Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What's so Wrong with Eating Dog?

Image by Gael Chardon 

With less than 2 months until I leave, I thought I'd give my perspective on the old chestnut of eating dog in Korea.  I have partly dealt with it before on a few occasions, but it is summer again (the best time of year to eat dog, apparently, it will improve stamina in the hot summer months) and stories about it keep coming up, with the same old nonsense being said about it.  In this piece I will confront the main argument from the cultural relativists and many Koreans themselves:

"Westerners are hypocrites, they eat sheep, pigs, chickens, deer, cows, ducks, and more, but draw the line at dog.  Korea, China, and Vietnam just view things differently, they simply have a different culture.  Who is anyone to say eating dog is wrong?  It's the same as eating any other animal."

I partly agree with this sentiment - shared by many Western people and Koreans alike - there is a big chunk of hypocrisy going on (even wrote a blog about vegetarianism based on it), yet at the same time, I have my issues with what they are ignoring.

There is a special relationship between dogs and humans, it goes back thousands of years.  I am a huge fan of dogs; they are so loyal and so genuine, they can teach people a lot about life.  It is sad to see many dogs still getting so excited to see their owners, even when they are treated badly by them, but that is the spirit of the dog, the eternal optimist.

The adoration of the dog in the West at least gives people a place to begin with compassion towards animals.  Of course, there will be many Koreans, Chinese, etc, who think the same way about dogs and care for animals, but as a pattern in society, frankly, the treatment of dogs is clearly different.

Once you have a place to start, comparisons can be drawn between other animals, which can raise consciousness.  Most people completely ignore these comparisons, granted, but by having sympathy for the dog, a crack appears and a way into people's hearts and minds is possible with regards all other animals.

The problem with the attitude towards dogs in Korea, that I see, is a general heartlessness to all animals is largely present.  It's not like some other animal gets most of their love - in the US is dogs, but in Korea its deer, for example - all animals are well and truly outside the sphere of what the average person should be compassionate or concerned about in a large section of Korean society (especially the older generation).

Remember also that it is not just the eating of dogs, but the treatment of them and the slaughter of them.  Unfortunately, as the dogmeat trade is technically illegal and unregulated in Korea (an example of one of many laws never enforced), the standards of care are appalling.  Some Koreans (mainly older Koreans), believe beating the dogs or strangling them to death slowly causes a surge of adrenalin that makes the meat taste better, and they are often kept in terrible conditions.  In fact, in China also, dog meat always seems to go hand-in-hand with horrifically cruel living conditions for the dogs, abhorrent methods of slaughter, unhygienic practices, and unethical means of procuring the dogs (e.g. stolen from pet owners).

We know it is possible to ignore animal suffering, we all do it to some extent, but when you have the ability to be so indifferent to the suffering of an animal that worships the ground you walk on, and can be the most trusting and loyal friend you've ever had, I think that points to something more than a little troubling.  Many people are hypocrites when it comes to dogs and the treatment and eating of other animals, but at least they have some ability to feel the pain of non-human animals.  I worry that those that treat dogs poorly and eat them may be almost completely numb when it comes to animals, which also begs the question about what goes on in their minds with regards to some fellow human beings.

In another blog, I mused on the reasons for Koreans eating dog and speculated that there may very well be justifiable reasons for it in the past, and perhaps we can understand why they still do so.  I focused mainly on history and poverty in that piece. Whatever the reasons though, you have to weigh the current attitudes and whether they are right, wrong, damaging, or not.

There is a concern I have about cultural morality in this part of the world, and I think the way Koreans treat dogs highlights this quite nicely.  Duty is very important here, and what troubles me is how rigidly defined these duties can be.  Things workout fine most of the time, and perhaps more kind deeds are done and more thought given to others as a result (to those who you have a duty to be kind and thoughtful to), maybe even a more orderly society as well.  However, when someone or something sits outside the traditionally defined duties (think strangers, people from other countries, and animals), it can be a recipe for a lack of moral consideration and I think this is what happens in dogs.

When I see a dog chained-up outside all their lives, or even worse hit and abused, I think about how I would feel if I were in its place, I put myself in its shoes - so to speak - and I think this method of being empathetic is shared by most people.  I don't believe this is how the mind of many Koreans works.  Fine, you can say this is just a theory, how on earth do I know what goes on inside their heads?  But I can draw conclusions from the behaviour I witness, and this is what I see.  I believe the traditional moral duties outlined by Korean, and possibly Chinese culture, actually get in the way of the natural empathetic urges towards the suffering of other beings that people everywhere have.

