A former dog meat farmer in South Korea has seen his life take a dramatic turn for the better after deciding to give up his 30-year profession this year.
A change of heart: Yang, 73, previously had 200 dogs caged on his farm in Asan, South Chungcheong province, before finally releasing them all to an international team of animal advocates in March, according to The Korea Times.
Once populated with rusted and filthy cages, his property has now been transformed into a field filled with crops, such as sweet potatoes, peppers, cabbage and beans.
What made him change: Yang said he was forced to farm dog meat to escape the risks involved in his occupation as a cargo truck driver for 20 years, such as falling asleep at the wheel.
Yang also believes dog meat consumption, a centuries-old practice in Korea, has health benefits. “There is nothing tastier and healthier than dog meat, you know. I can have it all my life and never grow sick of it,” Yang told The Korea Times.
In recent years, however, he saw public opinion towards the industry turn negative and demand for dog meat start to decline. As he was also beginning to find it difficult to control the dogs due to his age, Yang began to contemplate leaving the industry.
A helping hand: His opportunity came when he learned about the Humane Society International (HSI) and its Models for Change campaign, which has helped dog farmers transition to more humane livelihoods. Since 2015, the initiative has purportedly helped close down 17 dog farms and rescued over 2,500 dogs.
According to Yang, criticism from fellow dog meat traders who saw animal advocacy groups as a threat made the decision to quit the industry difficult.
“They (meat traders) called me a traitor and treated me like an animal. ‘It’s all a scam,’ they yelled,” he was quoted saying.
Lee Sang-kyung, the campaign manager of HSI Korea, spent two months convincing Yang that a more compassionate path was possible.
A team effort: In March, an international team of workers joined forces to rescue nearly 200 dogs from Yang’s farm. These dogs are now being cared for and are up for adoption in Korea and North America.
Yang’s life has since flourished as the transition has allowed him the freedom to travel and attend church. Yang expressed no regrets about leaving the dog meat industry behind, believing that with the right support, other dog meat farmers could follow suit.
An inspiration to others: Dog consumption also remains prevalent in other Asian countries, such as China, Vietnam, North Korea and Indonesia, where dogs are often grabbed from the streets or stolen from pet owners. In South Korea, however, dogs are still widely farmed in often appalling conditions, although there’s a growing call for legislative action to ban the practice.
“We’re provoking a new concept to them (dog meat farmers) … and it will bring a bigger change in their lives than to the animal groups,” Lee said. “I think it’s the job of the government and animal groups to open their minds and work with them.”
Ju Yeongbong, an official of the farmers’ association, revealed that most farmers
in the industry are already in their 60s to 70s and would want to continue the meat trade for approximately 20 more years until their main customers pass away.
“Quite honestly, I’d like to quit my job (as a farmer) tomorrow,” Son Won Hak, general secretary of the association, said. “We can’t confidently tell our children that we’re raising dogs. When my friends called me, they said ‘Hey, are you still running a dog meat farm? Isn’t it illegal?’”