The fact that people in Korea eat dogs disgusts many people outside Asia. (WARNING: Content might be unsettling for normal humans)
They think of dogs as friends, rather than food. Of course, eating dogs is no less disgusting, in itself, than eating pigs.
Pigs are equally intelligent and sensitive, and deserve at least as much respect.
However, in Korea there is an added twist: the animals are deliberately tortured before they are killed. Many Koreans believe that eating the flesh of an animal who has been tortured makes men more virile. The animals may be tortured in various ways.
Typically, they are beaten to death. Here is an eye-witness account of how this happens:
"While the dog is being beaten, he gets to the point where he urinates and defaecates on himself, and the urine & faeces typically flow down the dog's body, getting in his eyes and causing more pain. Eventually, during this intensive beating, blood flows out of the dog's mouth and nose due to internal bleeding, and he finally dies." (Reported by the ADAPTT animal welfare group).
There have also been reports of dogs' fur being burnt off with a blowtorch while the animals are still alive.
It is difficult to verify these accounts, since, according to local animal groups such as the Korea Animal Protection Society (KAPS), plain clothed policemen prevent foreigners from getting too close.
However, this alone suggests that there is plenty to hide.
Another method of torture is to slowly hang the animal, alternately tightened and loosening the noose. Here is a description of a dog being hanged:
"The cook slipped a rope around the dog's neck and ran it through an S-hook to form a crude noose, and then he began to slowly.... tug... hard. You could see the terror and confusion in the dog's eyes... The rope tightened a little more and the dog's eyes began to bulge, froth bubbled out of the side of his whiskered muzzle, his lips rolled back and his tongue twisted in agony." (Reported by the ADAPTT animal welfare group).
Ironically, the idea that dog meat may make men virile could actually be true, although obviously not because of the torture.
According to KAPS, it is common for dog meat to contain added testosterone.
During the 1992 Olympics, Korean athletes were disqualified after they tested positive for steroids after taking a meal of dog meat and eating "health tonics" that contained dog.
One justification given for eating dogs is that the tradition goes back hundreds of years. Indeed, some young Korean people eat dog meat openly and in groups, as if this were some kind of cultural statement. Yet Koreans have taken on Western traditions in almost every other aspect of their lives. It is not clear why this one is so precious to them.
In any case, according to KAPS and many other groups, there is nothing particularly traditional about the idea of eating dog meat. They believe that the custom started after the Korean war, when many people were starving.
However, there is some evidence that the habit goes back earlier than that.
According to an article in the travel magazine Wanderlust, wall paintings in a fourth-century Koguryo Kingdom tomb show dogs being killed alongside pigs and sheep. Of course, cannibalism also has a long history, but nobody regards it as their traditional right.
Today, in fact, eating dogs is theoretically illegal:
"The cooking and sale of dog meat is forbidden as it is designated as a Disgusting food under the law of Food Sanitation Enforcement Regulations.", (Article 42, Korean Food Business Owners' Ordinance 5).
Despite this, according to the South China Morning Post, there are 20,000 dog restaurants around the country.
After the international publicity just before the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988, animal protection laws were temporarily tightened up (i.e., properly enforced). Some groups are concerned by the decision of the world soccer authority, FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association), to stage the World Cup in Korea back in 2002.
They believe that this endorses the Korean government's attitude towards animal welfare, and have therefore started an international petition asking FIFA to change its decision. Some Koreans do not understand why the issue of eating dogs generates so much passion, while eating pigs generates so little.
The answer is that people who are familiar with dogs as friends are aware that they are living creatures, with feelings, emotions and experiences. They are therefore able to empathise with the suffering of dogs, but find it harder to do so with pigs.
However, dogs are also kept as companion animals in Korea.
Strangely, an arbitrary distinction is made, whereby pedigree dogs are regarded as companions, and mixed-breed dogs are eaten.
When NSW Animal Liberation in Australia wrote to FIFA to explain why they objected to Korea hosting the World Cup, they were told that the dogs were "not ordinary household dogs, but are bred specifically for this purpose".
This seems a bizarre justification.
Sometimes, however, a dog crosses this strange boundary. Some Koreans believe that if you keep a dog for more than seven years, he or she will become wild like a wolf. The impact of this is that people who have lived with dogs as companions for seven years suddenly turn around and eat their friend. If your friend is a Korean, and you are a dog, be careful when you grow old.
- Feel like voicing your concern about the treatment of dogs in Korea? This is a specific list of key government officials that presides over the dog meat industry issues in Korea.