Although good health is a universal preoccupation, Koreans, like many Asians, prefer remedies and tonics derived from animal parts. Rivaling the truth is the prevailing belief that dog and cat meat is good for you, and the work of lobbyists. As a result, Korea’s environment suffers; most of the nation’s fauna faces extinction.
International organizations have stepped in where the Korean government has not acted. Treaties like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) have established a monitoring network. Unfortunately, some Koreans have turned against companion animals to make a living. Dogs and cats are not endangered, are easy to breed and not monitored by international agencies. Cats and dogs also share many genetic similarities with animals like tigers that are no longer available or are challenging to capture. Cats are at a further disadvantage, since unlike dogs they are rarely favored as house pets.
In order for non-Koreans to fully appreciate the foundations of animal exploitation and abuse, it is necessary to be at least familiar with some of the common Korean myths about animals.
- Pedigree dogs are suitable pets, but mixed breeds are used as food
- Small dogs are smarter than large dogs
- Transporting dogs in motor vehicles is bad luck
- Raising a dog for more than seven years turns it into a wolf
- Eating dog meat increases a man’s sexual virility
- Cats are evil spread disease and attack people
- Drinking goyangi soju, a tonic made from liquefied cats, cures a variety of ailments including rheumatism and neuralgia.
Generally, owners treat pedigree dogs well. They are fed properly and given love. However, many people who own mixed breed dogs abuse them and/or keep them tied up, and their sole purpose is to protect their owner’s property. They forget that all dogs, pedigree or mixed, have descended from wolves. Since Koreans favor pure breeds, there is a prejudice against mixed breed dogs. Yet contrary to advertisement, This myth is, of course, only acknowledged when convenient because KAPES has documented many mixed breed dogs in meat markets. In addition, most of the dogs in the markets look disturbingly similar to the chindogae, designated national treasure #53, according to the Korean Embassy’s web site.
We don’t know how this myth got started, but it is clear that smaller toy breeds are significantly more popular than large dogs. Dogs such as those used in guide dog service, search and rescue and law enforcement should disprove this myth. However, service dogs are still unique in Korea. By law, guide dogs are guaranteed access to public transport with their owners when in reality they are often prevented from accompanying their owners onto the subway and buses. In contrast, small dogs are seen everywhere. Our only conclusion can be that there is a prejudice against larger dogs because they are favored as food.
Access for small breeds is never questioned. However, larger breeds, especially large yellowish dogs are discouraged because Koreans consider these kinds of dogs most desirable for eating. This belief is based on superstition.
This is widely believed to be true. But please read a true story told to Sunnan Kum by her ailing neighbor about a “friend” who killed and ate the dog he was raising as a pet. It may make the above assertion seem more mythical than factual.
There may be some truth to this statement only if you consider the common practice of injecting steroids, testosterone and other hormones into dog meat. Dealers and herbal medicine practitioners to put these additives directly into the soups and tonics. Korean athletes in the 1992 Olympics were disqualified when they tested positive for steroids after eating a meal and taking “health tonics” made of dog meat. Sexual virility is an obsession for many Korean men and most health tonics usually list “male stamina” or “male potency” as one of the primary benefits. A full page ad taken from the July 13 1997 issue of the Chosun Ilbo daily newspaper lists several fabricated health claims about dog meat. The Chosun Ilbo is Korea’s third largest newspaper.
An ounce of common sense would dispel this myth, but it again proves how willing Koreans are to propagate misinformation based on rumors. These kinds of myths foster undue hatred in people and validate cruel methods of killing and torture. If we accept this myth, we must conclude that Korea has a monopoly on unruly, diseased felines, since in many other countries, cats are quite affectionate and clean.
Cats are not usually eaten, but are instead boiled down in large pressure cookers along with herbs to create a thick tonic. Patients are encouraged to drink this tonic over several weeks to receive optimum benefits. Cats unconsumed by meat manufacturers are sold to those who prefer to brew the elixir themselves at home. These and other myths are passed among family and community, with word-of-mouth truths proving far more influential than scientific evidence.