Dog-and-cat-eating: the shame of Korea
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2001:
SEOUL, South Korea–The animal faces of dog-and-cat-eating, met at the Moran market just outside the capital city of Seoul, South Korea, are as pained and haunting as any animal defender might imagine.
The silence of the dehydrated and despairing animals is an unexpected part of the shock. Most of the dogs can bark. They just rarely do. Only scattered purebred former pets and a puppy trying to gnaw the dangling end of a nylon cord show hope that anything could be different. Stunned cats exhibit bleeding wounds from apparent hammer blows to the forehead. Roosters thrust their necks between the bars of their overcrowded cages and instead of crowing, gasp for breath.
The squalor of the Moran market degenerates in four short blocks from approximately the conditions of an abusive old-fashioned dog pound, at the end of the market closest to the major cross-street, to the worst depths of negligence displayed by certifiably deranged animal hoarders. There among cats piled three or four deep, the living among the dead
in all-fours-up rigor mortis; beside a cat in extremis from heat, dehydration, and probable disease but still trying to comfort her kittens; amid the stench of rabbits being gutted after jumper-cable electrocution or a whack on the head; chickens glued inside cages by their own heaped guano; fish belly-up in buckets of virtual cess; flayed dog carcasses atop cramped cages of live dogs; and the steam from pots of cats who may have been boiled alive, ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett began to weep.
As she did, she caught a fleeting look of sympathy from one woman whose appalling display she had photographed. The photo [above] was among 72 shots Bartlett took on May 19, 2001 during a two-hour visit to the Moran market with ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton, International Aid for Korean Animals founder Kyenan Kum, and North Shore Animal League animal care specialist Tammy Kirkpatrick.
The photo revealed a portrait of shame. Partially hidden behind a pipe supporting an awning that did not begin to conceal anything, or keep the sun out, the woman endured the photo with closed eyes, bent head, hair falling across over her face, and arms crossed defensively in front of her, as if expecting a blow.
“Dog butchers are considered lower than prostitutes in Korean culture,” explained Kyenan Kum. “A parent would not want his son or daughter to enter this business.” But, once trapped in it by birth or marriage, Kum continued, a person might feel unable to escape. “Korea,” Kum said, “as a patriarchal society, dictates that a woman should serve her husband, even if this means working at a job that makes her ashamed. It is almost unfathomable to think that this woman would dare consider switching sides and betraying her family honor,” despite whatever feelings she might have for animals who may have
been kept as quasi-pets until old enough to sell for meat.
There were brazen, hostile, bewildered, curious, and indifferent faces among the Moran market vendors, too. Mostly, however, there were faces turned away, whenever the notorious dog-and-at-market bully-boys tried to disrupt the two hours of photography and looked toward bystanders for support. The ANIMAL PEOPLE/North Shore team were both conspicuous and outnumbered among the native Koreans, hundreds to one. Yet the dog-and-cat-meat thugs found no obvious friends among the vegetable, hardware, and clothing vendors whose stands fill most of the marketplace. Even people who may have come to buy dogs or cats for dinner were reluctant to reveal themselves. Suspected would-be customers
shuffled past slowly, over and over, with eyes averted. Hardly anyone seemed to be buying–at least not while they knew we were looking.
Red light district
The atomosphere was red-light district, not restaurant district. And so was the location, an isolated commercial-and-dense residential area wedged between the Pukkan River waterfront, the Moran railway yards, and an industrial park. Just a few subway stops from the skyscrapers on the far side of the river, the Moran neighborhood has begun going upscale. But it is still almost the end of the subway line, and still is not a place where successful people settle, or come to shop. Restaurant buyers visit Moran from other parts of Seoul, a city of 10 million people.
The Moran market is in fact the biggest dog-and-cat-meat marketplace in South Korea, reputedly twice the size of the next largest, one of which is in Seoul with another in Daegu, the second largest South Korean city.
Yet the average South Korean no more sees the Moran market or the other places where dog and cat meat originate than the average American sees how chickens, pigs, and cattle are kept and slaughtered–or sees much of the neighborhoods where the desperate seek prostitutes, pornography, and illegal drugs. Such neighborhoods exist on the fringe of every large city.
