If you ask the average American, few things are more disturbing about what goes on in South Korea (friend to the United States) than the practice of eating dog meat. It has remained a popular dish on Korean tables for around 2,000 years. Due to this, dog farms are a common enough business in South Korea. In fact, selling dogs for their meat isn’t the only unsettling purpose of some dog farms. Here, we’ll look at the business practices of Korean dog farms, what they sell the dogs for, how it all ties in with the 2018 Winter Olympics, and just how North Korea fits into the dog farm picture.
Dog farms sell dogs for their meat
As many as 3 million dogs per year are killed at South Korean dog farms, according to Humane Society International. Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Saint Bernards, Huskies, Cocker Spaniels, and even Chihuahuas are common breeds slaughtered at the farms for human consumption.
Their short lives have been described as rough: The dogs stand on wire floors and are surrounded by metal bars, with their own feces accumulating underneath,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society in the United States. “They never feel the earth beneath their feet, or the comfort of a warm bed.” The dogs are said to be fed food scraps once a day, and the only water they get is what’s added to the food. Eventually, the dogs are killed by being bludgeoned, electrocuted, hanged, or boiled alive. “In some parts of Asia, there is still a belief that the more the dog suffers, the more adrenalin will be in their blood and the better the meat will taste,” Pacelle said.
The Korean term for dog soup is “Bosintang,” which translates to “invigorating soup.” It is a spicy stew believed to have medicinal properties and to boost energy or virility. In 2003, between 4,000 and 6,000 restaurants served soups made from dog meat in Korea, the BBC reported. Dishes of steamed dog meat with rice are also sold in restaurants.
Next: The dogs are sold for another, illegal purpose.
Dog farms sell dogs for fighting
In addition to selling them for their meat, some Korean dog farms sell them to illegal dog fighting rings. While eating dog meat is legal, dog fighting is illegal in South Korea. One dog farm owner told Business Insider he raises dogs for both purposes. He has been in the dog fighting business for 30 years and said it previously was not illegal. Now his only involvement is selling the puppies for dog fighting purposes, he said, adding that dog fighting happens all over South Korea. In dog farms, “the ones that look good [are for fighting]. The ones that are ugly [are for eating,]” he said.
Next: How North Korea fits in
North Korea and dog meat
Compared to South Korea, not much is known about what goes on in reclusive North Korea. However, we do know that on average, North Koreans aren’t as well nourished as their South Korean neighbors. Poverty runs high, and as such, eating any kind of meat is a rarity for many North Koreans. However, defectors have talked of eating dog meat, as well as rabbit and badger meat. Not much information is available about dog farms in North Korea.
Simon Cockerell is a general manager of North Korea tour specialist Koryo Tours. Cockerell, who is British, said he has visited North Korea 150 times since 2002. He reported dog meat is only eaten on special occasions in the north. They call it “sweet meat,” possibly to avoid saying they’re eating dog, Cockerell said. “Most of the time what [restaurants] offer to tourists is dog soup. It tends to be spicy and not have that much dog in it, and there are a few restaurants in Pyongyang that specialize in dog meat: dog ribs, dog steak … There isn’t much culture of dogs as pets in North Korea. There are guard dogs and farm dogs, but you’d have to be pretty middle class to own a pet one.”
Next: How dog smuggling is gaining in popularity
Dogs are smuggled over the Chinese border
In addition to dog farms, North Koreans make money from dogs by smuggling them over the Chinese border. Other items being smuggled include cigarettes and wild edible plants. Puppy smuggling is becoming popular, a source told South Korean new site DailyNK. “I met one smuggler at an inn who said, ‘I came to the city with a yellow puppy, and the profit I made from the sale was more than I expected, so things are going well. I think I can even earn money if I head to the countryside and start selling more dogs.’”
In other reports, dogs are sold to the Chinese people by poor North Koreans to pay for necessities like firewood in the winter.
Next: Not all South Koreans support eating dog meat
Some South Koreans protest dog farms
South Koreans who oppose the practices of dog farms and the eating of dogs have protested at markets where dog meat is sold. In September 2017, groups from both sides of the argument clashed at a pro-dog meat trade rally in Seoul. Some 400 dog meat farmers were there to call on the government to classify pet dogs separately from those raised for their meat.
Meanwhile, members from an animal rights group were there to counter the farmers’ rally, holding pickets expressing their opposition to eating dog meat. “Dog meat has been left alone for nearly 40 years as an unsolvable problem, but the time has come to finally tackle it,” they said.
Next: Changes made prior to the 2018 Olympics
How the 2018 Olympics impacts dog farms
With South Korea set to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, the practices of the country’s dog farms came into the international spotlight after animal welfare campaigners reported inhumane conditions. In December 2016, Moran Market, South Korea’s biggest dog meat market, announced it was ending the practice of slaughtering dogs. It had been responsible for one-third of the dog meat consumption in the country, selling around 80,000 dogs per year.
But this step may not have been enough to keep some people coming to the Olympics. More than 200,000 people vowed to skip the Olympics in a Change.org petition which addresses the Olympic committee and calls for a complete end to dog (and cat) meat consumption.
Next: Rescued dogs brought to the U.S.
Some rescued dogs came from South Korea to the U.S.
In November 2017, it was reported that 170 dogs were saved from their gruesome fate at a South Korean canine meat farm and brought to the U.S., U.K., and Canada. Humane Society International rescued the pups from the dog meat farm called Namyangju, which was closing down. Otherwise, the dogs would have been electrocuted at a local market or slaughterhouse and made into soup.
One U.S. organization that provides new homes to dogs from high-kill South Korean shelters is KoreoanK9 Rescue. Anyone interested in adopting such a rescued dog can contact that organization or inquire with a local rescue center.
Next: Do Koreans keep pet dogs?
How many Koreans have dogs as pets?
The number of pet dogs in South Korea was 2,703 in 2015, up slightly from 2,644 in 2012, according to The Statistics Portal. One North American who relocated to Seoul described her experience having two dogs as pets. “Although the number of households who own a cat or dog as a pet in Korea [is] growing, it is undeniable that it is still a new concept here,” wrote Ula Yang. “When I take them out for walks, the reactions we receive run the gamut from sheer and utter fear, to astonishment, to curiosity, to excitement, to disgust, and if I’m lucky, to adoration. I have found that in the more affluent areas of Seoul … the majority of Koreans are much more acceptable towards my four-legged family members.”
In a move seen as supporting animal rights in South Korea, in 2017 President Moon Jae-In adopted a rescue dog, a four-year-old black mixed-breed named Tory. In addition, he has another rescue dog named Maroo and a rescue cat named Jjing-jjing. “If we think about it, there is no life in the world that is not precious,” Moon wrote.
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