaughterhouses in southern Guangdong province.

This story South Korea hides a dirty secret in shadow of Olympics first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.