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Response: From the Front Lines

First of all, I am more than just a bystander on the issue of animal rights in Korea. I joined an advocacy organization in 2005, and served for several years as the media production coordinator. In that capacity I reported on various activities related to the dog meat issue, and approached it as an investigative journalist, my career for five years before coming to Korea in 2001. In 2008 I founded the Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary, and serve as its administrator.  I am a professor of Spanish at a major university here in Busan, and have been involved in local media for several years as well.

Having established that I am in fact an active worker on the frontline of animal protection, and not just an armchair moral philosopher, I believe I am well qualified to address issues on animal rights, particularly dog meat consumption. Also, my eleven years in Korea have given me insight into the Korean mind, both as an observer, and as an academic researcher.

I will not rehash the lines on how dogs are bred, kept, and slaughtered; anyone who has been reading the HAPS series on this debate is well familiar with them.  I will attempt to extract arguments from the wordy musings of one particular author,  known only as The Korean, and respond to them.

Common Sense and Those Who Oppose it

The author postulates that a viable solution to reducing the cruelty of dog meat consumption is legalizing it, thus allowing the government to monitor and regulate the industry.

This might shock my fellow animal activists, but I absolutely agree with the logic of this proposal.  I completely believe that legalization of dog meat would bring immediate benefits to animals. In fact, I would go further and say that by legalizing dog meat, consumption would decrease dramatically.

Again, I’d like to remind readers that while this is an abstract matter of principle and philosophy to most of you, for me it is a practical reality. I would say that I am in the trenches of this battle, as opposed to on the keyboard. I live the daily reality of protecting dogs in Korea, and this has given me a perspective that not many other foreigners that I know of can have. I am more than just a weekend campaigner or volunteer. My full time endeavor is my dog sanctuary. Any other work I do is just part time.

I have seen with my own eyes the cruelty (more on that later) and have come to the conclusion that all out offense, with no compromise, is of no benefit in the practical world.  Yes, in theory and principle, animal activists can decry the ‘wrongness’ of eating dog all they want, and banning it is a lofty utopian goal. The truth is simple: Certain Koreans will eat dog. It cannot be stopped. Just as prostitution and gambling, no amount of regulation or deregulation will stop it. We, the activist, are engaged in futility when we attempt to stop it.

This is the point where my fellow activists will stomp down their self-righteous feet, and say we cannot morally support or tolerate any form of dog eating.

I say, fine. That is a pretty world you wish for. But that is not the reality. Like it or not, successful conflict resolution in human cultures can only be achieved by diplomatic compromises. No one will get all they want every time. And the ones that demand their way only are the ones that get nothing. Again, I live in the reality of dead and dying dogs. I am on the ground level.

On Regulation

If dog meat was to be regulated, and assuming that the government enables competent implementation of the laws, this is what I foresee happening:

First, there would be a clear regulation as to what type of dogs could be consumed. This would immediately take the ‘companion breeds’ off the table.  It would put an end to the common theft of dogs for this purpose, and even better from activists’ point of view, it would significantly harm unscrupulous puppy mills. Many mills and pet stores know that they can breed an unlimited number of dogs, because the ones that do not sell in the windows of pet shops can simply be sold for a small profit to the meat markets.  If they have to face a reality where they can only breed the number of dogs they think they can sell retail as pets, everything will change. The cost of pet dogs will go up, leading to less impulse purchases—this directly leads to less abandoned dogs.

Second, with legalized dog meat, there will have to be KFDA inspections and regulations for how the animals should be raised and kept. Dogs would need expensive vaccinations and health care, and be given approved feed. This would dramatically increase the cost of business for dog farmers, and would drive many ‘back yard’ raisers to cease.

Third, with humane regulations for the slaughter of dogs, the major incentive for older Korean consumers –the aphrodisiac nature of tortured dog- would be removed.

Lastly, it would naturally increase the cost of dog meat dishes, with the rising cost of the entire production chain, from birth, to upkeep, to transportation, slaughter, and preparation.

All of this will result in a decreased number of dogs in the industry, and as any shelter runner like me could tell you, the work is by numbers and averages, not by principles.  Just ask any kill shelter how they select animals to be euthanized.  The fact is, once regulation is in place, then activist can begin the work of education and awareness raising to bring all other dogs out of the meat industry.

So, returning to the article, I found myself agreeing with the logic (not the principle) of the author, as he was, albeit lacking ground knowledge, arriving at a conclusion I long ago got to myself.

And then the author turned what was an intelligent, coherent article into an inexplicable and interminable gushing of personal attacks, childish generalizations,  and unsubstantiated ‘facts’.

