I just came back from South Korea.
It all started in January 2017 when Tracey asked me if I would be interested in joining a dog rescue. She is working with Humane Society International (HSI), and one of their goals is to end the dog meat trade in Asia. “Sure!” I replied without thinking twice (I have made the best decisions in my life this way like marrying my husband and moving to the US :)
Two years and a half later, I completely forgot about it until this summer when Tracey told me that they will be closing a dog meat farm in South Korea in September and asked me if I would like to come along. “Huh? this is in 3 months.. yes! count me in!”
So I flew on September 21st to Seoul. I arrived at the hotel at midnight, met the HSI team in the lobby the next morning, and drove to the farm. During the drive (which was quite long, Seoul traffic is as bad as here in the San Francisco bay area) I asked tons of questions:
“How many dog meat farms have you closed so far?”
HSI has closed 14 farms. This is the 15th! They close on average 2 farms per year.
“Do you reach out to the farmers and convince them to stop what they are doing? Why would they close their farm?”
They reached out to the first farms, but quickly the farmers started reaching out to them. Dog meat is becoming less and less popular, and farmers aren’t making much money with it. So they are happy to have HSI helping them transitioning their farms to a new business. The last farm became a blueberry farm. This farmer heard about the HSI campaign from the owner of the 10th farm HSI closed. Once his farm is closed, he wants to take some time off and starts a new career in construction. He is just 40 years old.
“How does it work?”
After an initial visit, the farmer signs a contract that he will stop selling any animals on the farm. He also commits to not farm any animals (not just dogs) after the closure. From that point on, all the dogs are safe. They stay at the farm for couple months during which they receive better food, vaccinations, and medical treatment. Once their quarantine period is over, a team comes to the farm and takes all the dogs out. They are usually sent to Canada, USA, and UK where they will be adopted out.
The farm was a small one with “only” 90+ dogs (there were 85 dogs at the beginning, but several mothers gave birth since then). Although I did see a video of the farm beforehand, it was quite hard to see it with my own eyes. Tears rolled down my face as I was walking through the rows of cages.
One row had cages directly on the ground with plastic containers for dog houses. The big dogs like the Tosas lived there. The cages were raised in the other rows with a wire floor with pieces of cardboard for mats. All the excrements piled underneath were swarming with rats. The stench was omnipresent despite the fact that all is outdoors. A few dogs weren’t caged, but tethered to makeshift dog houses. In each cage, there was an empty bowl. It gets filled up only once a day with some sort of swill, and devoured immediately. There was no enrichment whatsoever; bored dogs would chew on their plastic houses, cardboards, and bowls.
When walking down the rows, I was surprised to see how most of the dogs would come toward me. They would wag their tails and lean toward my hand to get petted. All they wanted was attention. Some dogs were more cautious, and would approach me carefully to sniff me. And a few were afraid and barking to tell me to stay away. The mothers especially were quite protective of their puppies.
I was also surprised about the mix of breeds present. While there were lots of Tosas and Jindos, there were also Golden Retrievers, Huskies, and Boston Terriers. Most of the dogs are bred on site, but some strays and surrenders are added to the pack. Yes, surrenders! The dog shelter system in South Korea is at capacity. Adopting a dog is not popular, so shelters have more dogs than they adopt out. People end up abandoning their dogs or giving them to farms...
During my first walk across the farm, a particular dog caught my attention. She was a mother with 5 puppies. Her puppies were like rambunctious chubby teddy bears who all wanted my attention. They nibbled my hand when I put it through the bars. She was skinny, looked tired, and kept her distance. She came cautiously to sniff me like and decided I was not a threat. She laid down and watch me with her beautiful eyes. Licking the wound on her leg, she let her puppies climb all over her, mouthing her tail and ears. She was a good mama. I was in love. I named her Skye and she will be coming home with me.
We spent some time interacting with the dogs who wanted it. Gave them toys and treats. Most have never seen a toy and were disappointed it wasn’t edible. But a few had a blast with them, throwing them in the air, tearing them apart. It was really nice to see. Lots of the dogs preferred our attention to the treats we offered, and would only eat them after we left.
We assembled the crates in which they will be transported to freedom; big, medium, and small crates, one for each dog. And then we socialized some more with the dogs.
We came back the next day with the HSI UK team and some British celebrities (Victoria Stilwell and Marc the Vet). Everybody live streamed on their social media to raise awareness about the dog meat trade. And we started moving the dogs out of the farm. The first ones were going to the UK. It was a fantastic feeling to send them to new lives.
We socialized with the remaining dogs. I sat for a couple hours with Skye. We moved her in a cage next to her puppies, so she could have a break from their antics and above all eat some food. During this time, she slowly opened up and ended up relaxing and taking treats from my hand. She just needs love and patience.
The third day, it was time for the first shipment to North America. The whole HSI team was present, as well as lots of media and local celebrities. In order not to crowd the farm, I spent the day visiting Seoul; a truly beautiful city.
In the evening we went to an event at the British embassy showcasing the HSI campaign and promoting the end of dog meat trade in South Korea.
I returned home to be ready to welcome Skye. The HSI team is still working hard and shipping dogs every day to partner shelters in the US and Canada where they will be cared for until they find their forever homes. The farm will be empty by Sunday. The cages will be dismantled. The farm will be officially and forever closed.
For more information about this awesome campaign and how to help HSI ending the dog meat trade go here: https://www.hsi.org/issues/shutting-down-a-dog-meat-farm/