Much of the economic activity transacted there is technically illegal–like the South Korean sale of dog and cat meat, banned as “unsightly” under an enenforced and perhaps unenforceable 1991 law. Despite the illegality, however, contraband commerce persists, in the U.S., South Korea, and almost everywhere, because there are buyers, sellers, and a cultural tolerance in most societies for “victimless” crime–vice–if it stays inconspicuous. Crackdowns on vice typically follow exposure of the involvement of actual innocent victims.
The dog-and-cat-meat traffic in South Korea is regarded as a vice. Recognition of animals as innocent suffering victims lags behind awareness that dog-and-cat-eating is offensive to much of the rest of the world.
Yet this is not because South Koreans are hostile toward animals. The majority may be neutral. Most just have little reason to think about animals, with whom they rarely interact in daily life. If questioned, South Koreans typically express utilitarian views similar to those expressed by older and middle-aged Americans in Yale University professor Stephen Kellert’s 1977 landmark study American Attitudes Toward and Knowledge of Animals.
The oldest cohort among the 3,107 Americans whom Kellert interviewed were part of the last American generation to be raised in a predominantly rural culture. Their offspring, coming of age during the Great Depression and World War II, still espoused the rural view of animals as source of food and fiber, but were also much more likely to keep and care for pets. The youngest generation Kellert surveyed were the “Baby Boomers,” inclined to think of pets and wildlife first when asked generally about “animals,” and correspondingly much more likely to be concerned about individual animals.
Two generations ago, following the repressive Japanese occupation of 1905-1945 and the Korean War, South Korea remained predominantly rural and desperately poor. One generation ago, South Korea had begun the transition to the present urbanized affluence, but with fresh memories of deprivation. A “Baby Boom” began in South Korea just as American “Boomers” reached adulthood–and is having a corresponding transitional effect on the culture.
Just 6% of South Koreans now live on farms-about the same percentage as live on farms in the U.S.-and only 28% live in rural areas, compared with 27% of Americans. As the South Korean population is heavily concentrated in urban high-rise apartments, where pet-keeping is impractical and often forbidden, relatively few South Koreans even see live animals these days, other than fleeting glimpses of birds. Nor are animals commonly encountered, as yet, on television and in advertisements.
The 48 million South Korean people keep just two million dogs as house pets, a ratio of one dog per 12 people; the U.S. ratio is one dog per five people. South Koreans keep only 10,000 cats as house pets; Americans keep half again as many pet cats as dogs. However, the number of South Korean petkeepers has begun to soar, as rising fortunes and smaller families, begun later in life, leave more room in hearts and apartments for an animal. Not long ago one could not find ready-made cat food in South Korea; now several companies sell imported cat food and kitty litter, with an eye toward developing a customer base and, perhaps, local manufacturing capacity.
Just a decade ago, pet supplies entered Japanese commerce the same way. The number of pet-keeping households in Japan has since doubled, and is now growing at 5% per year, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association.
Commercial cat food and kitty litter were introduced in the U.S. during the late 1940s. Circa 1960, the number of individually owned pet dogs in the U.S. for the first time exceeded the numbers in hunting packs and greyhound racing stables, and then surged far beyond, as the population of dogs kept for utilitarian purposes began a slow decline.
A similar balance point seems to have arrived in South Korea: within the past few years the number of pet dogs and cats may have passed the number raised for butchery–or, if this has not happened yet, present trends suggest it will soon. To be sure, many animals pass from the status of “pet” to “meat.” Some South Koreans acquire puppies or kittens, keep them until they grow large enough to become problematic, and then sell or trade them to meat dealers. Pets are also reputedly often stolen for meat. But proportionate to the total canine and feline population, the numbers are likely less than the numbers of American pets who were dumped at shelters and sold to laboratories less than one generation ago, when the present petkeeping ethic was just starting to be accepted.
During the 1986-1991 campaign for the existing anti-dog-and-cat-meat legislation, the International Fund for Animal Welfare issued statistics which suggested that the numbers of dogs and cats killed for human consumption was rapidly rising–as might have been the case, since South Korean per capita income was and is also rapidly rising, and South Koreans of the age brackets most likely to consume dogs and cats were among the first beneficiaries. “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,” IFAW founder Brian Davies wrote in April 1988. “That’s right, one million!” By early 1991, Davies claimed that in South Korea, “More than two million dogs and thousands of cats are killed each year for human consumption.”
