Where men are mean and dogs are scared

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1999:

SEOUL, Republic of Korea––Yet another of the
reputed international victories of the animal protection movement
during the 1980s has collapsed––and this one, the abolition
of dog-and-cat-eating in the Republic of Korea, was for
many activists the most important of all.
It was supposedly achieved in 1978, 1980, 1984,
1986, 1988, and in 1991, according to statements by Korean
officials and premature declarations of victory issued by the
International Fund for Animal Welfare, the World Society for
the Protection of Animals, and many other organizations which
joined in a threat to embarrass the Korean government with
protests against dog-and-cat-eating during the 1988 Olympic
Games, held in Seoul.
Sunnan Kum, 54, informally founded the first
Korean humane society, Koreans for Animal Protection, in
1981. The international groups backed her efforts in 1983,
after she sent them videotapes showing exactly what goes on.

It isn’t just rough handling, crowded caging, and
slaughter, frequently in front of each other, which is the fate of
most animals killed for food––in the U.S. as well as abroad. In
Korean-style dog-eating, also practiced to some extent by
Chinese dog-eaters, common belief is that the meat tastes better
and imparts more virility if saturated in adrenaline. Thus
dogs are customarily killed by slow hanging, are subjected to
bone-breaking beatings as they hang, and are dehaired by
blowtorch, often still alive––frequently in front of customers,
to prove the procedure is fully followed, at an open-air market
or restaurant.
Cats are typically boiled alive, after having their
bones broken with a hammer, and are then pureed into a
“health drink,” which may be sold in plastic packets for home
consumption. This too goes on in the open.
Few cruelties are better documented. A N I M A L
P E O P L E has eyewitness testimony on file, much of it reinforced
by photographs, from dozens of different individuals
who saw essentially the same thing. Accounts days old and
decades old could be transposed, with increasing merchant
hostility toward camera-bearing westerners the only obvious
difference. Fifteen years ago, merchants proudly posed with
doomed dogs and cats; in late 1998, Trevor Wheeler of WSPA
was reportedly assaulted for trying to take a photo.
Some Korean sources told Sheryl WuDunn of T h e
New York Times in January 1997 that “most” dogs who are
eaten are electrocuted these days. Otherwise, the descriptions
of the killing involve only minor variations in detail.
IFAW made an especially strong commitment to
stopping Korean dog-and-cat-eating, setting up a Korean office
and underwriting KAPS’ operation of the first animal shelter
and low-cost neutering project in Korea.
The effort seemingly paid off in securing an almost
unprecedented top-level governmental admission that a long
established cultural tradition is outmoded and unacceptable,
because it is inhumane––a breakthrough of transcending importance
for human rights as well as animal rights crusaders.
Unlike most other supposed international animal protection
victories, the claimed Korean victory over dog-and-cateating
did not ride the momentum of the environmental movement,
and did not involve an endangered or threatened species.
Unlike any other claimed big victory it purportedly marked the
start of an officially endorsed cultural transformation.
To some extent, it did. Showing the vulnerability of
authoritarian rulers to outside pressure, the campaign against
dog-and-cat-eating visibly inspired the media tactics emphasized
ever since by the leading voices in the ongoing Korean
movement toward more freedom and democracy. As result,
the still strongly hierarchical Korean society may already have
changed more, especially since the end of military-led government
in 1987, than it had previously changed in 2,000 years.
Yet the growing democratization of Korea weakened
the ability of the state to stop dog-and-cat-eating, even if ensuing
governments had possessed the will to do so. Dog-and/orcat-eaters
are a minority of Koreans, but an influential minority,
disproportionately represented among middle-aged-to-older
males, who as a class still hold most of the national wealth and
clout, head most families, and are most emulated by younger
men who hope to succeed to their positions.
Governments responsive to their citizens tend not to
oppose popular practices. Instead, they seek ways of pleasing
everyone. As dog-and-cat-eating are essentially rural and
working class customs, educated people in positions of influence
mostly don’t eat dogs and cats––but they depend on votes
and political contributions from people who do, and value the
“service” of the dog-and-cat-eaters in providing animal control,
which would otherwise have to be funded by higher taxes.
More-or-less in the spirit of compromise, a Korean
lawmaker and evangelical Christian minister named Kim Hong
Shin recently drafted a bill with 17 co-sponsors that would
legalize the dog meat trade––under regulation––and would also
require cities of at least 500,000 residents to open dog pounds.
Elected as a member of the Grand National Party, the

strongest opponent of the ruling coalition,
Kim Hong Shin was at last report three cosponsors
short of being able to introduce his
bill into the National Assembly.
Reported Michael Baker for the
Christian Science Monitor, “Kim says a lack
of regulation has led to unsanitary conditions,
and that dog consumption should be sanctioned
and officially monitored.”
Said Kim Hong Shin’s legislative
aide, Kim Seo Young, “People are eating it
anyway … (but) the places they kill and cook
dogs are not hygienic.”

