ANIMAL RIGHTS - The organization KoreanDogs.org has been working to end the Dog Meat Trade in South Korea for 10 years.
Its founder, Giny Woo, (photo above) was born in South Korea and came to the United States when she was 15 years old. When Giny was a young girl living in Incheon, her pet dog went missing. Later, she saw several men in a field across from her house burning a dog, which they were going to eat. This was when she became acutely aware of the fate of many dogs in South Korea. Giny was not sure if the poor dog in the field was hers, but she has always been haunted by the thought that it might have been, or that her dog had met the same fate.
Jeff: Please tell us about the founding of KoreanDogs.org.
Giny: One day in 2011, I was at home searching the Internet to see what dog rescue organizations I could make donations to. I came across an animal advocacy organization with a “Korean Dog Meat Cruelty” campaign featured on its website. I looked into the issue further and discovered that there were many animal rights organizations in Korea campaigning to stop the dog meat industry. This was the first time I learned that there were people in Korea fighting against this terrible industry.
As I did more research, I saw the most horrific and heartbreaking images. I felt tremendous sadness and anguish about the terrible injustices and cruelty against dogs, which I love so much, and I had to tell their story. I understood Korea’s culture and language and that put me in a great position to reveal what was going on to non-Koreans.
Jeff: What were some of the things you started doing to help end the dog meat trade in South Korea?
Giny: I began doing whatever I could to raise awareness about the issue and to encourage people to take action and put pressure on the Korean government. My aim was to force it to stop ignoring the problem and take steps to end the horrendous industry.
I started posting on Facebook and uploading videos on YouTube, and I created a website devoted to fighting the dog meat industry. I would spend countless hours working on campaigns, and I created literally hundreds of petitions and collected hundreds of thousands of signatures.
I would translate videos of TV programs from Korea about the dog meat issue and add subtitles to them so that people all over the world could see what was really happening inside Korea. As I’m not a professional translator, I had to play these videos over and over to translate them accurately and put timestamps on them. Having to see repeatedly the heart-wrenching footage of how these dogs were treated with such callousness was emotionally devastating for me. There were times when I stayed up all night translating because I felt such an urgency to help these dogs.
Jeff: What did you do before you began working to end the dog meat trade?
Giny: I was an accountant working in the corporate world, so I knew nothing about campaigning.
And, because English is my second language, and pretty much everything that I was doing was new to me, there were many challenges and a big learning curve.
Jeff: It’s my understanding that KoreanDogs.org does not solicit donations and that you and everyone else in the organization work as volunteers without pay?
Giny: That’s correct. This dog meat issue is a problem of such an enormous scale that I didn’t think animal activists in Korea could achieve an end to it alone. Because their voices are being ignored by the Korean government, we need to add our voices in solidarity with them and help in any way we can. How these dogs are being treated in South Korea is a betrayal to the animals who look at us as family. I believed that if people from around the world knew what was happening in South Korea to these dogs, they would want to help them.
When I first started working on campaigns, I thought that if I just devoted my life and worked diligently for one year, I could end the dog meat industry in Korea. I was very naïve to think that because, after campaigning for 10 years, we are still a long way from completely ending it.
Jeff: What are some of the most important things you and KoreanDogs.org have been doing over the years to end the dog meat trade?
Giny: We have run all kinds of campaigns designed to put pressure on Korea’s government, organizations and companies. I believe that while you can’t force people to care about animals, you can change their behavior and stop the dog meat eating with strong and effective campaigns. I’ve tried to make our campaigns as transparent as possible, and you can see all of these campaigns on our homepage. Our followers, so many compassionate people, now number in the tens of thousands all over the world and they are taking actions. I am very grateful to them.
Also, I felt there was a need for a good source people could go to for information about this issue and how to help out. So, I try to provide lots of up-to-date relevant information on our website. People can use a search function on our website to find topics they are interested in related to Korea’s dog meat industry.
Jeff: What are some of the most significant campaigns you have conducted?
