South Korea – Jasmine, Hector, Winnie and dozens more like them barked, whined and paced in their cages. Most were undernourished, with patchy and matted fur, and shivered in the biting cold of a February day.
Some cowered in meager scraps of hay as humans approached, while others forced paws and damp snouts between rusty iron bars, eager for any sort of contact.
Scenes like this can still be found at thousands of farms all over South Korea, where dogs are bred in wretched settings as both pets, and as meat, for a controversial industry that consumes up to a million dogs a year, according to Korean Animal Rights Advocates, a Seoul-based nonprofit group.
More: Here’s why the practice is changing: South Koreans eat more than 1 million dogs each year — but that’s slowly changing. Here’s why.
Another organization, Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society International, or HSI, says up to 2.5 million dogs in South Korea are bred for consumption each year.
But this farm in Hongseong, about 90 miles south of South Korea’s capital, is closing, unable to stay afloat amid a decline in consumer demand for a traditional practice – eating dogs – that is being driven by changing attitudes about dogs, and dog meat, among younger Koreans and strong international condemnation by foreigners who view this East Asian country’s dog-meat trade not as local delicacy, but as taboo.
“Business has been very bad,” said Lee Sang-gu, 60, the farm’s owner.
He has bred dogs here for eight years and has been looking to get out of the business for some time. His opportunity finally came when a team from HSI, which works on animal-protection issues around the world, arrived in mid-February to begin a rescue operation that transported 200 dogs to shelters in the U.S. and Canada for adoption.
Lee is planning to work as a security guard after he takes computer-literacy courses, a career transition that is being partly funded by HSI. In exchange for closing the farm, the organization will financially support Lee as he retrains.
“The younger generation doesn’t eat dog meat at all and restaurants are closing. There are very few chances for me to sell and prices are dropping,” Lee said, adding that his wife and two daughters were ashamed of the farm and never visited.
Lee’s is the 14th dog farm shutdown that HSI has helped bring about in South Korea over the past four years. About 1,600 dogs have been saved in the process. But between 15,000 to 17,000 dog-meat farms still exist in South Korea.