Korean culture has this set of duties for different people in different situations, even the dog has a duty.  In Korea, any dog too large for an apartment has a duty to sit and guard the house outside, that's just its place, to argue otherwise is futile.  The owners job is to feed it and give it water and pretty much nothing more.  The thought of, "Its freezing outside, the poor dog must be cold.  If it were me, I'd appreciate being inside or least having another blanket", is a thought process I think simply doesn't occur in many Korean people.  For this reason, even some of the most basic and easy to solve discomforts are left unattended to.  Time and time again I see this as I travel around Korea and have even witnessed it in my own Korean family with their treatment of dogs.  It is really quite shocking.  I find myself often muttering under my breath, "Well, the least you could do is x, y, and z, it would require almost no effort or expense at all and would make the dog's life quite a bit better."

This is not to say that cruelty does not exist in the West towards dogs, but the poor treatment I see in the West is done mainly by people who are poor and disadvantaged and are just overwhelmed by the responsibility of having a dog, or they are genuinely nasty, evil people.  What I see in Korea is that you have the poor and the occasional nasty person, as usual everywhere, but also genuinely normal, good, nice, caring people, with the means to care for dogs better, doing horrible things to dogs or just completely neglecting them, that's the difference.  These are also not isolated cases, the neglect and mistreatment of dogs is widespread among perfectly decent people in most other respects.

There have been a few articles in the Western press about the practice of eating dog meat and the relationship between Koreans and Chinese and their dogs. According to Japan Crush, even Japanese netizens sided with the dog meat eating tradition in China.

This article in the New York Times after the Sewol tragedy, actually annoyed me slightly.  I know news articles can't cover everything, but it made it sound like Koreans really adored their Jindo dogs, but in my experience, they are usually chained-up all day and forgotten about, sometimes even sold for dog meat (my uncle in-law did this with his) even though they are designated a "National treasure".  The reverence for the Jindo dog is mainly in words only, it seems.

Read about my own personal experience with this little Jindo dog in Korea.

Change is afoot though, and the number of people in China and Korea objecting to the treatment and eating of dogs is increasing.  Protests in Yulin, China surrounding the traditional summer solstice festival of eating dog have hit the news, and South Korean animal rights activists have staged protests in Seoul.  I find this encouraging, as I do the lack of support eating dog meat seems to have with the younger generation.

There really is something unsettling about eating dogs and I think the intuitive disgust of it by many is a justifiable thing.  I say this while at the same time agreeing with what other people say about the hypocrisy of eating other animals and how we treat them (I really do think factory farming is one of the most disgusting things imaginable), but I hope you can now see why I think that it is so especially horrible to eat dogs.  Because after all, if you can't muster any compassion for dogs, what hope do other animals have?

For more information on the current situation and the law regarding dog meat see the link below:


  1. The article is correct: eating dogs is distasteful to Westerners, but torturing dogs is what's really sick-making.

    1. Yes, I think if it was just about eating them, it wouldn't be such a problem. Unfortunately, though, eating dogs always seems to go hand-in-hand with the foulest treatment imaginable and a lack of compassion for animals generally. I don't think that is a coincidence.

    2. I am korean and I don't eat dogs. Not all Koreans eat dogs just so that the readers of this blog knows!

    3. I think I explicitly mentioned in this blog that eating dog is not supported very much in the young. In the linked posts I also mentioned that not many people in Korea eat dogs anymore. However, I do find that even though many don't eat dog or support it, they will often defend the practice if asked about it. And a great many Koreans don't treat their pet dogs very well at all in my experience. But of course there is a growing number that do care for their dogs very well, I'm sure things will improve in time. I just find there is a general indifference to the welfare of dogs, and in fact all animals, in Korea and I think this is linked to the importance of duty in the people's traditional moral philosophy.

  2. I don't agree that compassion for dogs is a prerequisite for compassion for any other animal. I've been to places where other animals such as cattle are revered and treated with a lot of respect, yet dogs are seen as any other animal, often lower.

    I think the reason why some societies treat animals in general better has to do with their historical relationship with them. Ancient Europe, a herding economy to my knowledge, largely benefited by cooperating and working together with animals, especially dogs. To obtain the benefits, such societies had to gain experience and knowledge about how the animals worked. The knowledge and the understanding of animals yielded great benefits, such as higher productivity, better quality meat, and companionship (especially in the 20th century and beyond). This, I believe, lead to a great emphasis on animal treatment in many Western countries. Other societies didn't have the same symbiotic relation or benefits, and often could only make use of them as meat. Additionally, a lot of Western countries have been developed for centuries, so there wasn't much to lose by helping animals. Korea has only been considered developed for less than 2 decades, and China is still quite low on HDI rankings. It takes time for the seeds to take place - even in the USA, it took 6 decades after becoming a developed nation to finally get an animal welfare law passed, and now the USA is largely a pet obsessed nation.

