Locals Help Rescue Pups from South Korean Meat Trade
Imagine being stuck in a box from the time you were a baby – confined to four walls, only opened for the occasional food or water. The food you’re given is unwholesome, you’re constantly subjected to cruel weather, and you can’t remember the last time you were clean. Imagine the loneliness and confusion being raised in these harsh conditions. This is life for dogs raised on various meat farms of South Korea, where eating dog meat has been a traditional custom for centuries.
The good news is many of these dogs are saved, thanks in part to an entire community of animal lovers, some of whom reside right here in Corvallis. Men and women who are dedicated to rescuing these pups – sacrificing much of their time to ensure these animals lead better lives.
The Meat Farm Crisis
When USA Today reporter Martin Rogers visited a Korean meat farms in 2018, he and his readers were horrified by what he discovered. In Wonju, South Korea, just miles from the excitement of the Olympics, dogs cried and whined endlessly, stuck in their cages for days on end with no hope of escape. The sight was unbearable – some dogs were already dead, left in their cages, while others were completely emaciated. Feces were everywhere, permeating a putrid smell. And this was just one example from one farm.
According to a May 2019 USA Today report, 2.5 million dogs are raised in meat farms every year. Of these, one million are killed for their meat in South Korea, while the remaining dogs are bred.
USA Today reports that eating dog meat is a centuries-old custom in South Korea and other Asian countries. Historically, canines have been used as a source of food in South Korea because there are more of them compared to livestock. The tradition of consuming dog meat has lived on, with a number of South Koreans still eating it during boknal, the hotter months of summer (usually July and August), as it’s thought to revitalize the body through the heat.
Nowadays, 70 percent of South Korea’s population disagrees with the farming and consumption of dog meat, mostly because they see dogs as companion animals and no longer as a source of food. This change in opinion can be contributed in part to younger South Koreans straying away from the practice. As wealth and Westernization has increased in the country, the approval of consuming dog meat has declined.
These facts, however, have not stopped the 17,000 dog meat farms in South Korea from operating, where dogs are put through awful circumstances before being killed. Fortunately, hope is not completely lost for these dogs thanks to operations such as what we’re calling the Hidden Dog Trail: a community of helpful volunteers from Seoul to Oregon and other nearby states.
The Trail Comes to Corvallis
The trail begins near Seoul, South Korea, in the town of Goyang. Among some of the cruelest operations in the country is a non-profit organization called Empathy for Life. EFL rescues dogs from meat farms and kill shelters in the city of Seoul, then works to make them healthy and adoptable. After the animals have had their vet check-ups, been spayed or neutered, and are ready for a home, EFL processes adoptions within the area, or works with various rescue operations in the United States to find them foster homes and, eventually, forever homes.
First, available dogs from EFL are set up to fly out to the States. Dogs can’t fly by themselves, so often volunteers are needed to travel with the pups to their destination. EFL partners with a number of different rescue operations in the U.S. for the dogs’ next step. Here in Corvallis, multiple volunteers work with Y-Not Save a Sam – a shelter located in Logan, Utah.
Y-Not Save a Sam mostly houses Samoans (hence “Sam”). Once Y-Not receives dogs from South Korea, many are then flown out to the West Coast, where different volunteers who work with Y-Not meet the dogs at various airports (Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Las Vegas). These participants pick up the dogs at their locations and foster them, or make sure they get to another foster home. After a couple of weeks, the pups are evaluated and matched with adopters, who become their forever family. In total, these dogs travel over 5,000 miles.
Mary Ann Matheson is one example of a committed, Dog Trail volunteer residing in Corvallis. A retired nurse, Matheson spends many of her days picking up new pups or fostering dogs into adoptable condition. For the past five years, helping to save these dogs from the South Korean meat farms has been one of her greatest passions. To this day, she still keeps in touch with many of the owners of the dogs she fostered.
Matheson understands why this work is so important, and that’s why she says it’s not as hard as you would think to let go of the pets she fosters.
“You just know that that’s what you’re doing – of course you love them. But you’re loving them so they can be ready to go onto the next phase of their life.”
Heather Hammond Donaldson is another Corvallisite with a love for rescuing these dogs.
“I feel like I’m making a real difference … if I can do my little part, whether they need a ride somewhere, or I’m the foster for a while, or coordinating national adoption … I feel like I’ve made a significant difference.”
Another important part of this process for Donaldson is its impact on her kids. “It teaches them responsibility, it teaches them that there are problems in this world, bigger than we see … You can’t say this is someone else’s problem. We are someone else.”
Both Matheson and Donaldson stated that they’ve had incredible experiences with the rescues they meet and foster. They are often sweet, energetic, and simply seeking love. Because of the abuse they experience at the meat farms, many of the dogs come with emotional trauma, but this trauma doesn’t inhibit them from being wonderful, lovable pets.
For example, Matheson once fostered a dog who grew up in the same crate for its entire existence. It had never been able to fully stand up or walk on the ground. When it arrived in the States, it was horrified by walking on any foreign surface. For a while, Matheson had to carry it around from place to place. Eventually, however, she was able to watch it grow and come out of its shell, as it overcame its anxiety and became a happy, carefree pup.
Matheson found out about the Hidden Dog Trail through Facebook. For those who want to get involved, you can simply visit the Empathy For Life Facebook page to get in contact with a rescue operation in the states. EFL has its own blog with more information on how to be involved (keep in mind the site is written in Korean).
Donaldson highly recommends Y-Not Save a Sam – they are always looking for more volunteers to help in any way that they can. She suggests offering to transfer, foster, or simply donate – whichever works best with your lifestyle. You can find out more on their website, www.saveasam.org.
If you’d like to help, and have the time and resources to do so, volunteering with these organizations can be a life-changing experience for all parties involved. Shelters like EFL and Y-Not are always in need of more volunteers, the pups will be forever grateful, and you, as a participant, will learn and grow through the process.
Don’t have the time but would still like to help? Monetary donations are also extremely helpful, and easy to do through the operations’ websites and Facebook pages.
Donaldson explained that awareness is key. “The more people know that this is an option, the more people are willing to do it.”
A Deeper Meaning
According to Donaldson, the treatment of animals across the world is a direct reflection of who we are as a society.
“The way we treat those in our society who have no voice really determines what kind of people we are. How do we treat our children? How do we treat the disenfranchised within our community?”
She continued, “You can’t turn a blind eye and say that it’s not your issue. This is a humanity issue.”
By Cara Nixon
Photos Courtesy of Mary Ann Matheson and Heather Hammond Donaldson.