The Olympic effort
Opponents of dog-and-cat-eating are
reminding legislators of the bad publicity
Korea got leading up to the 1988 Olympics,
and pointing out that the 2002 World Cup soccer
tournament that Korea is to co-host with
Japan will bring another influx of foreign vistors,
especially from Europe.
“The image-conscious Korean government
may be wary of invoking protests
again,” Baker wrote. “Already, the
Agriculture and Forestry Ministry has called
the Kim Hong Shin bill inappropriate.
Koreans try not to take it personally, recalling
how French actress Brigitte Bardot called them
“barbaric” for eating dog meat back in 1988.”
But––like most populist movements
––the Korean political opposition builds on
cultural traditionalism as much as public discontent
with present government priorities.
Baker found widespread simmering
resentment of Bardot’s denunciation.
“I don’t think she understood cultural
relativity. We don’t eat mutton, horses, or
snails,” one Donna Yang told him, apparently
unaware that Bardot has denounced French
sheep and horse slaughter for at least 30 years.
Cultural relativity has become a
stock Korean defense, infuriating Kyenan
Kum, younger sister of Sunnan Kum, who
insists that despite archaeological findings
confirming dog-eating in Confuscian times,
“In the long cultural tradition of Korea, the
recorded instances of eating either dog or cat
meat are almost nonexistent. It is important to
understand,” she says, “that this defense of
cruelty is an economic and marketing strategy
to protect a business that brings in one billion
won (about $950 million) per year.”
That makes the dog-and-cat-meat
trade about as lucrative as the U.S. retail fur
industry––in a nation with about 5% of the
U.S. gross national product.
“It is inappropriate for someone to
denounce another country’s food just because
it differs from his or hers,” Korean consular
staffer Sok-Bae Lee, of Toronto, declared in a
December 1996 interview with Ciaran Ganley
of the Toronto Sun: “Eating is a result of longstanding
cultural practices, not an issue of
morality,” Sok-Bae Lee continued. “In Korea,
there are dogs who are bred to be pets and
there are certain kinds of dogs who are bred to
be used as food.”
But the fact that dogs and cats are
eaten, rather than just cattle, pigs, and chickens,
is n o t the fundamental humane issue.
The species identification could not matter
less. The issue is that the animals are tortured
to death. The cruelty is not incidental: it is
deliberate, and the procedures are designed to
intensify and prolong the suffering.
Bland official dismissal of the torture
as a matter of “cultural practice,” rather
than “morality,” is a brazen step back from the
apologetic but two-faced conduct that IFAW et
al encountered fifteen years ago.
“In 1984,” a 1991 IFAW media
release recounted, “protests to Korean
embassies around the world led to the government
introducing ordinances banning the sale
of dog and cat meat” within the Four Gates of
Seoul––the traditional city limits. “However,”
IFAW acknowledged, “this had no real effect
on the trade,” despite a string of promising
claims from Korean officials.
For example, wrote press attache
Young Mo Ahn of the Korean embassy in
Washington D.C. during fall 1986, “The
Ministries of Interior and Health have
launched an educational campaign designed to
eradicate those practices which you––and the
vast majority of the Korean people––find
offensive. These campaigns will reach into the
most remote areas of the country. You should
know that Koreans have never made a practice
of consuming cat meat,” Young Mo Ahn continued.
“There is an old belief among the people
that a benevolent spirit resides within cats.
Therefore, to harm a cat would be to harm the
spirit. Cats are kept by many households and
restaurants in Korea to keep rodents under
control, and are therefore highly valued.
Koreans are also keeping dogs as pets or for
security reasons. Thus the vast majority of
Koreans find the practice of dog slaughter and
consumption highly abhorrent.”

