Olympic-Size Activism Bringing Change to South Korea Dog Meat Industry
With the world watching the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, advocates want a win for canines—a cultural shift from cruelty to compassion
by Nicole Rivard
Back in February, Canadian figure skater and Olympic medalist Meagan Duhamel, and her partner Eric Radford, won silver medals at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championship in PyeongChang, South Korea, an event that prepares participants for the 2018 Winter Olympics that will be held there Feb. 9-25.
But what Duhamel did in South Korea deserves gold.
She took action against Korea’s grisly dog meat industry—rescuing two Korean dogs, Sara and Mootae, the latter of whom she adopted.
“I’ve travelled to Asia quite a lot. I had heard for many years about dogs being farmed and eaten in South Korea, China and Taiwan. I wanted to help, so I started researching organizations and I found Free Korean Dogs,” said Duhamel, who became a vegan in 2008.
Free Korean Dogs is a Toronto-based nonprofit whose goal is to end the Korean dog meat trade (an industry Friends of Animals knows is no worse than the United States’ abusive animal agriculture business).
It is estimated 2 million dogs are raised and killed (some are stolen) for food every year in South Korea. As an international rescue and adoption organization, Free Korean Dogs saves hundreds of canines annually, and raises public awareness to create a cultural shift from cruelty to compassion for dogs in Korea, much like Friends of Animals does for all animals consumed as food in the United States.
Duhamel became a flight volunteer for the nonprofit, which seeks helpers to transport dogs from South Korea to one of its destination cities in the U.S. and Canada.
“I wanted to be a flight volunteer because I felt like it was the least I could do to help a good cause,” Duhamel said. “It didn’t cost me anything, I was already travelling back to Canada from Seoul, and I simply wanted to do something good for this world … to do my part to change the world, one small act at a time.”
And Duhamel has no intention of stopping there. Like Free Korean Dogs, she recognizes that raising public awareness is key to promoting long-term change and that the 2018 Winter Olympics provide a huge platform to educate people around the world about how dogs are treated in South Korea. She said she is committed to using her voice to inspire people to become part of the solution.
“I have shared Mootae’s story quite a bit, and I would love it if more people were interested in sharing it. Mootae is quite popular at the dog park and the doggy cafe, so people are always interested to hear about his past and where he came from,” Duhamel said. “He truly has a unique and spiritual soul and such humanlike eyes. He’s a very special dog.”
Duhamel, whose parents have also rescued a dog from Free Korean Dogs, has already begun encouraging fellow Canadian Olympic athletes to become flight volunteers and she is planning to bring another dog back from South Korea when the Winter Olympics come to a close.
She’s even considering adoption again.
“I can’t believe dogs are still being farmed in 2017. I don’t think any animals should be farmed for people to eat,” Duhamel said. EK Park, founder of Free Korean Dogs, said she hopes more Winter Olympic athletes will follow Duhamel’s lead.
“South Korean dogs are constantly exposed to life-threatening danger,” Park said. “A recent news article from South Korea illustrates the sadness that ensued when someone stole a neighbor’s dog and sold the dog to the dog meat market.”
She is grateful that the 2018 Games will put a spotlight on South Korea, like the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul did and that Olympians like Duhamel have begun to raise awareness.
“Duhamel may have won silver on the ice, but she has gold in her heart,’’ Park said.
During the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the South Korean government urged its citizens not to consume dog meat and requested that butcher shops not hang dog carcasses in windows to avoid bad publicity during the games and improve the country’s image for Western visitors. It also closed all restaurants serving gaejang-guk, a spicy dog meat stew believed to balance the body’s heat during the summer month. The tradition of eating dog meat in South Korea started by older men for mythical health benefits regarding virility. At first it was just an obscure and marginal tonic used by a handful of people.
However by the 1980s it turned it into a thriving new market based on lies and greed. Dogs have always been one of Korea’s most beloved animals, so dog-butchers had to begin emphasizing the distinction between food-dogs and pet-dogs.
LEVERAGING THE OLYMPICS
Park said the upcoming Olympics present a good chance to promote change in South Korea. “It will take a long time for the Korean government to formally declare the dog meat trade illegal. Many influential figures in Korea such as politicians, businessmen, lawyers and law enforcement officers are dog meat consumers themselves,” Park said.
“But we have hope because of our younger generations. They see dogs as companion animals rather than a source of protein. The Olympics will present more opportunities for international scrutiny and in turn promote further positive changes. I personally think this is a positive way to impose pressure to pursue change faster.”
Marc Ching, founder of the California-based Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation, shares that sentiment. Ching has been involved in snuffing out the dog meat industry in South Korea since 2015, and he plans on leveraging the Olympics to lobby for legislative change.
His group is working on stand-alone legislation that would ban the dog meat trade in South Korea. He plans to announce the legislation in South Korea in January before the Olympics begin.
Other animal rights organizations are also at work on the issue. In September World Dog Alliance, a Hong-Kong-based group, met with the president of CARE, which is South Korea’s largest animal rights organization, about dog meat ban legislation and additional animal welfare issues.
The advocates are hoping that South Korea will follow Taiwan, which amended its animal protection law with language that explicitly bans dog meat consumption.
