Did the dogs come from dog meat farms or from puppy millers, hoarders, & dogfighters?
SEOUL, South Korea––Has Humane Society International thus far in 2015 bought out three South Korean breeders of dogs for meat, or several puppy millers breeding primarily for the pet trade, and/or unwittingly bought a dogfighter’s culls, and/or just bought some dogs from local hoarders?
Regardless of the source of the dogs, does the answer really matter?
Humane Society International, the global subsidiary of the Humane Society of the United States, has acquired dogs from South Korean facilities three times so far in 2015 and flown them to U.S. shelters for adoption.
Were any bred for meat?
All of the dogs were rescued, no question about it, and regardless of source, most or all would likely otherwise have been sold for slaughter.
But whether any were actually bred and raised as “meat dogs” is unclear. Moreover, the reasons why this is unclear, and the questions now rising about the origin of the dogs rescued by Humane Society International, are exposing the complexities of the dog trade in South Korea.
Putting the South Korean dog meat industry out of business is not just a matter of elevating the already high status of South Korean pet dogs, or of shaming the dwindling numbers of mostly older male dog meat consumers out of the habit.
Also integrally involved are changing the practices of animal control providers, pet dog breeders, pet keepers who for whatever reason give up a dog, and law enforcement agencies and courts which have historically tended to pay little attention to animal use and misuse, even when the mistreatment of animals has been expressly illegal.
Dog meat markets absorb overbreeding
Reality is that the dog meat markets remaining in South Korea tend to fill a role in disposing of surplus dogs which was filled in the U.S. until recent years by the combination of humane societies, pounds, and the now ended demand for random-source dogs for laboratory use.
Blogged HSUS president Wayne Pacelle on January 9, 2015, “23 survivors of the Korean dog meat trade arrived in the United States on a cold January day amidst bone-chilling temperatures and a bracing snowstorm, the beneficiaries of the first dog rescue operation of its kind.
“Their story began in Ilsan, north of Seoul,” wrote Pacelle, “on one of the thousands of dog farms that supply animals for the dog meat trade in South Korea where 1.2 to 2 million dogs are eaten annually. South Korea is unusual among those few countries involved in the trade,” Pacelle explained, “because of this intentional breeding of dogs to supply demand. In other nations, the trade gathers up stray dogs, and then butchers them.”
This is half right: South Korea is the only nation (with the possible exception of North Korea) known to now have a significant dog meat farming industry. China once did, but the explosively growing popularity of keeping dogs as pets in China has produced abandoned and stray dogs, and easily stolen dogs, in numbers sufficient to drive most or all of the commercial dog meat farmers out of business. Dog breeders in China today breed in hopes of selling puppies to the pet trade, at prices far higher than are paid for dog meat––but the dog meat trade still exists to buy and dispose of any surplus.
Relatively few stray or commercially surplus dogs go to shelters in China. Over the past 15 years China may lead the world in numbers of new humane societies founded, private shelters built, and public pounds opened. Yet China as recently as 1985 had no humane societies, no private shelters, and no pounds. Despite the explosive growth of animal advocacy and dog and cat rescue facilities in China, most of the nation is not yet fully served by pounds, shelters, and western-style rescue networks.
South Korean dog meat breeders still competitive
South Korean dog meat breeders are still competitive with cast-offs from the pet trade and other dog use industries, including dogfighting, which is illegal but far from eradicated.
The Korean cable TV network JTBC on September 9, 2015 reported, according to a translation by animal advocate April Kim, that “For the first time ever, the Ministry of Environment is currently in the process of identifying dog farms by each local municipality, nationwide. First, the survey found that there are 719 dog farms breeding more than 100,000 dogs in Gyeongsangbuk-do province. Four out of ten dog farms were breeding 100 to 500 dogs and there were five places that were breeding over 1,000 dogs.
“Currently the survey is about 5% completed,” April Kim continued, “and it is estimated that a whopping two million dogs are being bred in about 17,000 dog farms around the country.”
The estimate is likely to be high, since data from the single South Korean province believed to be the most deeply involved in producing dogs for consumption is unlikely to project accurately to all nine provinces. Data from marketplace surveys has suggested much lower totals in recent years, declining from circa two to three million dogs sold per year circa 1990.
