After traveling nearly 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, 10 dogs rescued from a South Korean meat farm are looking for a home in Sacramento.
The animals arrived in an SPCA van on Friday and immediately got their first glimpse of the bright Sacramento sun. Chihuahua mix Carmela, the first dog to emerge from the kennel, wouldn’t let go of Jeanie Biskup, Sacramento SPCA’s chief operations officer.
Tightly gripping Biskup’s arm, Carmela cried and drooled.
“Many of them have never stood on the ground or been on the grass before,” Biskup said. “We’re just going to take it slow and easy.”
The 10 dogs came from the rural county of Hongseong, about two hours south of Seoul, the South Korean capital. Humane Society International signed an agreement with the farmer to shut down his dog meat operation in favor of growing chili peppers. HSI will pay the farmer about $33,000 for transitioning to crops, according to Adam Parascandola, the organization’s director of animal protection and crisis response.
In some Korean circles, dog meat is considered a delicacy and is believed to give energy and sexual stamina. An estimated 2 million dogs are slaughtered for food each year in South Korea, according to a report by the Korean Association for Policy Studies.
The practice of eating dogs, however, is not mainstream.
“It’s not a traditional Korean practice at all,” said Kyu Hyun Kim, associate professor of Korean and Japanese history at UC Davis. “Even in pre-modern times, eating dogs was never mainstream because they are very useful animals.”
Parascandola, who traveled to the dog farm in February, called the conditions disgusting.
The dogs, he said, were housed in two dark barns and kept in elevated cages with wire flooring.
“Mounds of feces were everywhere,” Parascandola said, adding that the conditions were similar to those of puppy mills in the United States. “The dogs were mostly fed animal carcasses.”
Humane Society launched its dog rescue program in January, hoping to persuade meat farmers to abandon the trade. Twenty-three were rescued in January. The latest operation netted 57 dogs, most of which are being placed for adoption in the Bay Area.
On Friday, about 12 SPCA staff members and a few TV cameras greeted the 10 dogs in Sacramento. Most had difficulty adjusting to the newfound freedom, stumbling to walk on the lush grass.
Gibson, a mastiff breed and the largest animal of the bunch, wouldn’t budge Friday from his kennel, despite the playful coaxing of Nathan Cinder, behavioral supervisor and trainer at SPCA.
Not even a bacon treat could get the stubborn brown dog to move. “It’s most likely their first time for anything,” said Cinder, who drove the dogs from San Francisco.
“Hi, sweetie,” Biskup told the pooch, making smooching sounds with her lips.
Not everyone was finding it hard to adjust. Across the field, a white jindo got cozy with Brittany LeCompte, a registered veterinary technician, who gave him a belly rub to his great delight.
The dogs will be bathed and given a thorough medical exam before they are available for adoption Thursday. This is the first time Sacramento SPCA has accepted animals from outside the country, CEO Rick Johnson said.
Asked about the decision to accept the dogs when local animals need homes, Johnson said the publicity and recognition from saving the Korean dogs would boost interest in adopting animals, including existing shelter residents.
He added that the farm dogs likely wouldn’t find homes in South Korea, given the stigma attached to mixed breeds and so-called meat dogs. For pets, South Koreans tend to favor smaller dogs that are typically purebred.
Kim, the history professor, said there are several theories for how the practice of eating dogs began. Dog meat, he said, is primarily consumed during summer and is championed by some for its medicinal benefits. Another rumor suggests the practice began in the mountainous Korean north, where food isn’t easily grown, Kim said.
But with westernization and the idea that dogs can be kept as pets, Korean society has increasingly questioned the custom. Parascandola said the South Korean government does not regulate the trade, but it is not illegal. He said animal rights activists are looking to draw attention to the issue as South Korea prepares to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
“The conditions on the farms are real horrendous,” Parascandola said. “We need to attack these issues no matter what species.”
Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.