South Korea’s dog meat trade: Truths from the frontline

We were surprised to learn that 1 in every 4 South Korean households lives with a pet, many of whom are dogs. In fact, the country has undergone considerable change in recent decades, not just economically but culturally too: they’re becoming a nation of pet-lovers. Much like the UK, South Korea’s pet industry is booming with tailored food, high-priced photo shoots and fancy dress all on offer for those who want to pamper their pet.

While this wildly contradicts the horrors of the dog meat trade that we know exist, there is a reason that both sides of the spectrum are occurring simultaneously…

“Pet dogs” versus “Meat dogs”

Simply put, it’s a case of “pet dogs” versus “farmed dogs” and the distinction between the two is heartbreaking. While pets are considered part of the family, it’s widely thought that “meat dogs” or “farm dogs” lack feelings. Some even believe that these dogs don’t have souls.

In South Korea, the most common dog on meat farms is the Jindo. In fact, 3 of our 5 meat farm survivors who recently arrived in the UK were Jindos, known for their intelligence, loyalty and sleek white coats. You might also find Mastiffs, Tosas and Spaniels who, amongst others, are categorised as “meat dogs” unworthy of affection or love. In some parts of the country, vets even refuse to treat them.

In contrast, seeing a Maltese on a meat farm would almost certainly cause public outcry.

Here in the UK, as a nation of dog lovers, it seems unfathomable to pit one breed against. Sadly, this isn’t the only contributing factor to South Korea’s relentless demand for dog meat.

South Korea dog meat trade

Other contributing factors

Contributing factors range from inadequate (and rarely enforced) animal rights laws as well as persevering cultural beliefs surrounding supposed health benefits. The result of this long-integrated “right” to eat dogs means that it’s mostly older, male citizens who consume the meat in the form of “boshintang” – a soup believed to invigorate the blood and reduce lethargy – or “gaesoju”, a tonic sold in traditional medicine shops.

Is there any truth to these claims?

The most widely believed myths surrounding the consumption of dog meat include:

  • That it cures disease and aids recovery
  • It is healthier than other meats because it contains no antibiotics
  • Dog meat helps maintains body temperature
  • It’s especially good for pregnant women and new mothers
  • Dog meat makes you more manly

But there’s actually no scientific evidence to support any of these claims. In fact, dog meat actually poses huge health risks, such as Rabies.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised the very real threat of rabies passing to humans through the process of sourcing, slaughter and sale of dog meat. There is also the risk of numerous parasitic infections like E.Coli and Salmonella, as well as bacterial infections like hepatitis, anthrax and leptospirosis.

Despite these very real concerns, the belief that it is one’s “right” to consume dog meat is one that dates right back to South Korea’s beginnings.

dog meat trade

The origins

The consumption of dog meat is centuries-old and can be traced back to the country’s earliest beginnings thanks to historical evidence such as wall murals and literature. Throughout history (during war, for example) dogs have been a familiar food source and were even more plentiful than cattle, which were highly valued for labour, pulling carts or ploughing fields. As such, consuming dog meat was more about survival than choice.

The industry today

Today, such survival instincts are unnecessary. So, as South Korea has undergone significant growth and development, so too has its cultural attitudes, making way for younger generations who are abandoning the tradition.

According to HSI’s 2020 opinion poll, around 80% of those who responded say they don’t or won’t eat dog meat. Almost 60% support a legislative ban on the trade.

This is a positive step in the right direction and we’re proud to be supporting that change, but until every cage is empty, there’s still lot’s to be done.

The challenges

The ultimate goal is to end the dog meat trade once and for all. Thanks to the incredible work of charities like Humane Society International, Soi Dog Foundation and We ACT, that goal gets a little closer each year.

Here at Wild at Heart Foundation, we’d love to take a proactive approach to tackling South Korea’s long-integrated cultural beliefs. We’re firm believers in educating the next generation as a means of interrupting that cycle of misinformation and promote a kinder, more compassionate future for all. Sadly, it isn’t that straightforward…

Dog meat might be illegal in South Korea, but its consumption is not. Another grey area is that dogs are legislatively regarded as ‘livestock’ but not covered by the same welfare laws. Furthermore, its practices are widely absent from classrooms, which makes launching any kind of education programme virtually impossible.

Similarly, while sterilisation has helped alleviate stray dog populations all around the world, from South Africa and Thailand, to Puerto Rico and Bulgaria, the majority of dogs on these farms have been bred for purpose. As such, sterilisation would do little to stop the brutality.

