Korea Doesn't Want Olympic Visitors To See What It Does To Dogs
They said they would keep it secret to avoid giving "a bad impression to foreigners."
In the shadows of the star-studded Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, thousands of dogs across the country — some on farms just miles away from the stadiums — lie in cramped, dirty cages awaiting torture before they are slaughtered for food.
But local authorities don’t want tourists to know about it.
Ahead 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.
The intention, officials said, was to avoid upsetting tourists.
Pyeongchang County government official Lee Yong-bae told AFP that signs advertising dog meat dishes have been switched out at restaurants near the stadium to avoid giving “a bad impression to foreigners.”
“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 Pyeongchang have stopped serving the meat.
The move to hide the industry from tourists visiting for the games was met with explosive protest from animal advocates — including Gina Boehler, founder of Korean K9 Rescue, 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 told The Dodo. “In general, there is apathy towards farming dogs for consumption in Korea. Many [officials] don’t take it seriously.”
This is not the country’s first attempt to limit backlash while in the spotlight. When it hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988, Korean authorities banned restaurants from serving dog meat dishes — but once the games were over, business went on as usual.
“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.”
Despite the country’s attempts to censor the industry from tourists during the event, the dog meat industry has become a major focus for visitors — and even among the Olympians themselves.
Meagan Duhamel, a two-time world champion pair skater from Canada, first got involved with activism against the meat trade last year when she visited Pyeongchang for a qualifying event for the Winter Games. While there, she adopted a 2-year-old dachshund mix named Moo-Tae who had been saved from slaughter. After the games, she’ll be bringing another rescued Korean dog with her to Canada to be adopted out to a loving home.
With such high-profile advocates, 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.
“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.”
During the games, 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. It was recently parked outside city hall in Seoul.
The Animal Welfare Institute estimates that over 2 million dogs are slaughtered for food each year in South Korea. While the country does not recognize dog meat as fit for human consumption, there is no clear ban on the sale of slaughter of dogs for food.
While 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 won’t 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.”