Friend or Food? South Korea's Cruel Dog Meat Trade

by Rosalyn Morrison
(republished from the AWI Quarterly Winter 2012)

The two years I spent teaching English in South Korea proved to be a wonderful and enriching experience. I met many warmhearted and generous people who were only too willing to help a naïve American learn the social conventions - at least enough to get by in such an unfamiliar cultural landscape. (Before taking the job, I had never set foot in South Korea.)

Nevertheless, there is one vision of South Korea that left me deeply shaken - and that is the abominable way in which dogs in that country are treated. Every country has its own unique perspective on the relationship between humans and animals. It is all too easy to dismiss the practices of others as illogical or abhorrent. For the typical Westerner, eating dogs certainly qualifies as one of those practices we find strange and unsettling.

However, cultural biases aside, there is no getting around the fact that many dogs are treated miserably in South Korea. The manner in which a vast number of them are killed for food should shock the conscience of all - not just those offended by the idea of treating man’s best friend as food.

Before I left for South Korea, many friends and family members asked if I was going to Korea to eat dog meat. Laughing it off, I figured that it was a myth that dogs were still frequently eaten in one of the most developed countries in the world. To my dismay, once I got there I quickly discovered that this was indeed not a myth. Every year, according to International Aid for Korean Animals (IAKA), a non-profit organization founded by South Korean native Kyenan Kum (now living in the United States), 2 million dogs are killed for food - often in an extremely brutal manner and for dubious health benefits.

South Korea has grown exponentially in the past half-century from an impoverished nation to one with a high-tech industrialized economy. South Korea in the 1950s was a poor, rural country severely damaged by the aftermath of the Korean War and 36 years of Japanese occupation. The annual per capita income was $79, and the country critically depended on foreign aid. Often referred to as a miracle country, few expected South Korea to achieve what it has today.

Despite this phenomenal growth, for many years South Korea remained a homogeneous society with relatively little attention from and interaction with the outside world. Even today, with an almost nonexistent tourism industry, South Korea often feels like the underdog in relation to its more globally connected neighbors, China and Japan. A highly uniform society can have pros and cons, and one of the biggest cons in South Korea is an obsession many still have with “pure” blood. It remains extremely rare to see a Korean with a “waegookin,” or foreigner, as a partner. This obsession extends, unfortunately, to dogs as well - as evidenced by the near-universal disdain for mixed-breed dogs.

Purebred dogs, on the other hand, are highly sought after, particularly small dogs such as Toy Poodles, Pomeranians, and Yorkshire Terriers. Many Koreans treat these dogs as fashion objects. A high-priced dog is a status symbol - something to flash around your friends to show you can afford to indulge in such glitzy “objects.” On the downside, these toy dogs quite often are treated as mere commodities - to be quickly disposed of once they are no longer seen as cute and luxurious. In fact, South Korea has a severe abandonment problem. Former pets roam the streets, often still wearing frivolous sweaters, their cheeks painted as pink as a Chanel blush, their tails tinted green.

But these dogs have it easy compared to dogs of mixed breed. Dogs of uncertain pedigree are referred to as “dong-gae” - which literally means “dung dog.” They never stand a chance of living even a temporarily pampered life as do the small purebreds. When driving or walking around Jeollanam-do, the rural countryside region where I lived during my first year in South Korea, I often saw dog meat farms consisting of rusty, brown cages stacked on top of each other, filled with big yellow dogs. Akin to the gruesome manner in which pigs and chickens are raised for meat in factory farms, dogs raised for meat exist under extremely cruel and uncomfortable living conditions. These innocent dogs never feel the grass underneath their paws until the time comes when they are dragged out of a cage to meet their grim destiny. The dogs are often butchered right in front of the others.

Many South Koreans would like outsiders to believe that the yellow mixed dogs are the only dogs eaten as dog meat. This is not so. In truth, once “beloved” pets turn into a nuisance and a dent in the owners’ wallet, they often are unceremoniously disposed of in the streets, to be picked up by the dog collector, thrown into small wire cages with three or four other dogs, and driven to Moran market—the largest dog meat market in the nation.

Korean law is fuzzy on the legality of the dog meat trade. According to the Korean non-profit, Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA), “It is technically illegal to process dogs like livestock and use dog meat as any kind of food product. However, it is not illegal to breed, or raise, or slaughter dogs for dog meat.” In addition, South Korea’s Animal Protection Act - which should be used to penalize animal abusers - isn’t enforced, despite being recently revised with stronger penalties. With no substantive restrictions to curb the sale of dog meat, it is sold in restaurants throughout the country. The government estimated over a dozen years ago that well over 20,000 restaurants - counting those that were unregistered - offered dog meat.