Despite this, we’re determined to help – and so can you.

Donate to our South Korea Fund now

Or text SOUTHKOREA to 70085 to give £5

South Korea dog meat trade

WAHF x We ACT

We ACT is a non-profit organisation working out of Korea, where their small but mighty team are closing down dog meat farms. Run solely by volunteers, We ACT liberate dogs from such conditions. They then rehabilitate them through foster care and find them forever homes around the world.

To date, they’ve saved over 600 dogs from a far more gruesome fate.

We’re incredibly proud to be supporting We ACT and have already adopted 5 beautiful dogs right here in the UK. But that’s just the beginning. This week, we’re hosting a South Korea “takeover” where we’ll be speaking to the team on the frontline; raising awareness and funds; and sharing some happy endings too!

Head to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter to join us.

Busting the myths that surround rescue dogs

Last year, we began a series of ‘myth busters’ over on our Instagram, discussing some of the myths that surround rescue dogs alongside some truly amazing examples of just how wrong, and therefore damaging, these assumptions can be. 

Rescue dogs have a hard enough time without unfounded myths getting in the way of a happier future. Through engagement and education, we can help brighten the prospects of thousands of dogs currently languishing in shelters around the world, waiting to be rehomed but being overlooked for a ‘problem’ that simply doesn’t apply to them. It’s time to bust those myths!

  • MYTH No.1 “Black dogs are less adoptable”

Sadly, dogs with darker fur tend to spend far longer in shelter than their golden or paler-haired friends. This is particularly heartbreaking when you have a litter of puppies to rehome, one of whom is consistently overlooked and left behind.

Why this is we can’t be sure: perhaps it stems from century-old traditions such as the witch’s “familiar” or the Hound of the Baskervilles; a modern view might be that black dogs are harder to photograph. Neither origins are fair and yet, time and time again our gorgeous bundles of black fluff are overlooked.

If you’d like to help bust the myth that black dogs are “unlucky” or “tricky to photograph”, and would like to adopt a dog, please meet the dogs currently looking for homes.

  • MYTH No.2 “Rescue dogs aren’t good with children”

Hundreds of the 1,500 dogs we’ve rehomed have been welcomed into families with children. From newborns to teens, we truly believe a dog can transform a child’s life, teaching them so much about resilience, forgiveness and gratitude. In return, a dog’s loyalty to those who have given them a second chance is unparalleled. So this myth, in particular, breaks our hearts. 

Recent success story, Martha, recently took on the role of big sister when her owners welcomed a baby girl. Not only is Martha impeccably well behaved around her baby sister, and knows exactly what’s needed of her, but she’s been a great source of support for the new parents.

We’re delighted that Martha, amongst many others, are paving the way to bust this particular myth!

  • MYTH No.3 “You can only adopt older dogs”

Anyone who has been following WAHF for the past few months will know just how many puppies we’ve had up for adoption, from the Sugar & Spice pups to the Pepsi pups and even the Lockdown Litter.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. After all, with an estimated 1 billion puppies born on the streets every year, there’s certainly no shortage of adorable young dogs who need a home.

If you’re serious about introducing a puppy into your home and are ready to bust a myth while doing so, please meet the puppies currently up for adoption.

  • MYTH No.4 “Rescue dogs are damaged goods”

It’s hard to say which myth is the most damaging myth, but this one is certainly the most unfair. Whilst it’s fair to say that some rescue dogs need patience, training and consistency, the same can be said for many pedigree breeds who will demonstrate a similar spectrum of behavioural issues in their lifetime. In fact, many pedigrees come with inherited traits that prove hard to train out or overcome. 

To call these dogs “damaged” is to do them a disservice: these dogs have endured a tragic start to life and come out the other side more resilient, adaptable, loyal and forgiving.

  • MYTH No.5 “You don’t know where rescue dogs come from”

We take great pride in working extremely closely with all our partner shelters and oversea projects, and the WAHF team regularly visit, so we know our dogs come from safe and ethical backgrounds and will be well cared for right up until the day you meet them. 

What sets our shelters apart, and makes overseas rescue very unique, is that our partner shelters work extremely hard getting to know the dogs in their care. They spend weeks, months and for some dogs, sadly, years getting to know them. 

Here at Wild at Heart Foundation, we believe in true transparency, we help each and every dog find their ideal home, no matter their story or how niche their requirements might be.

