Korean dog-meat markets

Yesterday I encountered my first Korean market that sells dog meat. It is not fair to call it a market. It was an outdoor kennel with a dozen or more rusty dog cages, on the side of the road near the bus terminal in Gimhae (김해시). There were maybe two dozen dogs for sale. Most of the dogs were full-grown adults (more meat, higher price) but a few were just puppies.

Coincidentally I had just finished volunteering for the day at Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary, which is actually not in Busan but in Gimhae, by car about an hour northwest of Busan.

The dogs for sale are still alive. You pick the dog you want, and for a small fee the butcher will kill it on the spot, out back behind the kennel. If the butcher knows you are purchasing a dog in order to save it, as the pet sanctuary has done, he is likely to ask for a higher price.

Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary (BAPS) is a no-kill animal shelter, tucked away on a small plot of land, behind a small handful of machine shops and pig farms. The rural landscape in this corner of Gimhae could be considered quite beautiful were it not for the stain of human influence: machinery noise pollution, dilapidated buildings at the pig farms, trash on the streets.

Nearly all of the dogs I saw for sale were Korean Jindo dogs. Ironically, it is illegal to export the Korean Jindo breed out of South Korea, because they are considered national treasures.

Although Korean culture quietly tolerates the torture and subsequent killing of dogs for consumption, the government offers financial support to animal shelters; however, there is a catch: Shelters accepting financial support are not allowed to turn away animals, and these terms make it impossible for BAPS to accept government support.

At least two of the dogs currently living at BAPS were purchased at, and saved from, the nearby dog-meat market, the aforementioned doggie prison by the bus terminal in Gimhae. The founder of BAPS told me he wanted to hate the butcher, but it was difficult, he said, because the butcher, who charges hundreds of dollars for large dogs, was so polite and because he comes from a culture where his job is just another job. It is probably not too different than the horrors Hindus must experience when confronted with the systematic killing of cows in Western cultures.

The founder of BAPS also told me that many of the dogs are tortured before they are killed. The pre-death adrenaline is said to make the meat taste better. The meat is commonly used for dog soup, a dish that is most popular during summer. We are entering dog-meat season.

Many of the dogs sold to markets are pets, lost or stolen or abandoned, and these pets have previously been vaccinated with medicines not meant for human consumption. Although the sale of dog meat is tolerated, none of the dog meat for sale is regulated for safety. If there is to be a downfall of the dog-meat industry in Korea, that might be the crux of the issue: food quality and safety, because it appears too engrained culturally to disappear for ethical reasons.