Despite the 1991 legislation, South Koreans as of 1996 were eating three million dogs per year, according to London Daily Mail correspondent David Derbyshire, who did not even try to guesstimate cat consumption. “According to figures released by the Korean Food and Drug Administration,” World Society for the Protection of Animals regional representative Trevor Wheeler told ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1999, “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.'”
Wheeler’s figures would project an annual toll of about 2.6 million dogs, at 40 pounds per dog. Yet the total South Korean dog population was officially just 2.6 million, pets included. And 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.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE hypothesized in 1999 that the estimate of three million dogs eaten per year in South Korea might be plausible because of imports, noting traffic from Laos and northern Thailand. In addition, claimed Kyenan Kum, China sells frozen dog carcasses to South Korea.
One purpose of the ANIMAL PEOPLE visit to the Moran market was to assess the various estimates, and find out whether South Korean dog and cat consumption is really going up or down. The 72 photographs taken by Kim Bartlett, plus 16 by Tammy Kirkpatrick, documented approximate totals of 1,000 dogs and 100 cats offered for sale at the Moran market on a busy late-spring Saturday, both alive and dead.
About a third of them would be sold that day, Kyenan Kum projected. This would be typical of a market day–but sales fluctuate by season. “On hot summer days,” she told us, “all the dogs will be sold, plus some. On bok choi days, vendors can sell three times as many dogs as you saw. The dogs don’t even go into cages. Butchering goes on throughout the night. In the winter,” however, “sales are very slow,” and truckloads of dogs may remain caged for days or even weeks.
The Moran market is believed to sell about half the total volume of dogs and cats sold for meat in the Seoul area. Seoul has about 20% of the total South Korean population. Doing the math several different ways, trying to take all the seasonal variables into account, ANIMAL PEOPLE estimated that although there is considerable margin for error, the actual number of dogs sold for meat is in the vicinity of 1.1 to 1.3 million, representing a decline in consumption over the past five to 10 years of half to two-thirds.
A gradual decline would be consonant with an aging consumer base. A steep decline would indicate loss of popularity among the consumers, as well. Though still defended, the vice may no longer be quite as socially accepted as it was a decade back. The advent of the prescription sexual stimulant drug Viagra may also be involved, as the apparent drop in dog-eating parallels a four-year slide in the wholesale price of elk antlers, from about $14 per pound circa 1996 to as little as $2 per pound as of May 2001.
But cat-boiling to make a health tonic used by older women continues to increase, according to Kyenan Kum, as the numbers of older women in South Korea have increased. The Moran market data suggests the number of cats killed per year may be circa 100,000.
The animal care conditions at the Moran market are so bad that it is easier to imagine it as the source of an epidemic than as a pharmacy.
Although Korea is not known to have been ravaged in recent years by epidemics attributed to the sale of live animals for human consumpion, the possibility is omnipresent. Throughout Asia, live markets are rapidly losing their customer base in economic competition with modern convenience stores and supermarkets. Public health officials make no secret of hoping to hurry the process along. After unsanitary disposal of human waste, a problem largely remedied in the major cities of the Pacific Rim, live markets rank second in the level of likelihood they pose of spreading illness. Ironically, live markets persist in much of the world because of a belief that animals sold alive are less likely to be sick–but that belief evolved before refrigeration.
Two days before we visited the Moran market, Associated Press reported that, “Eleven youngsters were hospitalized, suffering from a parasitical worm, after eating kebabs made of dog meat,” in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan. That article drew scant notice, however, partly because on the same day Hong Kong officials suspended the sale of live poultry due to a resurgence of a rare strain of avian influenza, which can pass directly from birds to people and killed six Hong Kong residents in 1997. The Hong Kong government killed 1.4 million domestic fowl in December 1997 and January 1998 in an attempt to eradicate the avian flu, and killed as many more birds between May 17 and June 17, 2001.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department was attempting to force all live markets to close for one day per month of intensive cleaning. The Duck and Goose Traders Mutual Aid Society was fighting the move, while Environment and Food secretary Lily Yam Kwan hinted that a proposed ban on the sale of live birds for butchery might exempt pigeons.
The Hong Kong live markets each day sell about 100,000 chickens, 11,750 quail, 3,900 pigeons, 1,200 ducks and geese, 1,200 partridges, 1,100 pheasants, and 600 guinea fowl. Rabbits, reptiles, and sea creatures of all kinds are also common live market fare in Hong Kong; dogs and cats are not.