Giny: We’ve done countless campaigns so it’s hard to choose among them. But these are perhaps the most important:
We campaigned for many years to help animal activists in Korea in their efforts to close down dog slaughterhouses at the Moran Dog Meat Market in Seongnam and to close the Gupo Dog Meat Market in Busan.
We ran a campaign to urge the Koreans to enforce their own country’s laws to stop the illegal dog and cat meat industry. In this campaign, we appealed to each province, city and district in South Korea to shut down dog meat businesses in their jurisdiction. To date, we have done about 300 separate campaigns and it’s ongoing.
We also ran a campaign to shut down illegal dog farms. In 2019, Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA) published a list of dog farms with their addresses. Using that list, we petitioned cities and counties and were effective in getting a lot of them to take action. Call for Action: Submit e-People Petitions to Shut Down Illegal Dog Farms in Korea.
For both of these campaigns, we filed e-People petitions, which is an official Korean government initiative, and so we received responses from most of the responsible government offices. Some made excuses and objections, for example, saying they are not required to do anything because we don’t live in Korea. Nevertheless, many of the government offices did conduct inspections and take administrative measures that impeded dog farm and slaughterhouse operations. Also, e-People petitions let the Korean government know that this issue is of concern to people around the world.
Jeff: The Winter Olympics were held in South Korea in 2018. Did that present any opportunities?
Giny: Yes. Before the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, we ran a Boycott Campaign
in which we were able to collect over half a million petition signatures and we brought a lot of attention to the dog meat issue with media coverages before and during the Olympics.
This campaign was translated into many languages by our volunteers, and it forced the Korean Olympic Organizing Committee to respond with a rather embarrassing statement which read:
“We are aware of the international concern around the consumption of dog meat in Korea. This is a matter which the government should address. We hope that this issue will not impact on the delivery or reputation of the Games and the province and we will support the work of the province and government on this topic as needed. Also, dog meat will not be served at any Games venue.”
Jeff: South Korean cities and cities here in the United States have “Sister City” relationships. Has that presented opportunities to help end the dog meat trade?
Giny: Yes. We conducted Sister City Campaigns to urge cities around the world to talk to their Korean sister city counterparts to help end the dog and cat meat industry. We covered most of the sister and friendship cities in the U.S. and many in other countries. We got many positive responses and results.
Jeff: Could you give an example of a successful result?
Giny: In 2016, Mayor Harvey Hall of Bakersfield, the sister city of Bucheon, contacted Bucheon’s Mayor Kim Man-Soo regarding our campaign. As a result, Mayor Kim took actions to address the dog meat businesses operating in his city.
He was committed to make Bucheon the first “dog meat free” city in Korea and made some progress, working with the local animal activist group, SaveKoreanDogs.org. It was thought that progress came to a halt when Mayor Kim left office, but recently when the Animal Rescue Korea (ARK119) raided a dog slaughterhouse in Bucheon and called city officials and police, they attended the scene promptly. They were motivated to take action and promised a thorough investigation. In fact, they transported the 26 surviving dogs to a city facility.
You can see the responses we have received from our Sister Cities Campaign here and here.
Jeff: I’ve been to some demonstrations against the dog meat trade. Has KoreanDogs.org been involved in that?
Giny: We have organized many street protest/leafletting events in San Francisco and Florida, as well as supported other organizations, such as The Animals’ Battalion in New York. One reason these events are important is that they raise awareness about Korea’s dog meat industry among people who would not otherwise hear about it. It’s a chance to educate the public about what is really going on and what they can do.
Jeff: What are some of the things KoreanDogs.org is working on now?
Giny: Currently, we have a campaign to urge South Korean National Assembly members to pass legislation (Bill Number 7035) that bans dog and cat meat consumption and associated industries. Over the years, there have been numerous bills proposed that could have brought us a step closer to completely ending the dog meat industry in Korea, but all of the bills failed to pass. This new bill proposes ending dog meat consumption with a grace period of 5 years for the dog meat industry. While this is too long of a wait for us, at least we have a real chance to get the bill passed if Korean activists maintain local pressure on legislators and we maintain pressure from abroad. We must do our best to help it pass. We are asking everyone to send emails, post letters and make calls to members of Korea’s National Assembly. Their contact information is here.
