Dogs Electrocuted En Route
To Korean Dinner Tables

By Choi Yoon-sang

INCHON, South Korea (Reuters) - The abattoir worker, in blue gumboots and bright red rubber gloves, shoves a long electric prod into a tiny makeshift cage into which three or four dogs have been squeezed.
There is a yelp as the prod finds its target. The animal convulses and slumps. The process is repeated on the others.
In the background, dozens of other dogs -- thick-set, long-tailed animals bred for meat -- roam their larger enclosure, sniffing the air keenly and scratching at the bars. It is not clear if they sense their fate.
In the year that South Korea is co-hosting soccer's World Cup finals with Japan, it has had to fend off broadsides against the eating of dogmeat from football's world governing body, FIFA, and animal rights activists such as actress Brigitte Bardot.
Last month, a South Korean nutritionist who boasts scores of dog recipes hit back, telling Reuters animal lovers should concentrate on fighting to save species nearing extinction rather than attacking his country's dog-eating tradition.
"Why should they make a fuss about dogs which are not near extinction," said Ann Yong-keun, a college professor who has been dubbed "Dr Dogmeat" and wants to promote dogmeat during the May 31-June 30 World Cup tournament.
Now another dogmeat advocate, Moon Deok-bong, has shown Reuters television the slaughtering process at an abattoir, a ramshackle tangle of buildings and corrugated-iron sheds not far from Seoul's international airport.
Any abattoir, by definition, is unlikely to make for easy viewing, whether chickens, pigs, cows or sheep are being killed.
This slaughterhouse is no different. The dogs do not appear to be deliberately ill treated.
"In the past, when no proper equipment was available, we did that," said Moon, referring to the controversial way dogs were killed. "But now, they do it with electric shock, the way an animal deserves when it is butchered."
Animal rights activists say this is only part of the story, contending some dogs are still killed illegally by beating, burning or hanging.
Certain types of dogs are bred in South Korea to be eaten, notably in "poshintang", literally "body preservation stew", which advocates say is good for health and is considered a delicacy by some.
Just 16 percent of dogs in South Korea are bred as pets.
Moon, who represents a regional group of restaurant owners and abattoirs, is lobbying for the government to include dogmeat in broad laws that govern butchers and restaurants providing beef and pork. Moon plans to open his own restaurant.
Dogmeat is popular in some other Asian countries, too.
But it has particular importance for image-conscious South Korea in World Cup year. The country has some 4,000 registered restaurants specialising in dogmeat and many more offer it among other dishes.
The last time South Korea hosted a major sports event was the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Many city-centre dogmeat restaurants were forced to shut down or move.
This seems less likely to happen during the World Cup, but activists are baying for action.
At the slaughterhouse, about 20 to 30 dogs are killed every day. They are bred and reared elsewhere.
After electrocution, each dead dog is soaked in a tank of scalding water, sodden paws periodically rolling over the side as the abattoir worker dunks and turns the carcass.
The worker hauls the animal out of the water and tosses it with a dull thud into a rotating drum like a table-top spin-dryer to remove the animal's coat.
Next, a blowtorch is used to scorch the animals' skin on a raised grill, in a process intended to make the meat more tender.
Finally, before the carcass is gutted and cut up, it is vigorously scrubbed on the floor to remove the blackened layer from what is still discernibly a dog, its limbs and tail made taut by burning.
At a nearby dogmeat restaurant, customers shrug off protests and readily dig in to dishes of green vegetables and dogmeat.
"They say it is easily absorbed, and I can really feel that when I eat it," said 38-year-old Shin Sang-don, a man who eats dogmeat regularly. "I eat it not because people say I should eat it or not, but because I like it."
Like many advocates, the customers say the meat is healthy.
"After eating it, I think it's good for me," said 41-year-old Song Tae-im.
"In what way? Well, it's good for my skin, and good for preventing diseases associated with getting older," she said.
Many Koreans are indifferent to the practice, and others actively oppose it.
"I don't disagree with it that much. It is a culinary thing. People have their own tastes. You cannot take the joy of eating away from them," said 25-year-old Go Eun-hye as she fed her dogs at a Seoul cafe that targets a growing number of dog owners and their pets.
"And (dogmeat) is known to be good for health in my country."
The dogs at the cafe seemingly have the run of the place and clamber over the tables, enjoying pampering and tidbits offered to them from bowls.
"Is there any difference between the pet dog and the dog bred for eating? I think they are same," said 31-year-old Mah Joon-young. "People who raise dogs become attached to them. That is why people should not eat dogs."
(Additional reporting by Park Ina)
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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