Most horrifically, there is a widely held belief that in order to produce tender meat, dogs should have high adrenaline levels right before they die. To achieve this, dogs are sadistically made to experience extreme fear and suffering in the lead up to their deaths. Dogs are commonly killed via bludgeoning, hanging or electrocution. Some dogs are hung and then beaten while they are still alive. Others are hung and then a blow torch is used on them while they are still alive to remove their hair. At the open-air markets, dogs are electrocuted and then their necks are broken - all in plain sight of nearby pedestrians.

Why dog meat? It turns out, the attraction is not just a matter of taste or availability. IAKA’s website says that, “Even during desperate times... the consumption of dog was not a dietary tradition. Like anywhere else, dog was eaten only as a last-ditch resort to avoid starvation. Then sometime in the last century the practice was taken up by a few older men for mythical health benefits regarding virility.”

Consumption of dog meat also increases during Korea's scorching hot summers, as there is a belief that eating dog will keep one cool. I often saw chained or caged mixed dogs whom I had befriended disappear in July, coinciding with Bok days, the three hottest days of the summer according to the lunar calendar.

In 2002, the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup was hosted by South Korea - provoking fresh international scrutiny over South Korea’s dog meat industry. Ahead of the competition, FIFA’s president, Joseph Blatter, called upon the organization’s vice president, Dr. Chung Mong-Joon of Korea, to take "immediate and decisive measures to put an immediate end to this cruelty." In an open letter to Dr. Chung, Blatter said the dog trade damaged South Korea's international image and that the World Cup was an "appropriate moment for Korea to show the world that it is sensitive to vociferous worldwide public opinion and that it rejects cruelty. In addition, a coalition of animal welfare and conservation groups from 12 Asian countries asked the South Korean Government to make a clear commitment during the World Cup to enforce and improve animal protection and to permanently put an end to the dog meat industry. A joint investigation was set up by government officials to try to create a better system to prevent animal abuse. However, a number of Korean officials and politicians support dog eating and have no interest in changing the system. Not surprisingly, little came of the investigation.

In January 2005, according to KARA, local animal protection groups discovered that the Office for Government Policy Coordination (OGC) under the prime minister had been covertly studying a new policy on how the government could regulate dog meat. Perceiving this as a move to sanction the cruel practice instead of eradicating it or even truly reforming it, the groups began a campaign to prevent the government from pursuing this policy. Later that same month, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries told all groups to stop sending petitions because the OGC was not going to pursue its proposed “dog meat sanitation” management policy any further.

And yet, on March 9 of that year - in a complete reversal of what local animal protection groups were told - the prime minister announced a new dog meat sanitation management policy, intended to regulate the sale of dog meat in South Korea. However, according to Kyenan Kum, the plan was not carried out due to renewed international uproar.

Meanwhile the controversy continues. Fortunately, there are a number of animal welfare groups working diligently to end the dog meat trade in South Korea, in addition to IAKA and KARA. For many years, these organizations have been campaigning to build awareness of the atrocities associated with the dog meat trade, as well as aiding private shelters in South Korea by donating food and funding for development projects and advocating for the implementation of stronger laws and penalties against the abandonment of pets.

Another point of encouragement is that younger Koreans tend to shy away from eating dog meat, due in part to the influence from the wider world regarding dogs’ roles as companions in society and not as food. Meanwhile, South Korea has been chosen to host the Winter Olympics in 2018. Many Korean animal advocates see this as an opportunity to once again focus international light on the practice - and in so doing finally bring an end to the deplorable dog meat trade.

What You Can Do

For more information and to lend your support to the fight to end the cruel dog meat trade, visit the websites of the following organizations:

International Aid for Korean Animals:

Korea Animal Rights Advocates:

Korean Animal Protection and Education Society: (in Korean)

Lucy Lu's Story

While living in Korea, I saw dogs and cats every day on short 3-foot-long chains or stuck in wire cages without food, water or sufficient shelter. I knew something had to be done. Determined to save at least one dog’s life, I searched the Internet to find a shelter near my home.

When I visited Chonnam National University’s animal clinic/shelter in Gwangju, it was immediately clear that this shelter was unable to withstand the sheer magnitude of the region’s many stray dogs. Cages were stacked from floor to ceiling in every room. After venturing through several rooms, I locked eyes with a small yellow puppy staring quietly in her cage. I immediately pointed to her and the vet took her out of her cage to play with me. She was overjoyed to be out of the tiny crate that had held her for weeks. I brought her home the next day and named my little yellow puppy Lucy Lu, (or “LuLu” for short).

