From my ‘Crossing the headlines’ column in Dog World (23rd September 2015).

In between my chores on the smallholding in the morning and my other work I like to find half an hour to grab a coffee and watch the excellent Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2. I’m a big fan of Ms Derbyshire’s tenacious, no-nonsense interviewing style and the show’s hard hitting debates.

On September 15 the show brought us an exclusive and very rare insight into the dog meat industry in South Korea. Victoria sat on her sofa and gave the obligatory warning that what we were about to see was pretty bleak and that some might find it barbaric, “but to some Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese it’s a tradition going back a thousand years.”

It’s estimated that 2.5 million dogs are slaughtered in South Korea every year, however those staggering numbers are sharply falling as, reporter Steven Evans explained, there is deep distaste for dog farming in the West and tastes are also changing in Asia.

Source of income

He was shown around one particular dog farm and the farmer, Mr Kim, explained that when his restaurant business failed he saw farming dogs for food as a way of making extra money. We saw lines of dirty wire cages filled with sad eyed dogs, the cages open below so the waste could drop through.

Mr Kim explained, “Koreans eat food that suits Koreans… our food cultures are different.”

However the ‘cultural’ excuse held no truck with Lola Webber from the Humane Society. She is on a mission to close down the industry by negotiating with farmers and presenting alternative business plans and some cash to help them transition to other produce, like growing peppers or fruit.

For Lola, it’s a labour of love as every farm she visits sparks compassion.

The reason for her dedication is easy to see, as she says, “Every dog farm we go to, every market we visit, despite everything, these dogs have been through having known nothing but brutality throughout their lives and an absolute indifference to the fact that they are sentient beings, they all come to the front of the cages, licking your hand, waiting for the opportunity of reprieve.”

And for the lucky dogs on Mr Kim’s farm, that’s exactly what they got. Mr Kim agreed to give up dog farming and one hundred of his dogs were inoculated so that they could be taken out of the country to new homes in California.

The reporter was then shown cradling a beautiful ginger puppy.

“How could you eat him? How could you eat this beautiful dog?” he asked looking into the camera. “But you know if you look into a face of a cow or a lamb you’d think just the same, but in the West we have no problem eating cows or lambs but we do with eating him.”

It then cut to a dog market in Seoul where we were told traders were sick of protesters from the West. And as one trader explained, “For many Asians, eating dog is a tradition going back many centuries, people believe that dog stew is a tonic and has medicinal properties… but if we had financial support, we would flatten this market and turn the whole area into one that sold dogs as pets.”

The shoddy looking market certainly looked rather incongruous among its redeveloped neighbours of sparkling high rise buildings and smart offices but it manages to keep going because of the demand for what it sells.

Lola Webber presented a different, darker view of the market, “A lot of these dogs aren’t being slaughtered in slaughterhouses; it’s done in the market. Dogs shouldn’t be killed in front of other dogs and this clearly happens routinely and this is obviously distressing for these animals and again, because it’s not a proper slaughterhouse it can take these animals a long time to die.”

Changing attitudes

However times and traditions are changing in South Korea. Once eating dog was seen as a rite of passage for many young men, and it was viewed as a sign of virility and part of growing up. But not anymore as dog meat is viewed as food from the poverty stricken past and with increasing wealth the macho food of choice is now the Blowfish (which if not prepared correctly is deadly). The number of restaurants serving dog has halved from 1,500 to 700 in recent years. Trendy, bright young things can now be seen on the streets of Seoul (just as they can be seen on the streets of London, Paris and New York) with their little dogs in handbags and more and more coffee shops in Seoul are describing themselves as dog friendly.

The reporter said that today’s Korea has all the trappings of affluence… “like dog shows which are all the rage now”, and we were shown a clip of the Bichon judging and a lovely Bulldog at the 2015 Seoul FCI International show.

Maybe this is something that those campaigning against the 2019 World Show being held in China should keep in mind.

For, alongside the increase in dog shows and rising incomes more and more South Koreans are now seeing their dogs as treasured pets and not plate fillers.

Understandably there are many Asians that accuse us in the West of being hypocrites – and it is easy to see why – and there are a number of Koreans that feel that Westerners have no right telling them how to live their lives.

“You eat sheep, pigs and cows,” they protest, “so what’s the difference?”

It’s a fair point and I think the answer for the disgust and Western disapproval of this trade lies in the appalling conditions these dogs are kept in and the sickening cruelty involved in their slaughter.

I am a vegetarian, but I have no problem with others eating meat. I also have no problem with the humane production of animals for meat; a number of the poultry I produce is destined for the table. We are far from perfect here in the West, but at the very least we do have animal welfare standards and compassion (in the vast majority of cases) for the animals destined for our plates but NO form of cruelty, no matter where in the world it takes place can be justified simply because it’s traditional.

We know and appreciate the intelligence of our dogs and their importance to mankind. There is a gulf of difference between the canine and his ovine/bovine counterpart. I’ve never heard of a guide sheep or a drug detection cow!

And I think the real difference between eating sheep, pigs, cows and eating dogs is summed up by actor Peter Egan (who is actively campaigning against dogs bred for meat) who said the dog is viewed as a companion animal all around the world (not just in the West) and that “many scientists say that if it wasn’t for the dog man would still be a hunter/gatherer”.

Surely we owe them more?

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