Local authorities don’t want tourists to know what Korea does to dogs.In the shadows of the star-studded Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, thousands of dogs are slaughtered for food. Some of them live on farms just miles away from the stadiums and lie in cramped, dirty cages awaiting their torture.
Before the start of the games, Pyeongchang County offered 2 million won (around $1,850) to any restaurant owner who would stop serving dog meat during the games.
Officials said the intention was to avoid upsetting tourists.
Signs advertising dog meat dishes have been switched out at restaurants near the stadium to avoid giving “a bad impression to foreigners,” according to Pyeongchang County government official Lee Yong-bae.
“We’ve faced a lot of complaints from restaurant operators that we are threatening their livelihood,” he added. Only two of the 12 dog meat restaurants in have stopped serving the meat.
Founder of Korean K9 Rescue said the move to hide the industry from tourists visiting for the games was met with explosive protest from animal advocates including Gina Boehler, a group dedicated to saving dogs from the country’s meat farms.
“The dog meat restaurants are not closed — but the government would like you to think they are,” Boehler said. “In general, there is apathy towards farming dogs for consumption in Korea. Many [officials] don’t take it seriously.”
When the country hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988, Korean authorities banned restaurants from serving dog meat dishes. However, that was only until the games were over.
“Not only are these dogs living in constant fear from the day they are born, they experience trauma and horrific living conditions,” Boehler said. “They are often hanged, beaten to death, electrocuted and boiled alive before slaughter because suffering is believed to make the meat more potent.”
The dog meat industry has become a major focus for visitors and even among the Olympians, despite the country’s attempts to censor the industry from tourists during the event.
Meagan Duhamel, a two-time world champion pair skater from Canada, became involved with activism against the meat trade last year when she visited Pyeongchang for a qualifying event for the Winter Games. While she was there, she adopted a 2-year-old dachshund mix named Moo-Tae and saved from slaughter. When the games are over, she’ll be bringing another rescued Korean dog with her to Canada to be adopted out to a loving home.
Robinson is certain that the event is shining the spotlight on the dog meat trade, both for the millions tuning in and for those traveling to Korea to watch in-person with such high-profile advocates.
“The evidence speaks for itself regarding the widespread suffering of the victims of the dog meat trade,” Robinson said. “This can’t fail to make the headlines when the country is trying to present itself in a particular way for the Games.”
The Humane Society International and local group Korean Animal Rights Association have been offering tours of their “virtual dog meat farm,” a traveling photo exhibition of the torturous conditions dogs are forced to live in before they are killed. Recently it was parked outside city hall in Seoul.
In South Korea, the Animal Welfare Institute estimates that over 2 million dogs are slaughtered each year for food. Despite the fact that the country does not recognize dog meat as fit for human consumption, there is no clear ban on the sale of a slaughter of dogs for food.
The pressure against the industry has certainly mounted due to the Olympics, advocates hope that people who find out about the issue during the games and will not forget about the dogs once the competition has ended.
“Almost every day, Korean activists stand outside of dog meat markets to protest,” Boehler said. “We believe in changing the narrative and showing that these dogs deserve as much love as any household dog. There is truly no difference.”
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