With Lucy Lu as my partner, I have engaged with thousands of people spreading the message that dogs and cats - no matter the breed - deserve our unconditional love. Koreans’ reactions and opinions towards Lucy Lu differed dramatically according to the region. In Seoul, many people expressed awe at Lucy Lu’s beauty and intelligence. But in my small, rural farming village in the southwest region of Jeollanam-do, barely half of the people accepted her. They could not understand why I treated a mixed breed with love and compassion. Some of them described her as “dong-gae” (dung dog) - a common insult in reference to her mixed breed status.

Determined to change this entrenched disdain for mixed dogs, Lucy Lu and I did not give up. Lucy Lu was named the Ambassador Dog of Korea in 2011 by the Korean Animal Protection and Education Society for her continuous effort to prove that mixed breed dogs warrant the same love and attention as pedigrees.

With my current position at AWI, Lucy Lu will once again take up her ambassadorial duties. I’m proud to campaign for Korean animals in the political capital of America with Lucy Lu at my side.

- Rosalyn Morrison


Re: Friend or Food? South Korea's Cruel Dog Meat Trade

I really don't get what's the problem with eating dog meat. I personally don't eat dog meat, but I think its pure hypocrisy from the part of all the Westerners who go around telling how killing dogs is atrocious, and then comes around dinner time they meet up with their friends and eat a steak or a quarter pounder burger with bacon.

Please enlighten me but why is eating dog a "bad" practice while eating pork, rabbit, chicken, horse, lamb, duck, or kangaroo an "OK" practice? I personally don't see a difference. In each and every case, animals are treated very badly, let's not delude ourselves. Some people become vegetarian because of this. I like eating meat. I am aware of how animals are treated badly, but I think some pro-animal groups are just extremist hippies who don't have nothing better to do than to rant on animal treatment. But... "how can you eat dogs, they're humans' best friends!!" I mean what a flawed logic. Because dogs are domesticated animals, and as such they are our "friends", they cannot be eaten. Oh nono this is wrong. But any animal which is not our "friend," in this case I might assume the dozrens of different meats currently being eaten by westerners, then it's OK to eat them.

Lastly, most people who eat dog in Korea are of the older generation, usually in 40+ years old. Ask any student on the street that is, say, under 35, and there are very good chances that they will tell you they never ate and will never eat dog. Culture changes and mores change. Bid deal. People eating different meats than what we are used to. Shocking

Re: Friend or Food? South Korea's Cruel Dog Meat Trade

Great article, thanks to Koreabridge for posting this and to Rosalyn Morrison for writing it.  I wasn't going to comment until I read the tired old, "I have nothing valuable to say other than, why not eat them, they are just meat" arguments rolled out for any issue dealing with the treatment of animals.

That "person" confused the point of the whole article, but that is expected given his narrow minded tired old reply.  This article had NOTHING to do with eating pigs or any other animal.  It has NOTHING to do with what Rosalyn might or might not eat.  The person commenting has no clue what her background is or what her friends may eat at night.  I am a well-educated, professionally employeed vegan and I talk about the ills of eating meat, but nobody would know my background in an article unless that was included.  So move on and stick to the point of her article.  It has to do with eating dogs and the terribly abusive and predatory industry surrounding the practice.  Just because someone does something today doesn't mean it is right.  The one point the person did get correct is that generations change.  Thankfully we have moved beyond many terrible past acts - slavery, child labor and do on.  Maybe if an article like this had come come out 40 years ago that older generation would have been less interested in dog meat as well.

Just because something is made from meat doesn't mean it is there for our dinner.  If that logic was true - watch out grandma, we are coming to eat you!

(personal insults removed by mod)

Re: Friend or Food? South Korea's Cruel Dog Meat Trade

There is a bigger force at work here and that is how people are socialized. Saying eating dog is okay is no different than saying getting "stoned" as people do in the Middle East is also okay. It is easy to say eating dog meat is immoral and that stoning as a way of punishment is bad as that is what we are taught to believe in the West; but someone can easily think the opposite just as vigorously as that is what they have been taught to believe. 

Does the West really have it right? How many murders are there in South Korea every year and how many are there in the USA? Anyway, this train of thought also goes for religion and every other thing people disagree on. Are people who are athiest wrong because they were not  taught by their parents about "God"? To be right and one's argument valid, all corresponding arguments that can be made on the same lateral plane must also be true.

So while some may have a "feeling" about something it hardly makes it right. Ethnocentrism is at the root of many problems in our world today  so before saying what anyone else should be doing, I think it is wise to try and understand truely why you would think you have it right and so many others have it wrong-regardless of what side of the argument you are on.

Re: Friend or Food? South Korea's Cruel Dog Meat Trade

Dear Mr. FrustratedVegan Bonemeathead.


Thanks also for pointing out that the article had nothing to do with eating pigs or any other sort of meat besides dog, I did notice that. Maybe, however, you did not get the point I made? The person who wrote this blog entry is obviously against the practice of eating dog meat, and dog meat in particular, otherwise she wouldn't have devoted a whole article on particular dogs, putting pictures of herself brandishing large signs telling Koreans how bad they are for killing dogs.