When he divined the sentence Animal rights groups are ultimately not interested in the welfare of dogs, he lost all possible credibility. This is not a sentence that an objective, educated, and verbose individual would put forth. It is a generalization of barbaric proportions that taints every single word in the interminable article as the ranting of a person who writes for the pure joy of seeing his own words. There can be no excuse for this statement, and the sheer fallacy disqualifies the entire diatribe to be considered as anything less than a flaming rant worthy of any teenager in a million internet forums.

I will not even dignify that sentence with a retort, as anyone intelligent enough to recognize the ridiculousness already knows, and anyone capable of submitting such words for publication is clearly mentally unequipped for processing said retort.

What follows in the article is a murky, wordy, and unintelligible exposition of far reaching pseudo-knowledge, that rambles from prehistory, to geography, to psychology, and other areas that the writer has regurgitated purely for the gratification of typing.

Several paragraphs down, he stumbles into a semi-coherent postulation of Cultural Conquistadors.  There seems to be a nugget of logic, but it gets buried in more wordiness, particularly sidetracked in a personal attack on the writer of another article from HAPS dog debate series.

It would be of no benefit to make a point by rambling point response to the wild flurry of statements put out by the author about the habits of Koreans, and the reasons and methods why they eat dog. In the end, the author bases all his points on things he read on Internet and the opinions his world view lead him to.

The only thing that is known about the entire field of dog meat consumption, from birth to table, is that nothing is known with statistical data. There has never been any reliable research done in favor or against, and anyone who claims to have definitive knowledge on the overall number and practices is talking with no authority. The only knowledge is by direct observation, and that is by nature, localized, and limited.

Attempting to focus on the issue of cultural imperialism, I can only say that it is with a small mind that the author sees this as an issue of the imperialist, -the American/northern European cultures- versus the conquested- the hapless Koreans.  The author once again demonstrates a narrow field of vision, assuming all activists are middle/upper class westerners (or those influenced by them).

Anything starting with a cursory glance at animal activism will show the author that even in the third world, there are grass roots born activists, who are not under any mythical western influence.  In fact, the whole idea of turning this issue into imperialism is nothing but a symptom of a mind that for some reason sees the world by the lens of self-defense from the western imperialism.

I myself am a proud third-worlder. I am from Colombia, a developing nation. And while my nation is making its way into the industrialized world, it is also grappling with an animal cruelty tradition that is being slowly stamped out: bullfighting.

Bullfighting can truly be documented as en established centuries old tradition, as opposed to dog meat, for which only circumstantial evidence has provided conjecture to the conclusion that it is a time-honored practice. (No, a few cave paintings and pop-art of the 12th century is NOT proof of an established tradition).

My country has a multitude of home-grown activist who are working to end Bullfighting, just as the Spanish city of Barcelona, crib of the activity has.  I bring this up to illustrate that the issue of animal activism goes beyond the myopic distilling of the author into a West versus us thing.

For a final point of discord, buried deep in the article, the author stabs at the economics of efficiency as proof that dogs are not being sadistically tortured to death, because it is financially inefficient.

The author has clearly never witnessed with his own eyes, as I have, that torturing an animal to death is a task that low-wage workers can easily accomplish, and it is much cheaper than to humanely kill the animal with expensive electrical shocks – the western accepted method of humane death.  I’ll spare the readers a detailed description of how it is done, but I can assure you, it is brutal, merciless, and entirely unnecessary. Also I can testify from first hand observation that the workers do not do it out of a sense of glee or sadism, as the author implies, but are simply doing it as a repetitive task any manual laborer would. It is as dispassionate as bricklaying. And a tortured death, Korean-style, is probably the most cost-efficient way to kill a dog. Trust me on this. I’ve seen it.

In the end, the author attempts to overwhelm with words, and loses any trace of credibility, despite an attempt to legitimize his (her?) logic with endless quotes to things on internet.  All I can say is this: The author is wrong. Animal Activists are not a unified front of self-interested imperialists. Exhibit A: Myself.  I am a third-worlder, who believes in legalization of dog meat, while running Korea’s only No-Kill sanctuary with fully humane standards.

If there’s one thing that being on the frontline of the animal protection war has taught me is this: Save each dog at a time, and while aspiring to lofty ideals, we need to take the victories we can, hope for change, and grab a shovel -there’s a lot of poop to clean.

The issue cannot be definitively addressed with current data, but the one thing that I can assert, unequivocally, is that anyone who claims to know the facts has insufficient information. It is Ironic that the 7,246 words of the original article are more than enough to prove that.

To get more information on the Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary, you can visit their site.





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