Partial truth
Young Mo Ahn was telling a partial
truth. Korean ethnicity has been relatively uniform
for more than 2,000 years, but Korea has
been occupied for prolonged periods by both
Chinese and Japanese conquerors. Japanese
and western culture, eschewing dog-and-cateating,
most visibly influence educated
Koreans––but dog-and-cat-eating thrive
among working class and rural people, among
whom Chinese influence is strongest.
Visits by actress/activists Brigitte
Bardot and Loretta Switt, and a three-millionsignature
petition, escalated the pressure on
Korea as the 1988 Olympics approached.
More pressure came after the Associated
Humane Societies of New Jersey in April 1988
reported that a Korean ship’s crew apparently
forgot a dog’s carcass that they skinned and
gutted on a Port Newark dock. That outraged
even many non-activists.
Also influential was an April 1988
offer by municipal health director Subodh
Dey, of Calcutta, India, to export as many as
100,000 stray dogs a year to Korea. The
resulting furor told Korean corporations interested
in selling goods to India that dog-andcat-eating
would not be well-accepted there,
even if it was economically rationalized.
“The dog meat restaurants have been
moved to the sidestreets,” Fred Hiatt of the
Washington Post reported in August 1988, a
month before the Olympic torch was lit.
Agreed Ronald E. Yates of the
Chicago Tribune, “It is getting hard to find a
good bowl of dog stew,” though he found that
“Hundreds of restaurants specializing in the
dish still thrive in Seoul’s back alleys, where
few foreigners roam.”
Philip Choi, Korean ambassador to
New Zealand, admitted that “Dog meat was
eaten by some people during and just after the
Korean War, when starvation and poverty
were serious problems for us.” However,
Choi claimed, “Our people have overcome
that level of poverty and starvation, and have
no more need to resort to such measures.”
“In 1988 the Korean government
made its first promise of introducing the new
law,” Brian Davies recounted in 1991.
“However, the bill was scrapped as soon as
the Olympics were over.”
According to IFAW, then-Korean
president Roh Tae Woo finally realized the
revulsion of the western world at dog-and-cateating,
and the need to really do something
about it, after IFAW supporters picketed
Buckingham Palace in late 1989 as Roh dined
with the Queen of England. But 18 months
passed before the Korean Animal Protection
Law was approved on May 7, 1991.

As the IFAW campaign to secure the
law progressed, Davies offered statistics
which, if accurate, suggested that Korean
dog-and-cat eating had actually increased during
the eight years of international effort.
“Reports from IFAW anti-cruelty
teams in South Korea indicate that each year a
staggering one million pets are cruelly slaughtered
for the dinner table,” Davies wrote in
April 1988. “That’s right, one million!”
By early 1991, Davies claimed that
in Korea, “More than two million dogs and
thousands of cats are killed each year for
human consumption.”
The numbers are reportedly still
going up, though according to Kyenan Kum,
“Statistical research shows that today only two
to three percent of Koreans eat dog meat more
often than 12 times a year.”
The most recent dog meat consumption
estimate, published by David Derbyshire
in the Daily Mail of September 24, 1996, was
three million dogs per year––although the total
Korean dog population is officially estimated
at 2.6 million, and affluent Koreans commonly
keep small purebred dogs as pets.
ANIMAL PEOPLE analysis of the
official data suggests the estimate of three million
dogs eaten may be plausible because of
imports from other nations. The traffic from
Laos and northern Thailand is well-documented.
In addition, claims Kyenan Kum, “China
is now illegally exporting huge quantities of
frozen dog products to Korea.”
The Edinborough S c o t s m a n o f
March 12, 1999, alleged that breeders of dogs
for meat are even importing some breeding
stock from the United Kingdom. These dogs
too are allegedly eventually eaten.
“According to figures released by
the Korean Food and Drugs Administration,”
Trevor P. Wheeler of WSPA told A N I M A L
P E O P L E, “there are 6,464 restaurants
throughout Korea which have dog meat dishes
on their menus. They sell 25 tons of the meat
per day, and 8,428 tons per year. Another
93,600 tons of dog meat is used each year to
produce ‘medicinal tonics.’”
Some reports suggest dog meat consumption
is declining, but it could as easily be
rising, as asserted by Kyenan kum, IFAW,
and the Animals Asia Foundation (founded by
former IFAW Asian representative Jill
Robinson, based in Hong Kong).
Rural and working class Korean
incomes have rapidly risen with industrialization
over the past 20 years, enabling more
people to buy meat of all kinds.
In April 1997 one Noh Moon Sung
formed the China Trading Company and
opened a chain of three dog meat specialty
restaurants, planning to expand to 20. By
early 1999, the chain had grown to six, and
blamed slumping business on the recession
afflicting most of Asia since the Indonesian
and Thai stock markets collapsed in mid-1997.