For this reason, I put my own view forward that this is a flawed logic to propose that eating dog meat is wrong. You may think that eating meat, period, is a "wrong" thing or something that should not be done. I can personally understand that point of view. In fact I was raised a vegan until I was 6 years old, and then afterwards a vegeterian until I was old enough to start making choices by myself, at around 15 years old. So I do understand different perspective (do you?)

You also mentioned that "Thankfully we have moved beyond many terrible past acts - slavery, child labor and do on. [sic]" Perhaps your knowledge is too narrow to appreciate the world as it works, but child labor is well alive--in fact why don't you look at the shoes you're probably wearing at this very moment, or at the sweater or t-shirt you have on you. Most likely made in China, Bangladesh, or Vietnam. There are high chances that these were made, in part of the production process or another, by child labor. As for slavery, well, why don't you do a bit of research for yourself, I'm sure you'll stop breathing altogether. I'm not saying that these practices are remotely ...

But you didn't tackle my argument anyway. Why is that eating dog meat in particular wrong? Why doesn't your friend go to France and start writing blogs about how eating snails is evil? Or how about going to Vietnam and telling those poor peasants how uncivilized they are to raise chickens and kill them afterwards. Maybe we should curse at the eagles too, catching their daily prey in the ocean to feed their babies with fresh salmon.

(personal insults removed by mod)

Re: Friend or Food? South Korea's Cruel Dog Meat Trade

A quite inspiring article. 

First of all, sorry for my grammar as I am not a native English speaker. And do not have time to troll internet for a better grammer right now in my life. 

I am totally against the brutal actions of people to any kind of animals. for food, for friend, for partner, etc. It cannot be seen as a traditional act or a cultural ritual. You can not treat a living as you have every right to torture them because you will eat it. Well, eating it can be seen as a torture itself. That's another point to discuss over.

The article really hits the exact points for the animal cruelty. But, in some part it also concludes the idea by just being against eating a dog regardless how they were treated. Eating a type of meat has nothing to do with being an improved modern country. If dogs are your friend, it does not mean that they cannot be eaten. It is totally based on the cultural and traditional aspects of the country. 

And as stated above, arguing will not stop over any subject similar to this. If you are a vegan, I can argue about plants feeling the environmental stress and how they react human emotions. If you are talking about dogs being friends, partner, clever, etc. I can argue about how pigs can be quite cleverer than the dogs and yet be as friendly as them. Well, there are dolphins for example in that case. 

It comes to social acceptations at the end. My opinion for the article; very well documented and includes very inspiring data and knowledge about animal cruelty in Korea. But still not far away from seeing a dog as a meat source that cannot be consumed. That part I do not find the article deep enough to support the reliability of that outcome.

Re: Friend or Food? South Korea's Cruel Dog Meat Trade

Wow, this is really sad. I don't think I will ever understand how someone could eat a dog but when I was there we did take note that the only dogs we saw were small ones and this was in the bigger cities and surrounding areas.

I wonder if the people of South Korea just don't realize that there are better things to eat out there than en ligne casino because what is happening is just so sad.

Re: Friend or Food? South Korea's Cruel Dog Meat Trade

I think that the OP is well written and done. I agree with you on many points, especially concerning the dogs used as "accessories." I do see it every day myself, cute little pomeranians with scarves and dyed hair. It makes me laugh at first, but it is quite different from how our own culture views this.

I want to state something with more clarity that other posters were trying to convey.

The cruel treatment of dogs is horrific, yes. I have a special place in my heart for the animal and it makes my eyes well when hearing or seeing such things. I think it is great that you have made blog to address the issue and bring awareness to it.

The problem is that this reaction does reveal a logical flaw concerning our own culture, in my opinion, that is.

Sometimes I think about an imaginary draft where animal names are chosen from a magic hat. Some go into the "domestic/pet" category. Dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, etc, the lucky ones! Then you have the "food" category. Cows, chickens, pigs, and a wide range of seafood. 

So, a line is drawn. An imaginary line in our minds. This animal is for the home! This animal is for my dinner!

I would never eat a dog, yet I often eat beef, pork, chicken, and seafood. I realize this makes me a hypocrite according to my own analysis of the situation. However, call it social conditioning. I am aware of my contradictary concepts, yet they exist. 

So, my point is that some people will respond to this message wondering why you value dogs more than animals. Why dogs should be treated better than cows, chickens, pigs, who are treated so cruelly ALL OVER THE WORLD and in such great numbers that the suffering of dogs seems insignificant in comparison. 

This was also my initial reaction. However, any effort to reduce the suffering of ANY animal is time and energy well spent. So, well done.