In South Korea, during the hottest day of summer the term, “dog days of summer,” is taken literally by many people.
Bok-Nal is a three-week event to commensurate the hottest days of summer in Sotuh Korea. Beginning with Cho Bok (translated to ‘first-summer’) on July 17th, Bok-Nal is celebrated by eating traditional soups or tonics made out of dogs. The consumption of the soups and tonics is said to cool the blood during hot summer months and provide medicinal healing powers, but any evidence of these claims remain unfounded.
The festival and mass killing of dogs is comparable to China’s controversial Yulin Festival, held annually in June. The festival results in thousands of dogs being brutally murdered and consumed, and initially attained through theft, capturing strays, or purchasing overflows of dogs at shelters and retailers. As with the festival in China, most South Koreans do not participate in the Bok-Nal, but a minority within the South Korean population view it as a part of their tradition in culture.
As many as 2.5 million dogs are estimated to be killed annually for consumption in South Korea, with the majority of these killings taking place in the months of July and August for Bok-Nal. Most of the dogs used for Bok-Nal are raised on farms, and kept in horrid conditions, stuffed in overcrowded, unsanitary cages. Humane Society International and In Defense of Animals have been working to end the dog farm trade in Korea, and offer more viable solutions for farmers to make a living. Farmers breed a variety of dogs for meat consumption, from mastiffs to Chihuahuas. The dogs are often tortured due to myths that the more the dog suffers, the better the meat tastes. Their eardrums are burst to prevent the dogs from barking, and antibiotics are used to keep them alive and relatively healthy in the unsanitary conditions in which they live.
Though the dog meat industry is widely unpopular in the United States, other animals are abused in similar ways in the prevalent U.S. Meat Industry. Pigs and other farm animals in the United States suffer through similar mistreatment in factory farms. In exposing and fighting the dog meat industry abroad, it’s important to make the connections to the domestic meat industry and how animals are treated within it. There is little difference between dogs bred for meat in South Korea and pigs bred for bacon in the United States, but cultural norms and a lack of transparency in the animal agriculture industry allow these abuses to go widely unnoticed or ignored in the U.S.
As with the Yulin Dog Festival, thousands of people have signed petitions for the dog meat industry in South Korea to end. The industry is becoming increasingly unpopular with young people, who have been afforded more affluent lifestyles than older generations in Korea.
“As South Korea has become wealthier, its tastes and attitudes towards animals has changed,” wrote Choe Sang Hun in a May 2016 New York Times article. “Keeping pets has become more commonplace. Television programs on raising animals or rescuing abused dogs are popular. In parliamentary elections in April, one small party championed animal rights.”
Despite the growing concerns among youth and animal rights organizations both in Korea and abroad, the dog meat industry has its fervent supporters who assert farm raised dogs are different than pets, and the industry maintains cultural traditions.
A 2013 University of Chicago study found dogs and humans have evolved together for centuries, influencing one another’s diets, behaviors, and genes. A 2015 study in Japan found when dogs stare into the eyes of humans, they trigger the same chemical response induced by the bonds between humans and their infant children.
There are many past traditions in cultures around the world that merit horror, and the dog-meat industry is one which needs to be relegated solely to the past, rather than preserved under the pretenses of tradition in the present.