In real terms

“So what does this mean in real
terms?” IFAW founder Brian Davies asked in
a July 1991 appeal, about a month after the
Korean Animal Protection Law passed. “It
means that torturing dogs and cats in the belief
that it makes them taste better is banned. It
means the Korean government has heard our
protests and agreed that traditional practices
such as hanging dogs and boiling cats alive are
not acceptable in the modern world.”
Yet a closer reading of the law
should have revealed a different truth.
A May 1991 article by James Clarke
of The Sunday Standard, reproduced and
enclosed with Davies’ July 1991 appeal,
declared that the Korean Animal Protection
Law “will save 5,000 dogs a year from a long,
drawn-out death,” or one quarter of one thousandth
of the then-estimated volume of consumption.
That might have been about right.
The Korean Animal Protection Law
covers “cattle, horses, swine, dogs, cats,
rabbits, chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, deer,
foxes, mink, and other species as designated
by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.”
Thus it pertains only to species
raised for human use. That should have been
the first hint that the law would be worth little.
The law states that, “In keeping,
caring for, and protecting animals, everyone
shall try, to the maximum extent possible, to
preserve the animals’ natural habits and to
guarantee their normal lives.”
But the phrase “try, to the maximum
extent possible,” exempts from prosecution
any failure for which a defendant might claim
any excuse beyond sheer negligence.
Providing a seeming basis for introducing
humane education, the law suggests
that, “The Minister of Agriculture and
Fisheries may encourage public or civic organizations
to conduct animal protection campaigns
and other related activities aimed at
promoting the love of animals.”
But the key word is “may,” not
“shall.” Also of note is that the onus of acting
is passed to non-governmental entities.
The law most directly addresses cruelty
in Article 6, “Prohibition of Mistreatment
of Animals.” It says, “No one shall kill animals
in a way which is cruel or which provokes
disgust without proper, rational reason.
Animals shall not be subject to the infliction of
unnecessary pain or injury without proper,
rational reason. Owners and caretakers shall
not intentionally desert animals without proper,
rational reason.”
But if an alleged offender can claim
a “proper, rational reason” for hanging and
beating a dog, or boiling a cat, such as to
make a profit, the deed clearly isn’t forbidden.
Nominally, “Anyone who maltreats
animals in violation of Article 6 shall be subject
to a fine of up to 200,000 won or detention.”
Yet if this penalty has ever been
imposed, ANIMAL PEOPLE could find no
record of it. IFAW Asia coordinator David
Dawson reported in 1990 that the Korean government
had “already arrested some butchers
killing dogs in a cruel way,” but did not mention
any convictions.
Article 8, “Methods of Slaughtering
Animals,” provides that “When an animal has
to be slaughtered with proper rational reason,
to the maximum extent possible this should be
done without causing pain.” Again, however,
the reference “to the maximum extent possible”
builds in a broad exemption, as does the
use of “should” instead of “shall.” Both
exemptions could exonerate almost any
alleged offender.
Articles 6 and 8, weak though they
are, would seem to address both the manner in
which dogs and cats are killed for meat and,
less directly, how many are acquired: as captured
strays or stolen free-roaming pets.
But Article 11, “Limit of
Application,” stipulates that “Paragraph 1 and
2 of Article 6 shall not apply in any of the following
cases: Slaughtering animals for human
consumption in accordance with the Livestock
Product Sanitation and Inspection Act; hunting
in accordance with the Wildlife Protection
and Hunting Act; slaughtering animals for the
use of fur or leather and other industrial purposes;
operations conducted without slaughtering
the animal, for collecting horns and
blood for medicinal use and other industrial
purposes; measures taken to prevent damage
to property or harm to human life caused by an
animal; and other cases determined by the
Minister of Agriculture to be inappropriate for
coverage by Paragraph 1 and 2 of Article 6.”
In other words, the Korean Animal
Protection Law only deluded a generation of
activists that something had been done.
By 1994, Brian Davies’ IFAW
appeals admitted that the Korean Animal
Protection Law was not being enforced. “We
knew it wouldn’t save cats and dogs
overnight,” Davies wrote, “but it was a great
first step, because like our laws here in the
U.S., it says abusing animals is a crime.”
Davies urged recipients to ask South
Korean president Kim Young-Sam to enforce
the Korean Animal Protection Law––but never
acknowledged that it really couldn’t be
enforced without deleting the escape clauses.