The Hong Kong live marketers argue that government attempts to encourage the slaughter of animals before delivery for sale, coinciding with the return of Hong Kong to mainland Chinese rule, amount to an attempt to transfer jobs from Hong Kong to the adjoining parts of China where most of the animals are raised.
China meanwhile has been battling hoof-and-mouth disease with little evident success since 1999, and is now also fighting international suspicion that the remains of animals sold to restaurants by live markets have been responsible for spreading hoof-and-mouth to Britain and Mongolia. The matter “is very sensitive, a secret totally controlled by the government,” an unnamed Chinese official reportedly told Jasper Becker of the South China Morning Post circa June 18. Becker linked concern about hoof-and-mouth to the decline of Chinese pork exports from 230,000 metric tons in 1996 to 50,000 metric tons in 2000. The steepest part of the decline came after outbreaks of hoof-and-mouth in Taiwan in 1998 were blamed on animals illegally imported from China.
The possibility that British animal feed containing bone meal might have been responsible for spreading bovine spongiform encephalopathy to Hong Kong suggested that disease transmission might have been a two-way street. Also on June 18, Hong Kong ministry of Agriculture, Conservation, and Fisheries spokespersons confirmed that a 34-year-old woman is the first known Hong Kong victim of new-variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, a terminal degenerative brain disease which is believed to have mutated from BSE.
The victim was probably infected while living in Britain for 12 of the past 17 years–but what became of about 64 metric tons of potentially BSE-contaminated meat and bone meal shipped from Britain to Hong Kong between 1988 and 2000 was–as of June 19–still a mystery. The probable use of the material was in fattening animals for sale in live markets. Although the disease-carrying prions would not be in the animals long enough to infect them, they could find their way into body parts which are commonly eaten.
“In summer, when dogs are selling quickly,” Kyenan Kum said of the South Korean dog and cat markets, “illness isn’t usually an issue. It is during the winter, when sales are slow, and the dogs remain on sale for longer. If a dog appears sickly,” she continued, “the dog will more likely be butchered than be sold alive. But almost all dogs who spend more than a day or two at the market will succumb to some disease,” she asserted, “because the dogs have not been vaccinated and because of crowded conditions.” No one seemed to care if the Moran market cats looked sick, perhaps from a belief that boiling the cats will sterilize the remains.
The prions associated with BSE, however, are unaffected by boiling. Cats were among the first animals other than hooved species and people known to be vulnerable to a form of BSE. Britain sold potentially infected meat and bone meal to 69 other nations between 1986 and 2000, the British Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries disclosed in January 2001. The biggest customers were nations with active live markets, led by Indonesia, which bought 60,000 tons of the renderings, ostensibly as chicken feed. Cats and dogs could equally well have consumed the material.
Legality vs. ban
Fronting for the dog meat and cat meat industries, while tossing a bone to animal advocates, South Korean lawmaker and evangelical Christian minister Kim Hong Shin in 1999 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. He asserted that the bill would simultaneously address cultural, public health, and humane concerns.
Elected as a member of the Grand National Party, the strongest opponent of the ruling coalition, Kim Hong Shin fell three co-sponsors short of being able to introduce his bill into the National Assembly. He eventually withdrew the bill, as KAPS and IAKA threatened to boycott this year’s World Cup soccer tournament, cohosted by Korea. Most observers believe, however, that a similar bill will be introduced once the World Cup is over, and that this one will have government backing.
According to the proponents of legalizing dog meat, the abuses that ANIMAL PEOPLE documented at the Moran market occur because the sale of dog meat for human consumption is not legal, and is therefore not officially supervised. However, the sale of poultry and rabbits for human consumption is quite legal. So far as ANIMAL PEOPLE could observe, that traffic isn’t effectively supervised either.
Despite the evident failure of existing regulation, however, a bill to bring dogs specifically under the regulations as the price of legalizing dog meat may win the endorsements of the World Society for Animal Protection and the Royal SPCA, against the views of KAPS, IAKA, and probably Animals Asia Foundation, Asian Animal Protection Network, and IFAW.