  • MYTH No.6 “Dogs overseas don’t need our help”

“Why dogs?” is often the first thing people ask us, closely followed by “why dogs overseas?” Our first answer is that we believe in dog; all dogs, every dog, whatever their breed or size or age and wherever in the world they come from.

Beyond that, we point to a sadder reality: there are 600 million stray dogs around the world who are, right now, being slaughtered, eaten, tortured, beaten, gassed and starved by the thousands. In fact, there are 500,000 strays in Puerto Rico alone, an island roughly the size of North Yorkshire. The UK, in comparison, has just a 10th of that number.

When you put the problem into a global perspective, we hope you’ll see why our passion for our international projects burns so brightly.

We’re bringing ‘myth busters’ back soon and will be looking at some of the assumptions that are particularly applicable to life in 2020.

We’d love to hear from adopters and fellow dog lovers about your own experiences: Have you faced certain questions about your dog that you thought were unfair? Has your dog helped debunk some of the misconceptions that your friends and family had? Do you get frustrated with the assumptions people making about your dog or the process of adopting?

Let us know and we’ll add them to our list of rescue myths to be busted – keep an eye out on our Facebook and Instagram!

How our work in Lebanon began with one very special wunderdog

Decades of miseducation has led to a culture of cruelty, neglect and violence. The levels of abuse in Lebanon is amongst the worst we’ve ever seen: dogs tied up and shot at close range; puppies thrown from balconies; life-threatening wounds inflicted for ‘sport’ or malicious curiosity. 

Following the recent tragedy, and with the country already on the brink of civil war, life for these street dogs is about to get even worse. That’s why we’re shining a light on where our passion for the dogs of Lebanon began, and how we’re helping now.

Wunderdog: building an international rescue community

Wunderdog Magazine have supported us since their earliest days. It was an honour to feature on their very first print issue, with the one and only Peggy from Romania taking centre stage on the cover. 

Not only was this an incredible ‘rags to riches’ tale, but it sparked the most remarkable chain of events, which led to the rescue of Mitya, a facially-disfigured puppy from Russia, demonstrating Wunderdog’s global reach.

As a voice for rescue dogs the world over, Wunderdog Magazine’s goal is to make rescue the world’s favourite breed by showcasing the work of rescue organisations and their teams who work so hard on behalf of all things dog. The team at Wunderdog champion the wonderful experiences that life with a rescue dog brings, and that’s why we’re honoured to declare them official friends of the Foundation.

It all started with our very special Romanian rescue, Peggy. In December 2018, just as Christmas fever was beginning to set in, we were contacted about a sorry tale: a puppy had been discovered in a field in Romania, abandoned in a box with her ears and tail slashed to ribbons, and – most disturbing of all – her entire nose gouged out.

In spite of everything that had happened to her, Peggy remained a sweet, loving and happy dog, and we knew we had to help her. Thanks to the generous donations of our community, Peggy flew to the UK in January 2019 where she was treated at an expert facility, before finding the perfect family to give her the love she so sorely deserved.

With her amputated ears and tail, and her tailor-made nose, Peggy certainly is a one-of-a-kind dog. So it was a truly amazing moment when we learned that Peggy would be appearing on the first ever print cover of Wunderdog Magazine – talk about rags to riches! And thank goodness she did, because her story inspired the most remarkable chain of events…

Months after the magazine was first published, a copy found its way to Russia where it was read by Ksenia, a woman who’d only weeks before come across a puppy whose nose, tail and ears had been cut off. The dog, who she’d christened Mitya, was condemned to a life of struggle at best or, worse still, the threat of euthanasia, as no vets Ksenia took him to could find a way to permanently restore his nose and therefore allow him to breathe comfortable. Mitya had even had surgery to insert false nostrils attempted; but to no success. 

Ksenia may have been forced to give up hope had it not been for Wunderdog Magazine. It was seeing Peggy’s beautiful and truly distinctive face on the cover that inspired her to reach out to Wild at Heart Foundation and ask for our help – and we were, of course, only too happy to step in and help.

You can read more about Mitya’s rescue, inspired by Peggy’s story, here.

And it’s not only by building an international rescue community that Wunderdog are helping dogs in need, they’re also donating a very generous 20% of their sales to Wild at Heart Foundation.

We couldn’t be more grateful for their ongoing support and all they do for the rescue community – thank you Wunderdog!

Find out more about the magazine and purchase your subscription at wunderdogmagazine.com

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