    The best thing that people can do to promote better treatment of animals overseas is to lay the seeds by educating the youth and others about how it can benefit them (like how humanely slaughtered animals produce better meat and cruelly treated ones produce bad meat, and if you wish, how eating carnivorous mammals like dogs results in bioamplification), and it seems like the seeds are being sown now.

    1. Respect for cattle normally has a religious doctrine behind it. The relationship between man and dogs goes much deeper and scientists are discovering more and more about the connection.

      Dogs are attuned to human emotions, eye-movements, faces, mannerisms and vocalisations like no other animal. This occurs regardless of where in the world they and people are interacting. This has occurred over time due to a long history together.

      Obviously, poverty plays a role, I admitted to it and wrote a whole post about the valid reasons Korea have for their current attitudes to dogs. Just because they have historical reasons, however, doesn't make it right now.

      While I agree with you on educating youth, I disagree with you about the special nature of the dog. It does seem to me that if you cannot find compassion for dogs, then you will struggle with other animals. And if you are torturing them or mistreating them, I believe there could be a real problem with you. Yes, this happens everywhere, but in countries that eat dogs, you do see an amplification of mistreatment and general heartlessness towards all animals (unless religious doctrine is involved) and an aspect of the culture is at least partly to blame and needs changing.

  3. so it is perfectly ok to eat cows and chicken, but not dogs?

    is that not a form of ultimate hyprocrisy?

    who give a toss what westerners think?

    this IS KOREA, why the hell should Korean do things westerner's way?

    if you don't like it, GO BACK TO OWN COUNTRY!

    1. (Comment above) Typical, hateful and thoughtless response by a pro-dog meat netizen.. "Go back to your own country!"
      As if no one should ever criticize the cruel actions of another if they so happen to be of another culture.
      Sometimes it's the best way to provide others with another viewpoint when they 'can't see the forest for the trees' per se.

    2. The ridiculousness of that Anon comment is that I made it absolutely crystal clear in that post that I did think Westerners were guilty of hypocrisy by eating other animals and then linked to a previous post I wrote laying out the argument for vegetarianism based on it (or at least abstaining from meat sourced from factory farms). As I have pointed out to some other commenters though, there is something special about the relationship between man and dog. Dog are attuned to us and us to them like no other human/animal relationship; I think this makes the abuse of them extremely troubling and points to a lack of compassion.

      Ridiculous point number 2 about anon's comment is that I also made it crystal clear that not all Koreans support eating dog, in fact very few especially in younger people, so I suspect many Koreans themselves would be slightly offended by the stupid generalisation that eating dog 'IS KOREA'. It is simply an aspect of their culture that is dying (rightly so), but not fast enough for my liking.

      Thanks Mia, by the way. I am sure if a foreigner living in Britain had a valid criticism of the way we do things I would hear them out, and if I disagreed, use reason and evidence to argue against it, not spout vitriol and tell them to go back to their own country.

    3. Wow, you are quite dog whisperer aren't you? Dog has this ability attuned to us and there is something special ? according whom? YOU obviously!

      what I find offensive is for a foreigner to have this habit of constantly speaking for Koreans?

      who the hell are you?

      what makes you qualifies to speak for Koreans?

      just because you managed to get a Korean wife?

      seriously dude, you need to shut up and let Korean speaks for themselves.

      and yes, Korea is NOT YOUR country, so if you have so much problems with how Koreans doing things, then go back to your fucking countries.

      who the hell are you, that Koreans have to listen to what you have to say/

      you are a "guest" in this country, you should at least understand basic manners and know your place.

      basic common sense and etiquette.

      or have your parents never taught you the proper way behave when you are guest?

    4. Respectfully speaking, is English your first language? I read you post three times and honestly couldn't tell.

    5. well, with all the grammatical mistakes I have made, what do you think? ???would you prefer it if I respond to you and Chris in Korean?

      oh, yes, that is right, neither of you could understand even the most basics of Korean language.

      this is despite the fact Chris has been married to a Korean woman and has lived in Korea for couple of years.


    6. So, you might be one of my first Korean trolls?

      Anon, I'm no dog whisperer, but I do read a lot about science and there has been quite a lot of study on the dog/human relationship. They have confirmed that dogs can read the emotional state, body language, and vocalisations of humans like no other animal. Dogs have also developed ways of barking and behaviours specifically to communicate with humans. They have even been shown to detect cancer in humans.

