Ending the Dog Meat Trade: How Far We’ve Come and How Far We Have Left to Go

The horrors of the dog meat trade and dog farms have been back in the news with dog meat on the menu at some South Korean restaurants close to the Pyeongchang Olympic games. Although most news regarding the sale and consumption of dog meat focuses on Asian countries, I was surprised (and horrified) to learn that dog meat can be legally consumed (but not sold) in 44 states! The only states that specifically ban dog meat are Georgia, Michigan, California, Hawaii, New York and Virginia. Clearly, there’s still a lot to do before we live in a world where dogs aren’t cruelly farmed and served for dinner.

How Far Have Dog Meat Farms and the Dog Meat Trade Come in the Past Several Years? 

A scared, sad dog behind a fence or in a cage.

Organizations and celebrities are raising awareness about ending the dog meat trade, but how far do we still have to go? Photography ©gaikphotos | Thinkstock.

On the other hand, there is a shifting and awakening conversation about ending the dog meat trade. Canadian Olympic figure skater Meagan Duhamel shares her home with a South Korean dog meat rescue named Moo-tae. Duhamel, American Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy and Team USA Olympic snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis appeared in a recent public service announcement for #EndDogMeat (watch it on YouTube) to bring attention to this issue.

Kenworthy adopted a dog while competing at the Sochi Olympic Games in Russia and was a vocal advocate for dogs there. In Pyeongchang, Kenworthy added another dog to his family. “For our little guy, Beemo, the dog meat trade ordeal is over, but it’s horrifying to think that so many dogs just like them are still suffering this fate across South Korea,” Kenworthy tells the Humane Society International.

The Humane Society International’s Work to End the Dog Meat Trade

The three Olympians partnered with Humane Society International, which leads efforts to combat the dog meat trade around the world. Humane Society International’s innovative work on the issue isn’t just about caring for dogs who were rescued from meat farms, but also working with dog meat farmers to find more humane ways of financially sustaining their families by supporting them transitioning into other businesses, “such as water delivery or chili pepper farming. The Gyeonggi-do farmer, who has raised dogs for human consumption for 10 years, will now grow mushrooms,” the Humane Society International reports.

Humane Society International says they have managed to close 10 dog meat farms in South Korea so far, and more than 1,200 dogs have found homes in the US, Canada and UK as a result of their work.

How Far Do We Still Have to Go?

The dog meat trade continues in Asia, including South Korea, where dogs are commercially farmed. There are an estimated more than 17,000 dog meat farms active in South Korea. Humane Society International reports that an estimated 30 million dogs are killed each year for their meat. Dogs have been eaten for centuries, which also makes this a culturally complicated and sensitive issue.

ESPN says that a recent survey in South Korea found that “58 percent of respondents do not eat dog meat because they consider dogs to be pets,” which reflects a shifting cultural norm away from consuming dog meat. Public adoptions of dogs by Olympic athletes and others also helps to shift public opinion in South Korea that dogs bred for meat are somehow different or less desirable than dogs bred and kept as pets in the country.

The Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival

The Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival occurs in China each June around the summer solstice and has become a very public face of the dog meat debate. An estimated 10,000 dogs are killed to supply dog meat for this festival every year. In fact, dogs are violently and publicly slaughtered at this festival. Some people believe the more violent the dog’s death, the better the meat will be.

Dogs bound for slaughter at Yulin are crammed together in wire cages on trucks. Conditions are so poor that some of the dogs suffocate or die of disease on their way to the festival. Those that survive the journey get beaten to death with metal poles. Unlike in South Korea, most of these dogs weren’t farmed for their meat. Most dogs eaten at the Yulin Festival are stray street dogs, or even worse, dogs stolen from loving families. Many dogs who are slaughtered are still wearing their collars — indicating that they belong to families.

How Can You Help End the Dog Meat Trade?  

Kiwi before and after.

Dog meat trade survivor Kiwi before and after. Photography courtesy Stephanie Bonham.