“It is WSPA’s belief that the first step in the battle to overcome this cruelty is to press for amendments to legislation,” Trevor Wheeler of WSPA stated in the December 1998 edition of the WSPA publication Animals International. “Although this would mean accepting the slaughter of dogs [and cats] for food at first, they would at least be treated humanely. Through humane education, we may then we able to show the Koreans how unnecessary the consumption of companion animals is.”
The Royal SPCA position is similar, except that the RSPCA does not differentiate among animal species, according to RSPCA Asia programs manager Paul Littlefair. “The position of the RSPCA,” Littlefair told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “is that we are not going to tell people which animals they should eat. Our position is that we exist to advocate for how all animals should be treated. If animals are going to be eaten, our position is that they should be raised and slaughtered humanely.”
If South Korean officials insist that dogs and cats can be slaughtered humanely in a manner which leaves the remains fit for human consumption, Littlefield argues, the onus is then on those officials to explain how. Current internationally accepted guidelines for humane animal killing, such as the 1993 Report of the American Veterinary Association Panel on Euthanasia, do not list an acceptable method for killing dogs and cats which would be practicable in a commercial setting and would not contaminate the meat with drugs potentially injurious to human health.
Responds Kyenan Kum, “Both my sister Sunnan and I are strongly opposed to the idea of legalizing dog meat. We believe that dog-eating would increase horrendously, and that dog meat would become more popular if legal. Many more millions of dogs would be killed and eaten every year, and this would be a major setback in trying to establish dogs as companion animals.”
KAPS, IAKA, the Animals Asia Foundation, and IFAW, the major funder of all of them, argue that establishing a special status for dogs, cats, and other companion animals is an essential prerequisite for building an ethic of kindness throughout Asia. Their belief takes as example the growth of the mainstream British and American humane movements from an initial preoccupation with horses and dogs to later advocating for cats, and–to a lesser
Thus the major anti-dog meat activity of the Animals Asia Foundation, for example, is the “Dr. Dog” pet therapy program underway for a decade in Hong Kong and now emulated in Taiwan and the Philippines. The handlers of the 200 dogs participating in “Dr. Dog” rarely if ever mention dog-eating during their visits to schools, orphanages, and convalescent homes. Rather, they hope that people who develop a fondness for companion dogs will not wish to eat a dog–although, in South Korea, the Kum sisters say it is not uncommon for people to raise a dog for the table right alongside a companion dog.
The Animals Asia Foundation also recently donated a trained drug-sniffing dog to the South Korean customs inspection staff at the Kimpo airport, near Seoul. “Long ago, Kyenan and I spoke about introducing ‘Dr. Dog’ to South Korea,” recalls Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson. “While at the time it was deemed inappropriate, I wonder if we are near the time to start.”
Both the regulatory approach and the notion of giving dogs special status may contribute to the decline of dog-eating in South Korea, with spinoff benefits for cats, as well, whose suffering has thus far been inexplicably overlooked by most campaigners. The major exception is the Korean Animal Protection Society, whose 2001 Cat Expo ANIMAL PEOPLE attended in Seoul. Placards, petitions, and handouts distributed on behalf of cats by about two dozen volunteers, mostly young women, drew a moderate but wholly positive response from a city park crowd consisting mainly of men and boys who were there to participate in a corporate track meet.
There is also opportunity for other approaches, which might appeal to different sectors of the South Korean public. A broadly sweeping animal rights perspective might appeal to youth. And, as Kyenan Kum points out, South Korea was largely a nation of vegetarian Buddhists prior to the rise of the Yi dynasty in 1392. About 47% of all South Koreans are still Mahayana Buddhists, who eat meat but could be reminded that vegetarianism is actually the oldest and purest Buddhist tradition.
“It is absolutely essential that we separate the dog meat issue from anti-Korean sentiment,” emphasizes Littlefair. “This is why calls for a boycott have been so counterproductive.” Littlefair believes South Koreans will better accept opposition to dog and cat eating once they understand it as part of a general ethic of kindness toward animals–not just as bigotry directed at them.
“The dog/cat meat trade is only one of several issues that I’m working on in Korea,” Littlefair says. “We are also collaborating with groups protesting against the laws currently being drafted on genetically modified animals, supporting a campaign which will expose inhumane livestock slaughter in Korea, and maintaining links with campaigns to protect wildlife and oppose the use of animal parts in traditional Chinese medicine. The onus is on the international organisations to proactively support the growing humane movement in Korea,” Littlefair continues. “The RSPCA is committed long-term to doing that.”