Jeff: If some aspects of the dog meat trade are already illegal in South Korea, why is Bill Number 7035 important?
Giny: In 1978, dogs were excluded from the livestock list in the Livestock Products Sanitation Control Act, and therefore the slaughter of dogs became illegal. Despite the illegality of the dog meat industry for over 40 years, the government continues to ignore the dog farms that raise dogs for human consumption, dog slaughter and dog meat sales.
Also, the acts that are committed in the process of breeding, slaughter and sale of dog meat violate the Animal Protection Act, Control of Livestock and Fish Feed Act, Prevention of Contagious Animal Diseases Act, Waste Control Act, and Food Sanitation Act. But typically, these laws are rarely enforced, and the dog meat industry continues on as if there are no laws at all.
The proposed Bill No.7035 explicitly states that it is a criminal offense to slaughter or process a dog or cat for food, or to sell dog or cat meat. Also, animal abusers convicted of such crimes will not be allowed to keep a pet.
Jeff: So, it seems that over the years of campaigning you have often come up against inaction from all levels of the South Korean government, from politicians to police.
Giny: Oh, yes, it’s a tragic and shameful situation. Recently an animal organization, Animal Rescue Korea 119 (ARK119) raided a large illegal dog farm in Incheon Ganghwa County. They livestreamed the whole thing on YouTube. They brought an SBS News team with them and contacted local police and government officials. It’s only because the activists did all of this that authorities were forced to show up and take action. Usually, even though authorities know exactly what's going on, they turn a blind eye to illegal dog farms and slaughterhouses.
That Incheon dog farm violated approximately 10 different laws, and it will likely be closed down, but the city is not willing to relocate the farm’s 500 dogs. Government indifference means that the dogs will likely be sold to slaughterhouses or to other dog farms and continue to suffer. No animal organization has the money to save so many dogs, as it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for medical treatment and housing. At the moment, all activists can do is raid dog farms one at a time and campaign like us at a government level to stop this industry and end dog meat consumption in Korea once and for all.
I should mention that dog meat consumption is a source of deep division and contention in Korean society. You have those for and against it, but the majority of the population is somewhat indifferent. Most blame, I think, lies squarely with the Korean government and its short-sighted and profoundly indifferent attitude. It is doing a disservice to Korean citizens by failing to provide moral leadership, refusing to actually deal with the issue, and hindering the nation’s progress toward becoming more ethical.
Jeff: What are some of the other things KoreanDogs.org is working on now?
Giny: We are currently putting pressure on the city of Daegu, especially its northern district where the Chilseong Dog Meat Market is located, with the aim of shutting it down. At that market, live dogs are displayed in cages and slaughtered on the spot for customers. In 2019, the mayor of Daegu promised to close it down, but he failed to keep his promise. Now the city of Daegu and the northern district are trying to shift all responsibility onto each other, while it remains business as usual for the 15 dog meat businesses at the market. You can learn more about it here:
Call for Action: Shut down the Gruesome and Illegal Chilseong Dog Meat Market in Daegu!
We also have campaigns urging South Korea’s major conglomerates -- Samsung, Hyundai, LG, Kia, SK, and POSCO - to help end the dog meat trade. These conglomerates have enormous power and influence, controlling major parts of the Korean economy. If they were to speak to the Korean president and the country’s lawmakers, it would be possible to end dog meat consumption in Korea. In addition, we’ve asked these companies to make it a policy to ban the consumption of dog meat among their employees and suppliers.
So far, they have shown no interest in helping with this issue. Therefore, we encourage people to boycott these companies, along with Korean tourism, to negatively impact their revenue and profits so that they are motivated to take a stand.