      Check out this BBC documentary on the subject:

      I have a question for you, if you are Korean, why would you describe eating dog as 'this IS KOREA'? I find that odd because I know many Koreans who abhor eating dog and I think would be pretty upset about it being lumped into part of being Korean.

      I'm not speaking for Koreans (that seems to be what you are doing), I'm speaking about a practice that goes on in Korean, that seems blindingly obvious.

      All this guest nonsense is pathetic to be honest. How long before I'm not a guest, by the way? Would I never be able to criticise any practice I see in Korea? What about after 20 years? Does not having Korean DNA always make me a guest?

      Like I said before, I wouldn't be upset if someone criticised something people did in England. If I didn't agree with them (I normally agree, England has many issues these days), I would respectfully disagree with a reasoned response, not get angry, swear, change the subject, or make sarcastic comments about my upbringing.

      I find it ironic you are talking about me having bad manners, what a good example you are setting me with how you behave as a guest commenting on my blog.

    7. And, by the way, I do understand the basics of the Korean language, in fact I get by quite well without my wife being around. Am I capable of having complex conversations and writing blog posts or replying to someone well in Korean, no, and I envy you for being so accomplished in a language that is not your own.

      That said, I don't envy your skills of reasoned debate and argument or, in fact, your ability to read thoroughly what I wrote, or your attitude to criticism, all of which are woefully inept.

    8. Anonymous is such a bleeding blatant idiot.
      I am korean. Born.
      Thankfully not fed and bred.
      I am currently in Korea. I am appalled and ashamed. They treat animals so badly. And what for ? To eat meat, meat and meat non stop all day long.
      It is sickening.
      Regarding him being a foreigner. You should be ashamed anonymous to write such hateful words. Makes us all Koreans look bad. Although Korea does not need it's help.
      People are racist, stupid, only inclined in physical attributes.
      And the thing about being poor ? Well they're not so poor anymore. The simple fact they steal dogs and or buy them really shows they have some money.
      Koreans eat too much meat.
      They disrespect every living beings.
      I also forgot to mention that kore as no never said no to foreign money.
      Where is hypocrisy ?

      I'm stunned about Japanese going with the dog meat thing though. They always seemed to love animals. My Japanese friends love their dogs. They would never treat them badly. Unlike some members of my korean family. I always show my cat pictures with pride. If they have a problem I tell them that my cat companions usually show more love and respect towards human kind than human beings.
      Fret not though, as my Muslim friends usually find it hard to understand pet love. As do some of my southern Europe pals too (Spain, Italy, Portugal, worst being Greece).
      Spread the love man and keep writing. We're all entitled to have an opinion.
      An angry korean woman.

    9. Awesome reply, Hana! I wish I had seen it before. I just left Korea 2 months ago and lived there for 2 years. I was a part of many rescue missions saving dogs from boshintang restaurants and meat markets and that's how I got my dog... He was about to be killed and eaten. And he's a small Shelty mix.

      That Anon guy is an idiot. I have many Korean friends fighting for animal rights in Seoul. We animal lovers have to stick together here, Korean & Western together.

  4. The problem I have with the dog meat industry is that its an industry defacto dedicated to torture and cruelty: the quality of dog meat is an important dynamic in the industry. The more tender it is the higher the grade of meat; tenderness is produced with a surge of adrenalin which is caused by high blood pressure; to achieve this the dogs are tortured relentlessly prior to being killed.

    This is foul, reprehensible, disgusting and debased and if you think otherwise you are in serious need of some soul searching and moral reflection. They perform beatings, drop them into vats of boiling water, use electric shock treatment and other cruel methods. Most of the time this is done in front of other dogs as dogs are intelligent creatures and viewing this means they know of the fate awaiting them. They are often packed into cages, up to half a dozen or so in one small cage and then taken to slaughter houses, looks like something from A Texas Chainsaw Massacre or something.

    Dog meat is obviously not as popular with the younger generation of Koreans as it is their seniors; yet you can find dog meat restaurants all across Seoul including Gangnam, Jongro etc The bile is often used to produce 'healing juice' and what not.

    1. Yes, of course you are right.

      While I think many people are just against dog meat because of the 'icky' factor and that there is hypocrisy because they often eat other animals (often cruelly factory-farmed), eating dog does come hand-in-hand with some horrific practices.