The Korean Ministry of Health still
pretends a ban on dog-and-cat-eating is in
effect. On November 20, 1998, for instance,
a health ministry spokesperson told the Korean
Animal Protection Society that “The cooking
and sale of dog meat is [already] forbidden, as
it is designated as a disgusting food under the
law of Food Sanitation Enforcement
Regulations. There was a meeting at the commission
on regulation reform to release the
limitation of selling dog meat on October 30,
1998,” the spokesperson acknowledged, but
disingenuously continued, “We decided to
keep the present restriction.”
But the very authority of the Korean
federal government to enforce such a ban was
overturned in November 1996 by a North
Cheju county court. Two entrepreneurs immediately
announced plans to open dog slaughtering
plants. County officials overruled their
plans, yet the import of the court verdict
remains that banning dog (and cat) consumption
may be left to local jurisdiction.
In that light, the Kim Hong Shin bill
to regulate the dog meat industry could be seen
as potentially progressive. It would restore
dogs to the roster of species covered by the
1975 Korean Livestock Production and
Sanitation Act, from which they were
removed by the Ministry of Agriculture in
1978. Dog killing methods might then be regulated.
The bill would also––on paper––create
a shelter network. But as Kyenan Kum points
out, regulation might just move the cruelty out
of sight. Pounds might only bunch dogs and
cats for sale to butchers.
Currently, the 15-year-old KAPS
shelter is still one of just two in Korea.
Support for it, according to Kyenan Kum, is
provided mainly by International Aid for
Korean Animals, which she incorporated in
Oakland, California, to aid KAPS. KAPS
houses about 400 animals. Orignally a no-kill
shelter, KAPS since 1996 has hired a veterinarian
to do some population control killing
via lethal injection––mostly cats, who in
Korea as in the U.S. are harder to adopt out.
Though KAPS has many vocal supporters
(mostly female) in Korea, financial
support from within Korea is scarce. Partly,
this reflects the weak economic status of
Korean women, who only recently have
entered the paid workforce in significant numbers.
Partly, too, it is because until the advent

of Christian evangelism during the past several
decades, Korea had little tradition of organized
charity; what exists today is still
focused on religion. KAPS itself was not officially
recognized as a charity until 1991.

The other sheltering organization in
Korea is the Korean Animal Rescue and
Management Association, founded in 1994.
“KARMA’s main focus is on
wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, which
encourages more support from the government
and media, and more funding, than dog and
cat work,” reports Jill Robinson of the
Animals Asia Foundation. “KARMA does,
however, have a facility which houses about
90 dogs and 30 cats, 30% of whom they say
they rehome. They also have a classroom at
their rescue center where 120 students at a
time learn that dogs are our friends, not food.”
KARMA, says Robinson, “though
they want the consumption of dogs to end in
South Korea, is supporting the proposed new
legislation allowing for dogs to be eaten if
humanely slaughtered. They feel that the history
of failures in the past has done little to
reduce either the numbers of dogs involved or
the cruelty toward them, and that they must
now encourage new approaches. In addition,
they feel that negative publicity surrounding
the 2002 World Cup may encourage nationalistic
support” for dog-eating.
“In our belief,” Robinson adds,
“legitimizing dog slaughter will not reduce the
cruelty, and will eventually expand the trade
both in Korea and elsewhere in Asia. “
Concludes Kyenan Kum, “I believe
that our best hope for animals in Korea lies in
educating the young.”
But waiting for another generation to
achieve change won’t help the dogs and cats
being tortured to death right now.
Choi Hui-bok, 23, of Pusan,
couldn’t bear to wait. She tried repeatedly to
dissuade her husband Chung Hae-soo from
eating dog meat; despairing, when he persisted,
on April 11, 1995 she hanged herself.
That didn’t help, either: the animals
needed her voice.

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