We continue to support Korean animal welfare organizations working on the ground by sharing their work with our followers. We send out our regular newsletters to our subscribers and help with the Korean organizations’ fundraising efforts by promoting their campaigns and rescues.
In Los Angeles, we attended the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils meeting on June 10, 2021, to speak to Congressman Brad Sherman about the dog meat issue. Congressman Sherman is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Asia Subcommittee, and we asked him to talk to Korean counterparts and urge them to stop the dog meat industry. If he and like-minded colleagues speak to Korean government officials about this industry and the negative opinions about it around the world, I think it will help tremendously in making the Korean government understand the importance and urgency of the issue.
Jeff: It is the official position of the City of Los Angeles, which Congressman Sherman represents, to oppose the dog meat trade. See LA Passes Anti-Dog Meat Resolution in CityWatch.
It was the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (VANC) which initiated the effort to get the City of Los Angeles to officially oppose the dog meat trade.
What are some of the things other organizations are doing to end the dog meat trade?
Giny: Well, many large and small dedicated organizations in Korea are tirelessly fighting to end dog and cat meat consumption. Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA) and the Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA) are two examples of organizations that are doing important work in collaborating with Korean legislators and government officials who also support ending the dog meat industry. These organizations are crucial in providing expertise, field data, advice, and so on. Of course, they also strive to shut down illegal dog farms and slaughterhouses, rescuing as many dogs as possible, and they educate and train the public on how to protect animals.
A few years back, another organization called the Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (CARE) conducted an undercover investigation of the dog meat industry, traveling for over one year throughout South Korea. They exposed and filmed the shocking brutality they found. It’s hard not to be upset by the violence and disregard for the lives of sentient beings they uncovered. You can watch these videos via our YouTube channel.
Like other organizations, CARE works to shut down dog meat farms and slaughterhouses and rescues dogs. Last year, CARE and a group of animal advocates rescued 250 dogs from a dog farm in Incheon’s Gyeyang Mountain.
Volunteers continue to do what they can to find forever homes for them.
SaveKoreanDogs.org has been fiercely fighting the dog meat industry, shutting down dog farms, and rescuing and rehoming dogs to the US and Canada for many years. They have been very effective in giving a second chance at life to thousands of rescued dogs. It is very difficult to find a home for them in Korea.
Korean animal organizations continue to organize protests and hold press conferences to bring this issue to the forefront of public awareness. They are always demanding actions from their government to address and resolve this issue. All of us appreciate it when more people participate so that our voices are heard loud and clear.
Jeff: What can readers of CityWatch do to help end the dog meat trade?
Giny: You don’t have to be Korean to speak out against the Korean dog meat industry. Anyone, from anywhere in the world, can help to bring it to an end and save these poor animals from a life of suffering and deprivation. We have made the process of taking action as simple and easy as possible. People can go to our campaign pages and follow the simple instructions in “Call for Action.”
- South Koreans: start taking responsibility for enforcing your own country’s laws, stop the illegal dog and cat meat trades.
You can also call the South Korean Embassy in Washington DC and Consulate Office in Los Angeles to express your opposition to the cruel treatment of dogs and cats and urge them to bring an end to the dog and cat meat industry immediately.
Korean Embassy in DC: 202-939-5600
Korean Consulate in Los Angeles: 213-385-9300
Korean organizations are funded entirely by donations and to continue their life-saving work, they need donations from caring, compassionate and generous people from around the world. You can donate to these organizations via our donate page. We don’t take the donations, but we provide the right links to donate to the Korean organizations using PayPal.
Jeff: Giny, thank you for this interview and for all of the work you and KoreanDogs.org do to save the lives of dogs and cats in South Korea.
(Jeffrey Mausner is the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils Liaison to the Los Angeles Animal Services Department, 2nd Vice President of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council and Chair of its Animal Welfare Committee, and a Volunteer at the West Valley Animal Shelter. He was previously a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate and is now a Budget Representative. He is a retired attorney and law school professor and was formerly a Federal Prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.