By Sheila Hagar
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
They have no names, yet.
“I really want the families to be able to name them,” said Sara Archer, executive director of Blue Mountain Humane Society, dishing out a pet treat for the 80-pound dog in front of her.
Archer is referring to four tosa inus, also called Japanese mastiffs, that recently landed at the Walla Walla animal shelter in the next-to-last stop of an incredible journey. They range in age from 9 months to 2 years old, have coats like mocha velvet and big brown eyes that study every human move.
Everything is new in an unexplored universe to the two male and two female dogs that, until recently, were to be sold on the South Korean meat market.
In that country dogs destined to become food live in small pens on farms until they are crammed into crates with six to eight other dogs and trucked to a city market, according to Humane Society International officials.
These four dogs now in Walla Walla, plus 99 more, are part of Humane Society International’s latest effort in a campaign to end South Korea’s small but significant dog meat trade and to raise awareness among Korean residents about the plight of “meat dogs.”
More than 2 million dogs are reportedly bred and butchered each year for their meat in South Korea. Mastiffs are a favored breed for the amount of meat they produce, said Adam Parascandola with the international organization.
“And they are considered soulless dogs, not like pet dogs,” he said.
Parascandola, HSI director of animal protection and crisis response, said dog meat is not a South Korean staple, but is consumed on special occasions, such as Bok Nal. The ritual three days represent summer’s hottest days and dog meat is considered to have cooling effects. It’s the time of year dog meat is sold and served in restaurants the most, he explained.
Dog meat is also reputed to enhance male sexuality, and make a useful tonic.
“That’s a smaller market,” Parascandola said. “The majority are sold through dog meat restaurants. You can go and see the dogs, and you can purchase them and they will slaughter the dog there.”
Some of those animals are cooked in vats, simmered all day in a stew for the customer, and taken home to eat.
But behind the scenes, most meat dogs are killed and sold directly to specialized restaurants, he said.
While Parascandola said he’s heard reports of dogs being hung to die, most are killed through electrocution.
Parascandola said he can’t vouch for the taste of dog meat, but one reporter described it as very gamy and pungent.
Dog eating likely began when South Korea was a “very, very poor county” and had few accessible sources of protein, he said. “Now it’s much more expensive than any other meat people consume.”
Many households in South Korea have dogs as pets, and the practice of eating them is largely confined to people middle-aged and older.
“The younger generation has no interest in consuming dog meat. They are embarrassed by it, and by the cruelty inherent in the industry,” he said.
The South Korean government is interested in ending the dog meat trade before hosting the 2018 Olympics, Parascandola noted. Although about 17,000 dog meat farms are registered, there are others not listed officially, the HSI says.
Many dog farmers are eager to change their crop, as well. Dog raising is becoming shameful and invites the scorn of others, as well as complaints about the smell and noise, he said.
HSI approaches farmers and offers to pay to close the farm and for the farmer’s futures services for a time. The farmer agrees to go into non-animal agriculture, such as fruit or rice, and HSI destroys the infrastructure used to grow dogs.
“So to go back to it would be a significant investment,” Parascandola said.
The Humane Society spent about $150,000 on the most recent rescue effort, $60,000 of that in transport costs.
Of the 103 dogs rescued and flown to San Francisco, more than 50 came to Washington state, officials said in a news release. And four came to Walla Walla on Sept. 22, acting more like lost waifs.
“They are so gentle. They are so quiet, eerily so,” Archer said.
Before she and her staff coaxed and bribed the four out of their travel crates, the South Korean dogs had never walked on grass.
“You can see how flattened and splayed their feet are, from standing on wire mesh their whole lives,” Archer said Friday as a mastiff nosed at her hand through the kennel door.
Although Archer said the animals have no real idea how to be dogs, it’s clear the treat trick is already sinking in.
Volunteers come daily just to sit with the four mastiffs and help them learn the fundamentals of play, potty training, simple commands and how to be social.
The dogs are beginning to respond to toys, and on Friday, it was clear being outside on grass is no longer an issue.
Archer does not anticipate the mastiffs being ready for adoption for at least another week, and then staff will work to match the rescue dogs with the right adoptive candidate.
“There is such a responsibility to honor what these dogs have been through,” she said. (end)