But the existence of a significant federally subsidized Jindo dog breeding industry complicates the picture. The Jindo breed, originating from Jindo Island off the Korean coast, was officially designated the South Korean national dog in 1961. The Jindo Dog Protection & Promotion Act, adopted in 1967, led to formation of an Office of Jindo Dog Breeding, with an annual budget of $5.6 million in 2009, Korean News reported in January 2013.
Along with managing a Jindo Dog World Festival Dog Show, Jindo Dog Theme Park Development Project, Jindo Dog Breeding & Management Center, and Jindo Dog Promotion Center, the Office of Jindo Dog Breeding urges breeders to cull dogs who fail to meet the official Jindo show dog standards.
Visiting Jindo and detailing how haphazardly Jindo dogs are judged for conformation, Korean News and the Korean Animal Welfare Association found that “Selling so called substandard dogs to the dog [meat] trader was an open secret on Jindo. Even though the residents did not openly talk about this, everyone was admitting it as a fact and they were not particularly feeling guilty about it. However,” the investigators noted, “this is not because residents are immoral but because this has been a common practice for a long time.
“Occasionally we witnessed dogs in the cages of traditional [dog meat] markets who were not that different from the Jindo dogs we saw at the Jindo county,” the Korean News and the Korean Animal Welfare Association report continued. “Numerous dogs left behind are used for dog meat soup.”
Korean News and the Korean Animal Welfare Association also listed three other sources of dogs consumed for meat.
“In July 2007,” Korean News and the Korean Animal Welfare Association mentioned, “the former director of a provincial homeless animal shelter confessed that he had been supplying abandoned dogs as dog meat due to demand from government officials.” The case was reported by the Yonhap News Agency.
“In addition,” Korean News and the Korean Animal Welfare Association continued, “KBS Lee Young-Don Consumer Reports captured the scene of so called ‘pet dogs’ [who were identified as having met the Jindo breed standards] being sold for human consumption in traditional markets and auction house, etc.”
Are microchips safe when cooked?
Because of this, Korean News and the Korean Animal Welfare Association explained, “In April 2008 during a Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ meeting to discuss the implantation microchip on pets, an official remarked,” according to Electronic Newspaper, “’Given the reality of our food culture that eats dog meat, we have to verify the safety of microchips in the cooking process.’”
Earlier, in November 2004, Korean News and the Korean Animal Welfare Association recounted, the Yonhap News Agency exposed how “Australia exported surplus dogs from their dog racing industry to Asian countries. That most of the dogs exported to Korea were used for dog meat soup is a public knowledge.”
“Beagles, poodles, Jindos, Tosas”
After the January rescue of 23 dogs from Ilsan, Pacelle blogged on March 20, 2015, “We turned around the fortunes of 57 dogs set to be butchered after a short, brutish life on a dog meat farm in South Korea, and shepherded them to the United States,” to “be treated and cared for at the East Bay SPCA, Marin Humane Society, Sacramento SPCA, and San Francisco SPCA, before being adopted out to loving homes. Among the group were beagles, poodles, Korean Jindos and large Tosas,” Pacelle described.
That report raised eyebrows among people who have monitored the South Korean dog meat trade for many years, among them the editor of ANIMALS 24-7.
“Non-conforming” farmed Jindos have long been the staples of the dog meat trade. Beagles and poodles culled by puppy mills may land in the dog meat markets, along with strayed, stolen, or otherwise cast-off pets. However, unlike in Vietnam, where puppies and other small dogs are preferred for meat, dogs as small as beagles and poodles are rarely purpose-bred for meat in South Korea.
And Tosas, also called Japanese mastiffs, are a fighting dog originally bred in Japan, considered rare today. Tosas are not commonly bred as pets, if ever, and are rarely kept together in either puppy mill or dog meat farm conditions because of the likelihood that they might injure or kill each other.
On April 13 and April 29, 2015 Korea Observer reporter James Hyams helped to clear Humane Society International of allegations “circulating in Korea,” he summarized, “that some of the 80 ‘meat’ dogs HSI imported to the U.S. this year were euthanized, that these dogs caused the H3N2 [canine influenza] virus outbreak” that swept through several of the most populated parts of the U.S. soon afterward, “that HSI paid The Wall Street Journal for positive press, and that HSI is only rescuing Korean dogs to raise funds.
