Across various rural regions in East Asia, dog meat is still considered a delicacy. Though it’s a rare cuisine in most parts of China, Thailand, and Vietnam, millions of dogs make it to the dinner table every year. Some were pets stolen off city streets, and others were bred solely for consumption.
But in Asan, South Korea, just 60 miles south of Seoul, one woman has made it her life’s purpose to save pooches from this fate. Jung Myoung Sook works as a cleaner to make a living. But she also runs a makeshift hillside shelter that’s home to about 200 dogs.
“I took in small, abandoned dogs, who were panting in the rice paddies when I visited some places and found dogs about to be sold to dog traders,” Ms. Jung told the Associated Press. “I bought them with my own money.”
Although the sale and consumption of dog meat is illegal in South Korea, having been banned shortly before the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, it’s the only Asian country that has an industry of dog farms. Eating spicy dog stew, however controversial, is an ancient Korean tradition.
In recent years, animal rights activists have been able to make leeway in rescuing dogs from so-called “meat farms,” where the canines live in dismal conditions while awaiting slaughter.
“When I also learned dogs had been sold to the traders, I visited them, and bought back the dogs they had bought,” Jung said. She is able to sustain her compound, built out of boxes and miscellaneous pieces of plastic tarp, on $1,600 per month for food and medicine.
Larger organizations such as Humane Society International are able to rescue dogs with similar tactics, often paying off farmers and traders to pursue other commodities. In 2015, for instance, the Humane Society took possession of more than 100 dogs from one South Korean farmer by helping him transition to another crop.
“I think a lot of people want to get out of the dog meat trade, ‘cause people don’t like dog meat like in the past,” farmer Tae Hyung Lee said in a statement.
But dogs that make it into the trade are typically from the streets, according to the Asia Canine Protection Alliance (ACPA). They are either urban strays caught while roaming outside or actual pets – in metropolitan Asian cities, dogs and cats have become popular household companions in the past decade.
Once caught or stolen by a trader, the dogs are packed tightly into small cages without food or water. The commute is long, often lasting for days, and many die before reaching the destination.
Groups like the ACPA, which contains the Humane Society International and a few local animal rights organizations, are now working with domestic governments to help enforce existing regulations and wean farmers off dog trading.
Meanwhile, Jung's one-woman operation has supporters as well. They regularly send her donations of soy milk, pork, dog food, and canned meat to help sustain her canine friends.
“My babies aren’t hungry. They can play and live freely here,” said Jung, who has been rescuing and caring for dogs for 26 years. “Some people talk about me, saying, ‘Why is that beggar-like middle-aged woman smiling all the time,’ but I just focus on feeding my babies. I’m happy and healthy.”
While dog consumption is most rampant in Asia, the US isn’t without its own farm animal problems. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 99 percent of all livestock in the country come from factory farms, where chickens, pigs, and cows raised for consumption are restricted to a packed, indoor space for their entire lifetime.
Although animal cruelty laws protect pets and domestic animals, there is no federal law that protects animals while they are raised on farms.
To learn more about the abuses of the dog meat trade, visit the website for Humane Society International.