Other organizations are beginning to get involved in the dog-and-cat-eating issue, mostly amplifying the work of the Kum sisters. For instance, the National Canine Defence League, of Britain, is underwriting the reproduction of Korean translations of NCDL brochures about neutering. A May 20 Fox TV news broadcast featured the sale of dog meat and “cat juice” in the Washington D.C. area by a Korean importer, revealed through a sting arranged with the help of Kyenan Kum and Friends of Animals representative Bill Dollinger. In Defense of Animals recently did a mass mailing about Korean dog-and-cat-eating, based on information supplied by the Kum sisters.
“No doubt, in my 35 years of activism, the Korean dog and cat slaughter subject is perhaps the most ghastly animal cruelty I have encountered,” states Ark Trust founder Gretchen Wyler. “We were proud to present Mark Jordan of the International Television Network with a Genesis Award this year” for an expose of the Moran market, “and the audience appreciated Kyenan Kum accompanying him to the podium.”
So far, though, only IFAW, WSPA, the RSPCA, World Animal Net, the North Shore Animal League, and ANIMAL PEOPLE have actually had personnel in South Korea to form their own impressions. Only IFAW has a long record of actively assisting campaigns within South Korea.
Showing Animals Respect and Kindness founder Steve Hindi has deployed the SHARK Tiger video display truck on behalf of South Korean dogs and cats several times in the Los Angeles area. Aware of the favorable attention accorded to “one-man demonstrations” within South Korea, Hindi would like to build a Tiger to prowl the streets of Seoul and Daigu–but it would cost $150,000 that SHARK does not have.
Two leading South Korean corporations, Hyundai and Samsung, make some of the best equipment for such a project. But neither, so far, has assisted anti-dog-and-cat-eating activism. Samsung has assisted a guide dog program, lending light support, at least, to the concept of elevating the status of dogs. Hyundai, formerly called Datsun, reputedly changed names long ago to avoid any association, even subliminal, with the dog-eating controversy. Worse, senior Hyundai personnel have been implicated in a series of dog-eating scandals involving Korean restaurants in the vicinity of a Hyundai assembly plant near Chennai, India.
Reported Shiranee Pereira of the Chennai branch of People for Animals, of the latest episode, “On May 20, about 40 of us raided two Korean restaurants. Three of us first went and ordered dog meat. As soon as the restaurant staff said they would serve it, we stormed in. Every refrigerator and freezer was opened, but we could not make out what was what meat. Anyway, we got them groveling at our feet and left them shaken.”
Although PfA has not yet campaigned much outside of India, Pereira and PFA founder Maneka Gandhi told ANIMAL PEOPLE that they would welcome opportunities to assist their Korean counterparts.”This is an issue I could get involved in,” Mrs. Gandhi affirmed. The last time she said that about an overseas issue, Pepsi Cola quit advertising at bullfights.
Meanwhile, the major opportunities for outside involvement continue to come through IAKA, and involve work outside South Korea–like the bok choi day demonstrations held in major cities around the world each summer. “If you would like to organize a demonstration,” Kyenan Kum tells anyone interested, “please contact me and I will provide
materials, support, and contacts if I can. Demonstrations can be held in front of Korean embassies and consulates, Korean-owned corporations, or Korean car dealerships.”
KAPS and IAKA are not the only South Korean animal protection organizations. Also involved in sheltering 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,” says 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 is also believed to be likely to endorse legalizing the sale of dog meat as the price of better animal welfare regulation.
Other South Korean animal protection organizations include Voice for Animals [e-mail <email@example.com>, web <www.voice4animals.org>]; the Korea Animal League; Animal Freedom Korea; the Korean Alliance to Prevent Cruelty to Animals; and the Korean Vegetarian World Union [<www.vege.or.kr>]. Most of the others, however, appear to be campus-based, and preoccupied with animal use in laboratories, which are located for the most part on university campuses.
