Five years have passed since I began shooting Nureongi, my documentary on the dog meat industry in South Korea. After releasing Nureongi on YouTube and 750,000 views later, there has been little change in Korean law regarding Dog Meat.
I was hopeful when a Dog Meat Task Force of Activists and Dog Farmers was formed in 2021 to find a solution to the issues around the dog meat trade. Unfortunately, the animosity between the two groups was so strong that a meaningful dialogue on resolution has not yet been achieved. Now after two years of COVID restrictions, Koreans are returning to normality and dog meat is very much back in the conversation.
While commenting on South Korea’s relationship with industrialized nations around the world, First Lady, Gunhee Kim recently said “Dog meat consumption clearly causes anti-Korean perception.” It reminded me of a question many Koreans asked me while filming Nureongi – what was my own opinion of the dog meat industry?
My answer was always neutral. I felt staying unbiased was important to showing both sides fairly in a film on the issue of dog meat. But, from the First Lady’s comments, I realized my research making Nureongi and experience speaking to South Korean and Korean American audiences over the last several years qualified me to contribute to the conversation.
One of the main arguments of the dog meat trade is the difference between companion dogs and meat dogs. Over my 4 years making Nuerongi in South Korea, I visited dog farms over a dozen times. As I passed the cages the dogs were coming to the front sticking their tongues out to kiss, their paws out to touch, yearning for any tiny piece of human contact. More plainly, they behaved like dogs. Thousands just like them have been adopted into loving homes In Europe and the United States. There is no such thing as a meat dog, just dog.
Why do we love dogs so much? No other companion animal has been so thoroughly integrated into human society as dogs. They are our sentinels, our shepherds, and our hunting partners. Dogs provide service to people with disabilities and are workers for farmers, police, and the military. They are even COVID detectors! My Nuerongi are two of the smartest, most loyal and loving dogs we have ever had in our home.
In 2020, almost a third of all households in South Korea had a companion animal. The overwhelming majority of those homes had a dog. This is rapidly affecting how Koreans feel about the dog meat industry.
South Korea has never been more front and center in the world than today. Korea has produced award-winning entertainment with great films and TV shows like Parasite and Squid Games. BTS has conquered the music industry worldwide. LG and Samsung are major forces in technology, while Kia, Genesis and Hyundai are mainstays in the automotive industry. Despite these accomplishments and having the 6th largest economy in the world, Korea remains the only industrialized nation with a legally sanctioned dog meat industry.
Both the previous and current administrations are against dog meat consumption as is most of the Korean population. However, to dismantle the dog meat trade involves a thoughtful, pro-active process. Banning dog meat may be a complicated issue, but it is a foregone conclusion that the industry is in decline and the majority of the population want it banned.
Dog meat is a business in Korea and like all business, it is based on the laws of supply and demand. Business can also become out of step with the times and the people. With the July Boknal approaching, the Korean people are at a crossroad with the dog meat trade. I believe the time has come for the end of dog meat to begin.