The canine influenza strains afflicting dogs in the U.S. were found earlier among dogs in South Korea and isolated parts of southern China, but had never before been seen in North America.
However, as ANIMALS 24-7 reported in much greater detail on April 17, 2015, in Canine influenza, dog meat, & the rescue connection, disease investigators found no evidence directly implicating Humane Society International or any of the partner adoption agencies. All of them were more than 700 miles from Chicago, where the first H3N2 cases were detected.
Muddier situation on blueberry farm
Hyams found a muddier situation when he followed up on the Humane Society International claim that Ilsan dog farmer Jung Moon-suk had “surrendered all 23 of his dogs in exchange for $2,500 so that he can start a blueberry business on the land where he kept the dogs,” Hyams summarized of the HSI media releases and web postings announcing the transaction.
Objected Jung, “I was already running a blueberry farm. I wasn’t running a dog farm. I had many dogs simply because I like animals and some of my dogs had puppies. I told them I would keep some.”
Wrote Hyams, “The farmer disputed that he was raising dogs for meat, saying he used to raise dogs to protect his property, and he would give puppies to neighbors. HSI spokesperson Lola Webber said Jung told her that he would sell some of the dogs to local restaurants. When reporters of the Korea Observer visited Jung’s farm, they found 10 dogs and two cats, despite the agreement with HSI not to farm dogs.
Caged & chained
“Two cats and four of these dogs were caged,” Hyams continued. “Another three dogs were chained to a pole under an enclosure and the remains of whole raw chickens could be seen around the dogs. Three more dogs were chained near the blueberry enclosure. Jung is also raising many chickens, roosters, a duck, bush turkey, and a goat, all living under cruel conditions either on a short chain or caged, most without sanitary food or water.”
Recalled Hyams, “In January, Humane Society International said in a press statement that ‘HSI secured an agreement with Jung to stop raising dogs for food and move permanently to growing crops as a more humane way to make a living.”
Blogged Pacelle of the deal, on March 20, 2015, “In January, we helped one dog meat farmer transition his full property into a blueberry farm and brought all 23 dogs from the farm.”
Details might have been lost in translation.
But, Hyams added, “Humane Society International visited Jung’s farm in May 2015 to see how the farmer was doing.”
Said Humane Society International representative Adam Parascondola, “It is definitely concerning that he would have that number of dogs there. He had the cats in May in a cage and they were kittens at the time. Our thought at that time was that when they are old enough he would let them out of the cage. We have concerns about him having cats in cages.”
ANIMALS 24-7 offered Humane Society International representative Webber, who also heads the Change for Animals Foundation, several opportunities to elaborate, but she offered no further information either about the Jung farm or about what HSI might now be doing about it.
Said HSUS senior policy advisor Bernard Unti, on October 11, 2015, “The farmer disputes that the Korea Observer came to his farm, raising the possibility that its journalist(s) visited a neighboring farm,” even though Hyams quoted Jung by name and published photographs appearing to positively identify it.
“Humane Society International stated from the beginning that the farmer at Islan was growing blueberries and intended to expand this crop into the space previously used for his dog farming,” Unti continued.
“Our representative visited the Ilsan farmer and his property as recently as October 9, 2015 to ensure compliance under our agreement with him to remain 100% out of the dog meat trade,” Unti said. “We saw no evidence of dog meat farming to suggest a breach of contract. Our representative recorded the following statement from the farmer, Jeong Moonseok, during the most recent visit: ‘I’m not involved in the dog meat industry; I’m not raising (meat) dogs.’”
Emphasized Unti, “HSI has contractual legal relationships with all farmers with whom we work. These relationships also seek to build trust with dog meat farmers who want to transition to a more humane livelihood. If there is a breach of such agreements we will respond accordingly.”
But why does farmer have dogs at all?
But if Jung is not raising dogs for meat, why is he raising dogs at all?
And what is the true story behind the situation described on October 5, 2015 by Martyn Stewart for the online magazine The Dodo in “I rescued a dog from a meat farm and gave him his first bowl of water”?
According to Stewart, “The farm had just over 100 dogs that regularly supplied the traders in the busy markets of Moran,” one side of a city block just outside Seoul that has long been the main source of dog meat for Seoul consumers.