In South Korea, explains Voice for Animals founder Changkil Park, “There does not exist any law which deals with animals used in research or as scientific or commercial subjects. There has been grave concern about the unhindered development of biotechnology here, and many prominent civic groups have expressed concern that biotechnological development might violate human rights. Therefore, the Ministry of Science and Technology set up a temporary Korea Bioethics Advisory Commission in November 2000, consisting of 20 experts in human rights, ethics, science, and religion. We have tried to participate in the discussions,” but animal suffering has been addressed so far only with “one symbolic and ineffective clause,” Changkil Park says, “about giving consideration to the animals used in biotechnology and scientific research.
Finally, on May 22, the animal protection groups staged a joint protest at a Korean Bioethics Commission hearing. Five of the 35 people who were allowed to speak from the floor spoke on behalf of animals. “We caused the scientists to talk about animals. This might have been quite new to them,” said Changkil Park. “Since the public hearing,” he added, “we have been staging street protests against genetircally modified animals. Our goal is to get the Korean Bioethics Commission to include animal welfare in their legislative recommendations.”
The allied animal protection groups protested for four consecutive days in downtown Seoul at the beginning of June 2001. “We attracted many passers-by,” Changkil Park said. “Their reactions to the horrible pictures of suffering animals were not any different from those of animal protection activists. We gained about 3,000 signatures on petitions. We will continue our street campaigning every weekend,” Changkil Park pledged, admitting “We didn’t expect this level of interest.”
Optimism is new among Korean animal defenders. “Sadly,” said Kyenan Kum a few days before the anti-biotech protests began, “even young people who are interested in animals have a difficult time involving themselves in animal welfare because their parents forbid them from entering such an unworthy, unsuitable profession or hobby.”
Kyenan Kum, 54, and Sunnan Kum, 57, persevered, but at a high personal cost. Kyenan, an artist, has not produced art work since 1988, when she became an IFAW representative. While Kyenan has rallied world attention to the plight of South Korean animals, Sunnan turned her home into the first KAPS shelter, moving into an appartment two blocks away so that the animals could have more space. This property is now the KAPS shelter for cats, ducks, rabbits, raccoon dogs, and one lone monkey. The monkey would be happier, and welcome, at the Primarily Primates sanctuary near San Antonio, Texas, but because he is of an endangered variety, the South Korean government will not give him an exit visa.
Next, with IFAW help, Sunnan leased the upper two floors of the building where she and her husband operate a small pharmacy, and turned that space into the KAPS office, neutering clinic, quarantine, and dog kennels. Eventually the need for a safe place to use in rehabilitating injured wild birds caused Sunnan to turn much of her apartment into shelter space, as well.
Sunnan’s daughter Sueyoun Cho, 24, a professional video animator, has been involved in KAPS her whole life. “It’s not easy,” Sueyoun Cho told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Nearly once a day I hear, ‘Let’s have a dog,’ ‘Get ten dogs for this party,’ ‘Cats are good for healing bones,’ etc. Sometimes it comes from mass media, sometimes from colleagues who want to harass me, and sometimes from strangers. Some-times I wonder if I am hearing properly. Sometimes I mishear street vendors who sell produce from vans on the street, and mistake gaeran, or ‘egg,’ for gae, meaning dog.”
Choi Hui-bok, 23, of Pusan, was less able to bear the stress of being different in her concern for animals. She tried repeatedly to dissuade her husband Chung Hae-soo from eating dog meat. When he persisted, she hanged herself on April 11, 1995, in approximately the same way that butchers hang dogs.
“I worked as an English teacher in Korea for almost three years,” former KAPS volunteer Michelle McNair wrote to ANIMAL PEOPLE, responding to Internet distribution of our preliminary findings. “I went to Korea with an open mind, ready to experience another culture and embrace its differences, but instead I found a country rife with corruption and denial, and quite comfortable with committing hideous atrocities toward animals. It was too much for me.” McNair left Korea in April 2001.
As she left, Korean/American video producer Danny Seo, 24, visited South Korea on business, as a guest of Samsung. Sam-sung paid Seo $100,000 for his services. Seo immediately donated $20,000 of it to KAPS, as a third of the cost of a rural sanctuary site,
halfway between Seoul and Daegu. The balance must be raised and paid by October. Having founded the environmental action group Earth 2000 in 1989, at age 12, which peaked at 26,000 members, Seo appreciates the difficulty of pioneering a cause and building an organization.
But Seo’s gift, per se, was not what most harbinged a big change in how Koreans view animals. The change was in the extensive and overwhelmingly favorable attention his donation got in the rather conservative Korea Times.