Stephanie Bonham (@thefreelifepups) is an American who volunteers with Slaughterhouse Survivors, an organization based in Harbin, China, that rescues dogs from meat farms. She got involved because she believes these dogs are “unlike any other dogs I’ve ever come across. They deserve to live the American Dream, free of fear.”

Stephanie will travel to China at the end of April with other international volunteers to help rescue dogs who are at risk of being killed for their meat. She also explains that the dogs are killed by “skinning, boiling, electrocuting, hanging and/or cutting off limbs.”

Stephanie couldn’t give specifics about where she and other volunteers are going to ensure the safety of her trip. Her group of 10 will bring blankets, toys and treats for the dogs. According to Stephanie, they will also bring “collars and tags to implement a system to assist with eliminating dog theft. While there, we will help clean the clinics, wash the dogs, walk, play and train them, as well as help with the tagging. There are hundreds of dogs that need to get out of China.”

These volunteers will also bring dogs back with them. These dogs are then transported to cities in the United States, France, Ireland and Canada. “The dogs we are taking are dogs that already have designated rescues to help find good homes for them in their new countries,” Bonham explains.

Bonham’s Personal Journey With Rescuing Dog Meat Trade Dogs

One of Stephanie's dog meat trade rescues, Zeus.

One of Stephanie’s dog meat trade rescues, Zeus. Photography courtesy Stephanie Bonham.

Stephanie already shares her home with two dog meat trade rescues, but there’s still a hole in her heart:

“Rosie was rescued from the Guangzhou dog meat truck on its way to slaughtering 1,300 innocent dogs on June 19, 2017,” Stephanie says. “I was approved for her adoption and, on January 4, 2018, someone volunteered to be her flight volunteer from China to the US. I, of course, was ecstatic and started telling everyone. It was surreal and people from all over helped fundraise with me to get her here.”

“About two weeks before her flight, I also decided to rescue her crate mate, Floss, too. Floss (now named Zeus) was on the same truck as Rosie and has survived canine distemper. His freedom home has fallen through twice, and I decided to adopt him, too, as I didn’t have the heart to leave him behind. While I could have adopted another dog from a local shelter, these China dogs are not protected by the law and are in danger.”

“On the morning of January 4, I was getting ready to fly out to Houston to get the dogs. I got a message from Slaughterhouse Survivors, telling me something I would have never seen coming.”

“Right before she was going to get on her flight from Beijing to Houston, Rosie got spooked and ran off. It has been almost three months [since] she has gone missing and there isn’t a moment that passes that I don’t think of her. They are continuously searching for her and I have faith that she will be found and returned. I hope wherever she is that she is safe, loved and taken care of. Zeus made it safely to the US and fits in perfectly [with] our family.”

Wanting to help more dogs, Stephanie also adopted Kiwi, a dog rescued from a South Korean slaughterhouse. “She is so spunky and has such a silly personality,” she tells us. “However, she was just rescued from the slaughterhouse, with one of my friend’s dogs and 70 others, on December 28, 2017, so as you can imagine, she is still learning to trust. She’s afraid of men and loud noises and thinks she’s bigger than what she really is!”

Other Ways to Help End the Dog Meat Trade 

Get Involved: Want to learn more or donate? Visit Humane Society International to learn more about the dog meat trade in different countries around the world, including Indonesia, Vietnam, India, China and South Korea: hsi.org/issues/dog_meat/

Rescue: Want to bring a dog meat farm rescue home? There are many rescue organizations like Slaughterhouse Survivors who are bringing dogs from dog meat farms back to the United States and Canada for adoption, including Korean K9 Rescue, Free Korean Dogs and Soi Dog.

Thumbnail: Photography by SOMMAI / Shutterstock.

Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author. Her novels have been honored by organizations ranging from the Lambda Literary Foundation to the American Library Association. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with her partner, a senior Chihuahua mix, a rescued Shepherd mix and a Newfoundland puppy, along with two bossy cats and a semi-feral kitten. Learn more at sassafraslowrey.com

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