Change for Animals Foundation (CFAF) has been a major player in the fight to end dog meat farming in South Korea. Their action plan involves meeting with farmers, discussing their options, and actually helping them get out of the industry by providing them with business opportunities and financial incentives. In turn, the farmers sign a legally binding agreement, close down the farm for good, and are monitored to ensure they don’t return to the industry.
This past week, in partnership with Humane Society International (HSI), they successfully rescued 103 dogs and puppies that have been vaccinated and are on their way to loving homes in the U.S. I reached out to Lola Webber, one of the co-founders for CFAF, to find out some more. She gracefully answered my questions after having removed the last of the dogs this week!
I gather that you spend a lot of time in Korea, speaking to the farmers, and I was just curious how most of those experiences go? Do you find most of them receptive to the idea of giving up their role in the dog meat industry?
I have been working on the dog meat campaign in South Korea since 2010, and over the years I have met a number of dog farmers. From my experience, I have never met a dog farmer who has not expressed a desire to leave the dog meat industry. Many express remorse towards the dogs, and a shame for their involvement in an industry that they know is in decline and causes significant societal discontentment. The vast majority of farmers are very willing to transition their farms into humane and sustainable alternatives, but need support to enable this.
The Change For Animals Foundation and Humane Society International have been working directly with dog farmers who are seeking ways of closing their farms and transitioning into more humane trades since December 2014. By working with those farmers who have expressed a desire to end their involvement in the industry, we can build both a network of “ambassadors for change” from within the industry (former dog meat farmers) and “models” that can be replicated throughout the country with the right governmental support.
I know that CFAF works on other projects, of course, but would you say the Korean dog meat trade is your number one issue right now?
Yes. I am the programme’s director of our anti-dog meat campaigns in Asia, and for me, South Korea is where it all began. In February 2011, I made my first trip to Seoul and to its biggest dog meat market— Moran Market. It was a day that changed my life. I went with utter dread knowing that I was going to have to look at these dogs in their eyes, knowing there was nothing I could do for them, and walk away. As I arrived at the market, where big signs advertising dog meat hung over endless rows of caged dogs. The smell was nauseating— flesh and burning hair of freshly-slaughtered dogs. The dogs just lay there, some sleeping, others staring out through the bars. Knowing that the dogs were just waiting to die, their fate sealed, made my heart physically ache, and my grief and shame suffocated me.
That was it! My fate was also sealed that day. I had to walk away, but not without making a vow and a promise to those pleading eyes that I would dedicate the rest of my life to ending this industry and the utter indifference to their sentience. I wanted the world to see in dogs what I do. “Lend me your eyes and I’ll change what you see,” is always a phrase that comes to my mind.
We also work on a number of campaigns in Europe and Asia and those covering international issues.
The organization is based out of the U.K., but I noticed that most of the puppies are being flown to California for adoption. May I ask the reasoning for that?
Sadly, rehoming dogs in South Korea is difficult, especially the larger breeds that are typically farmed to supply the demand for dog meat and associated products. As mentioned above, there is still a widely-held perception of two different types of dogs, and we are working to dispel the stigma attached to meat dogs, with our top-line messaging that a dog is a dog, all equally worthy of compassion and protection from cruelty.
The United States has the easiest quarantine regulations to comply with, and in addition, there is a great demand for adoption of these dogs there, especially the larger breeds.
How long have you been working with Humane Society on the dog meat trade?
Change For Animals Foundation partnered up with Humane Society International, as well as Animals Asia and Soi Dog Foundation, in 2013 to establish the Asia Canine Protection Alliance (ACPA) to tackle the dog meat trade in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. CFAF’s and HSI’s partnership to tackle the dog meat industry in South Korea began in mid-2014.
To date, do you know how many dogs you have saved from the meat trade?
Over the years, we have rescued over 200 dogs from South Korea’s dog meat industry, including the three farm closures with our partners at HSI, and other individual animals wherever we can. Each and every dog breaks your heart and leaves a lasting ache in your soul. So many broken souls that are always so desperate to forgive and to be loved.
To add to the point above about the farmers’ receptiveness, sadly we can’t help every farmer we meet who wants assistance in making a transition, and it is very hard to walk away from so many animals who are in such desperate need for help. There was one farmer we visited whose farm housed around 200 dogs. He expressed his remorse for his involvement but also that he didn’t feel like he knew anything else. He was in his early sixties and planned on retiring soon. Before I left the farm, the farmer asked me why I seemed so sad. I told him that I wished I could help and how I saw the dogs as beautiful animals that didn’t deserve what they were about to endure, that I fell in love with each and every one of them. I then asked him if he would show mercy for one dog and let me take them to America to give them the life I believed they should all have. He paused and said, “OK, come with me and you can pick one from this cage,” (pointing at a cage of puppies). I told him I couldn’t pick it up, so he went in and came out with a beautiful puppy whose stomach was so swollen. She was so, so beautiful and I hugged and kissed her enough for all the dogs I had to leave behind. The farmer told me he hoped she would have a good life. She was a bandage on a very broken heart and is now in California!
Lastly, if there was one thing you wanted our readers to know, what would it be?
I would like people to know that this is a campaign we can and will win. Change is coming from within South Korea and we need to support that change. People do care passionately and in increasing numbers. Pointing fingers and criticizing doesn’t help and can serve to broaden the divide. Instead, we need to work together to ensure sustainable and lasting change.
I would also like to urge people to not always go back to circular arguments that use the suffering of some species in one country as an excuse for that of a different species in another. This is not an issue of “cultural” or “personal” preference. This is an issue of inherent and inexcusable cruelty. No country has ever officially legalized the production and sale of dog meat, and we are working to ensure South Korea does not adopt the title of becoming the first country in the world to do this.