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Boknal brings the heat and global protests against dog meat

July 23,2018
As the weather reaches scorching highs, Korea’s long-running debate over dog meat consumption has boiled over to foreign shores.

Animal rights group Last Chance for Animals staged three protests in front of the Korean Consulate General in Los Angeles, the Korean Embassy in Washington D.C. and Gwanghwamun Plaza in central Seoul on Tuesday. The date of the protest was boknal, the first of the hottest three summer days, when some Koreans eat dog meat soup, which is thought to boost energy during the sweltering heat.

At the protest in Los Angeles, actress Kim Basinger and Elvis Presley’s former wife Priscilla Presley held fluffy dead dogs in their arms and waved placards with gruesome images of canine carcasses. Other celebrities, including Donna D’Errico of “Baywatch” and E. G. Daily of “Rugrats,” joined in to raise awareness in America about the Korean dog-meat trade.

Korean animal rights groups, who oppose eating dogs, have grown more influential recently, as the number of local pet owners has reached 10 million. They are at odds with the Korea Dog Meat Association, which represents businesses that sell dog meat. The standoff is expected to continue throughout the summer.

“No other animal creates a bond with humans like dogs do,” said Lee Young-mi, 29, who has had two dogs as pets for five years. “There are so many healthy foods that you could eat instead of dog meat, so I don’t understand why anyone would choose to eat dog.”

One animal rights supporter surnamed Jeong confessed to having eaten dog meat soup before. “I swore off dog meat six years ago when I started living with dogs. Dogs are charming creatures that thrive off your attention and comfort you during bad times. They’re like family,” Jeong said.

But those who enjoy dog meat argue that their choice to eat it is a matter of personal freedom.

“Dog meat soup is tradition and it’s only eaten in the summer. Banning this would be too much,” Kim Young-soo, 66, said. “Just because you own a dog doesn’t mean you can meddle with an old tradition.”

Some dog owners agree with them. “It would be infuriating if someone ate someone else’s pet dog, but I don’t see any reason to ban eating dogs that are raised for meat,” a 37-year-old dog owner surnamed Jeong said. “After all, cows and pigs are animals raised by humans too. What makes dogs so special?”

A 48-year-old dog meat supporter surnamed Kim said that “it’s important to differentiate between pet dogs and dogs raised for meat.”

Demand for dog meat has decreased in recent years.

“Our sales have fallen by more than half,” said a 61-year-old owner of a dog meat soup restaurant surnamed Noh. “More long-time customers are ordering goat meat soup instead. We’re planning to change to a goat meat soup restaurant after this summer.”

One owner of another dog meat soup restaurant said that “distrust of dog meat soup is high because of anti-dog meat protests and questionable slaughtering processes reported in the media.”

Kim’s restaurant expects sales to decrease by 20 percent this year. According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the number of dog meat restaurants in Seoul fell from 528 in 2005 to 329 in 2014.

“According to the Livestock Products Sanitary Control Act of 1978, dog meat cannot be distributed as food, but the Livestock Industry Act recognizes them as livestock, which creates a paradox where people can mass breed dogs,” said Kim Hyun-ji, head of policy at the Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA).

Kim’s team is working to help pass a ban in the National Assembly on eating dog meat, which was proposed in June as an amendment to the Animal Protection Act.

BY CHOI JONG-KWON, NOH SHIN-YOUNG [noh.shinyoung@joongang.co.kr]