SETTING AN EXAMPLE
Ching believes that to present the strongest argument in another country you have to first pass similar legislation at home. That’s why he initiated the creation of H.R. 1406, Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act, which was introduced in March by U.S. Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, a Florida Democrat.
The bill would amend the Animal Welfare Act in the United States to prohibit any person to knowingly ship, transport, move, deliver, receive, possess, purchase, sell or donate dog or cat parts for human consumption. It is legal in a majority of U.S. states for people to consume dog or cat meat. Virginia, Hawaii, New York, California, Georgia and Michigan are the only states with laws prohibiting the slaughter of dogs or cats for human consumption.
“This legislation is important because even though it seldom happens here in the United States, it is about setting precedence. It is about teaching and being an example for those who only know one lifestyle. America and her people cannot criticize when there is no law prohibiting those acts here,” Ching said.
“We want the message to be sent worldwide that human consumption of dog and cat meat is unacceptable everywhere, not only in Asia and that it is ultimately, if the bill passes, against the law in the United States.”
THE WINDS OF CHANGE
Taiwan’s progressive ban on the consumption of dog and cat meat in April of 2017 is certainly a beacon of hope to Ming and other activists on the ground in South Korea. Ming says he won’t stop fighting until there is a ban, and he believes that South Korea or Cambodia will be the next dog meat eating country to enact such legislation.
“In the last two years a lot has changed—as far as awareness, so many more people are aware,” he said.
His organization has been involved in the closing of several slaughterhouses, and other groups have been successful at getting farmers to leave the industry and transition to a more humane livelihood, he noted.
“The most important thing is education. Once people become a witness to what’s going on they become outraged. But if you close your eyes and say I don’t want to see it, then you are making it ok. If you share the story with someone on Facebook or adopt a dog from the dog meat trade, then you are getting involved and you are saying, ‘I don’t want to stand by idly.’”
Of course he knows there is still a lot of work to be done, because agreeing to shut down a slaughterhouse, farm or market is different than actually shutting down. In December 2016, the Seongnam city government in South Korea announced its decision to ban dog slaughter at its Moran Market. Moran Market opened in the 60s and is one of the largest dog meat markets in South Korea and has seen at last 80,000 dogs sold either dead or alive each year, according to the Korea Herald.
“This may be the beginning of a long path toward solving issues surrounding dog meat consumption. The agreement will hopefully eradicate the negative image of the Moran Market,” Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myong told the Korea Herald.
Quoting Mhatma Ghandi, he added, “Seongnam City will take the initiative to transform South Korea’s image since ‘the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’ ” All the slaughter facilities and dog cages were supposed to be removed by May 2017. Though some did shutter their doors, other slaughter houses remain in operation, as do vendors selling meat, despite American media reports to the contrary, Ming said.
“The deeper we get into the dog meat trade, the more skilled and knowledgeable we get, we actually see that media propaganda from the American side seems to be a problem as to why bigger strides aren’t being made,” Ming said.
“A lot of groups will say we did this, so donate to us, but when you go there you see with your own eyes it’s not necessarily true. And it sets the movement back because then people stop working on specific things they were working on.”
He said advocates need to keep calling attention to the issue. “We still need the pressure, the protests. We need people standing in front of the stalls yelling, ‘You are a murderer.’ Those things are getting to these owners now,” Ming said.
”They are shutting down on their own…not necessarily because they have had an epiphany that they are doing something wrong, but they are changing because they see it is a dying tradition. Their culture is changing to where they see dogs as companion animals now. They realize it’s going to be illegal so they welcome the opportunity to have a chance at something else.”
To foster change, Ming is trying to give members of the Gupo Meat Market Association in Busan an opportunity they can’t refuse by setting in motion a revitalization project that would eliminate the 27 operating slaughterhouses at the Gupo Market that the association endorses, including 17 dog vendors.
He admits that meeting with members of the meat association and City Council can be frustrating, long and drawn out—but he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. On his last visit to Busan, he got a glimpse of the transformation when he viewed a 90-year-old slaughterhouse where animals had been tortured and killed that had been turned into a construction retail supply store.
“Seeing it for the first time—it was like how in the morning, how you see the sun push itself over the horizon,” Ming said. “And you think for a second, that maybe it is possible.”
ADOPT A DOG FROM KOREA
Free Korean Dogs adoption fee is $500 and will send dogs from Korea to the following destination cities:
- Seattle • Washington, D.C. • New York City • Vancouver • Toronto Visit www.freekoreandogs.org.
You can also adopt a Korean dog from Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation; www.animalhopeandwellness.org.
WRITE TO HIS EXCELLENCY PRESIDENT MOON JAE-IN and tell him you will not visit South Korea until the dog meat industry is illegal.
His Excellency President Moon Jae-in 1 Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu Seoul 03048 Republic of Korea
TELL YOUR U.S. SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES TO PASS H.R. 1406, Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act, which was introduced in March by U.S. Rep Alcee L. Hastings.
It would amend the Animal Welfare Act in the United States to prohibit any person to knowingly ship, transport, move, deliver, receive, possess, purchase, sell or donate dog or cat parts for human consumption.