Described Stewart, providing supporting photographs, “They were all tan colored with darker muzzles. They looked a cross between a mastiff and a Rhodesian ridgeback dog. I was told that these were the typical meat dogs in South Korea.”
Ring & chained dogs
The dogs shown in Stewart’s photos were in actuality much larger than most others in the ANIMALS 24-7 archives on the South Korean dog meat trade. The dogs were housed apparently three to a cage in a facility markedly more secure and elaborate than the dog meat farms documented by many previous investigations.
Stewart also offered an aerial overview of the premises. Enlarging the overview revealed––at the center of the photo––a partially dismantled circular cage and two Tosas individually chained in the manner of fighting dogs. The circular cage resembled those shown in the background of Korean dogfighting videos. (See below.)
Added J.C. Cortez of The Reflector, published in Battle Ground, Washington, on October 7, 2015, “The Humane Society for Southwest Washington will begin adoption efforts to find homes for 58 Japanese mastiffs after rescuers took the animals from a dog-meat farm in South Korea.
Humane Society International transported the animals to the United States, where they brought 25 of the dogs to the Clark County area, while the remaining 33 were sent to shelters across Washington.”
Prior to the Humane Society International rescues, ANIMALS 24-7 has no record of “Japanese mastiffs” or tosas in the South Korean dog meat trade, though dogfighters’ cull dogs certainly might be disposed of by being sold for meat.
But ANIMALS 24-7 has collected reports of tosa breeding by dogfighters, some of them apparently operating on a larger scale than most of their U.S. counterparts. Of note is that there is enough money in dogfighting in South Korea that South Korean entrepreneurs funded fighting rings from which Philippine authorities in December 2011 and March 2012 impounded a combined total of more than 500 pit bulls. The pit bulls were fought in matches shown to South Korean bettors via closed circuit television.
Attempts to buy out animal breeders, sellers, and hoarders have a long history of backfiring in the U.S., whether the targets have been alleged puppy millers, pet stores, auctioneers, vendors of dogs for laboratory use, private animal control contractors, or just individuals who compulsively collect animals.
“Something quite different”
Responded Unti, “This is something quite different than the generally random purchase of animals at risk or in distress from breeders, pet stores, horse killers, exotic pet owners, and so on, although I appreciate the fraught history of such activity in such arenas. Our initiative involves an engaged strategy against a waning trade, now the subject of increasing social and cultural tension in South Korea, and the agreements with farmers are based on binding contracts that are receiving national and global scrutiny.
“We’re not trying to buy out every farm,” Unti said, “but a successful series of farm closures or transitions should demonstrate to the South Korean government and other parties that a national farm buyout approach would be feasible and indeed popular with farmers and citizens and institutions with reservations about the dog meat trade. We think we’ve made an intelligent assessment and one that’s likely to hasten the demise of a trade which most Koreans are only now beginning to think about seriously.”
Animals Asia Foundation
The Animals Asia Foundation has for more than 15 years pursued a similar strategy against the bear bile farming industry in China and Vietnam, buying dozens of small and marginal bear farmers out of business, transporting more than 550 bears to the Animals Asia Foundation sanctuaries near Chengdu, China, and Tam Dao, Vietnam.
Initially the larger bear farms in either nation appeared to be expanding to claim whatever market share the smaller competitors left, but the bear bile industry now seems to be terminally contracting in both China and Vietnam.
The Animals Asia Foundation helped to close the last six bear bile farms in Quang Ninh province, Vietnam, in September 2015, rescuing 13 bears––but that left about 1,200 bears still being tapped for bile in Vietnam and as many as 10,000 in China.
Wildlife SOS earlier eradicated the dancing bear industry in India through buying out the dancing bear exhibitors, retraining them for other work, and financing their entry into their new occupations. Wildlife SOS is now taking the same approach to ending elephant exhibition by wandering mahouts.
So maybe the Humane Society International purchases of dogs from whatever sources in South Korea will help the fast-growing South Korean humane sector to shut down the dog meat industry and the ancillary industries that feed it, including Jindo breeding, other puppy-milling, for-profit dogcatching, and dogfighting.
But there is also the risk, meanwhile, that the buy-outs are putting more money into the wrong hands, and that some of the dogs coming to the U.S. have histories that are other than as advertised, even if Humane Society International does not know it.