      I don't think this is a coincidence either, because there is more of a close relationship between humans and dogs (strongly supported by science), the eating of them - when not done because of poverty and necessity - is a sign of a lack of compassion, I believe. I repeat from my post that if you cannot find in your heart compassion for a dog, with all we know about their close ties with us and their affinity towards us, you will struggle to find it with any other animal. This seems to be the case too, as attitudes to animal welfare in the countries famous for eating dog are pretty much non-existent. There is a clear difference in cultural attitudes towards animals generally and compassion for them. Yes, a lot of bad stuff goes on to animals all over the world and many people choose to stay blind to it, but there are some places that are worse than others, clearly, and I don't think it is wrong to point that out.

  5. (plz bear with my English)

    I have raised similar topic on my blog years ago, I said 'dog is more well trained and smart, loyal, so why don't we start not eating them? 'cause they are more useful as guard dog, or friends.'

    and.....tons of koreans started to attack my blog with all kind of sarcsm, direct insults, swear words, logical or not-so logical insults, mocking, etc,. for days on a row,

    I had to destroy my blog because they didn't stop coming, didn't stop attacking, I tried to reason with them but only thing they wanted from me was, me saying 'yes you're right, I was wrong, you can eat dog, I'm sorry.'

    I didn't want to dignify their intentions with answering, so I just deleted my blog with all my other posts.

    This is just the way it is. You CAN'T reason with Koreans when it comes to eating dogs. Only thing allowed here to say is 'yes we can eat dog. period.'

    Your blog is not severely attacked right now because not many Koreans enjoy reading English blogs.

    1. Sorry for the late reply, busy getting ready to move to Australia.

      Yes, as I said to another commenter who pointed out that not many Koreans eat dog, while not many do (mostly older people), I have hardly come across a Korean who won't defend the practice of eating dog. In my opinion, the reason for this is that eating dog has become a source of ridicule for some Westerners over Korean people as a nation. Therefore I think the practice of eating dog has now become linked with national pride and defensiveness. This is not to say that most Koreans are proud of eating dog, they just know that some people do it, other countries know this, and they want to defend their 'culture'. Unfortunately, I do think many Koreans see it as a part of their culture and thus will defend it furiously. If those of us who do find the practice deplorable can manage to separate the issue from culture, pride, and nationalism we may have better luck in changing minds (you more than me, as I presume you blog in Korean).

      Just like factory farming of pigs, cows, chickens, etc, should not be a part of any culture, eating dog shouldn't be also. Ethical farming practices should be a part of every culture around the world. The West, the East, the wherever should all be ashamed of factory farming and cruel animal rearing and slaughtering practices. If some Korean people wanted to eat dog and they raised the animals and killed them ethically, I think I would have a much harder time criticising it, but ALL dog meat practices are mired in cruelty, torture, bad hygiene and more and I don't think anyone has a good argument for that.

  6. "There is a special relationship between cows and humans" (in India)...
    P.S. Your blog is a waste of time, dear.

    1. It is absolutely *NOT* a waste of time because people are talking and thinking about it. And I am an animal rights activist who just left Korea and is still sending money there to Korean rescue teams and vets.

      So, YOUR response is a waste of time, dear.

  7. Animal cruelty is what the argument is about, not about the actual act of eating dog meat. However I do feel that people are using the 'animal cruelty' argument to shut down the eating of dog meat, and that is really unfair. You ought to be very careful where you buy your pork, beef, chicken, eggs, or even milk for that matter. Are you even sure that the animal(s) used in the process were treated up to standard? Eating dog meat is causing an uproar simply because some people are disgusted and discriminate towards the practice of other cultures, that actually do not affect you (your own dog is not being eaten, doh).

    1. How about my Korean Buddhist friends and I who have been fighting for animal rights in South Korea, huh? I just left Korea and I still send money to my KOREAN friends who are fighting to end the dog meat there right now.

      Yes, eating dog meat and animal cruelty go hand in hand.

      Would you also try to argue that human rights and eating human beings isn't related???? And yes, I am vegetarian and Buddhist, like many of my Korean friends in Seoul.

  8. Now shut the fuck up

    1. Did I at any point excuse this kind of practice in the post? Read the post again, what I'm arguing is that eating dog is more damaging to the human psyche and the dog meat trade is even worse than the slaughter of other animals for food in other countries, for the various reasons I stated in the post. I am against both, hence why I don't eat meat.

    2. Jees, in the last paragraph, I describe factory farming practices as, "One of the most disgusting things imaginable).

    3. @Anonymous ~ Acting like a crass dick doesn't win arguments.

      My Korean friends and I fight for animal rights in South Korea. I just left Korea and I still send money to my KOREAN friends who are fighting to end the dog meat there right now. And their actions DO matter.

      Despite your FULL BLOWN ARROGANCE you're NOT the only Korean with an opinion on this matter!

      And YES, I am a vegetarian. So are many of my KOREAN friends who live in Korea.