Korea, Streams, Creeks & Rivers, Urban Walking
Comments 22

The Phantom Dog Feeder

I wouldn’t want to be born a dog in Korea.

After sixteen months in the country and with at least a thousand miles on foot behind me, I’ve seen and been yapped at by enough mutts to conclude that you can broadly segregate them into three groups.

There’s the apartment-dwelling primadonna pooch: tiny, barely canine, preened and primped and led about town (when it’s not being carried — a truly sickening sight) by the standard mountaineering-attired, sunshade-sporting middle-aged walker.

Then there’s the farm dog whose miserable lot consists of life on a short chain and shelter in a plastic kennel. It’s the same story as in rural Japan: madness, monotony, with the only relief in the form of passing hikers (white ones preferably), the sight of which drives the poor cur into spasms of futile rage.

And it has to be said, whether your average Korean likes it or not: there are the dog-meat dogs. Quite often on my rambles I’ve passed what I naively assumed (at first) were boarding kennels, the constant yelping of numerous dogs following me up into the hills. Now I know. Whatever your thoughts on the ethics or otherwise of eating dog, there’s no doubt the livestock (millions each year) is treated and killed appallingly.

Which brings me to “my” dogs. Do you remember these girls?


Katie 2 (front) & Katie 1 in pre-starvation days — they’ve since swapped sides

Just over a year ago I wrote about them: two poor things who live, sort of, a third of a mile from home. Back then I wrote:

I’ve seen this pair a few times now and they’re always restrained in this dirty, wretched scrap of redneck yard near the road. They’re nicer than they look — they only started barking when I aimed a camera at them. They actually seemed desperate for some kind of diversion and attention.

Well, I passed the Katies, as I came to christen them, a dozen times as I walked up the narrow road hugging Daecheong Creek to visit the cascades, the temple or hike up Bulmo-San. They got used to me and eventually gave up the barrage of fearsome barks as I passed.

In time I took a closer look. It was obvious that not only did they never leave their chains, but they were — are — starving. The only food they appear to get is dried pellets. Their bleak, stinking quarters, at the roadside between a dreary restaurant and a line of dusty plant nurseries, are littered with unwanted dried food and excrement.

Their chains permit the touching of noses, but no more. They made a wretched sight a month ago as I began a hike in heavy rain…


Rain Dog

..and not long afterwards I began tossing them leftover snacks on the walk home.

Well, I graduated to buying them food and making special dog-feeding excursions after work, or incorporating a feeding stop into my hiking route.

They are actually beautiful, affectionate animals…


Katie 1 showing obvious signs of starvation

..and I always enjoy those moments on my covert missions when they see me coming and snap from lethargy and boredom to excitement and anticipation.



Katie 1 used to flinch when I moved my hand; now she always lunges excitedly to the length of her chain, standing on her hind legs to soak up the pleasures of a scratch behind the ears, a pat on the head.


Katie 1 laps up some attention

Katie 2’s wild eyes once alarmed me, but she’s actually a real sweetie as well.


Wild-eyed Katie 2

I mean, seriously: in Australia, I’m glad to say, you’d face jail time if you treated dogs like this:


Looking forlorn — and check out Katie 2’s ribs

The girls are costing me a small fortune in fresh meat these days — I visit perhaps three times a week — but it feels like I’m giving something back and doing something worthwhile, sometimes the most worthwhile thing I’ve done all day.


Best Behaviour

I’ve been giving them fresh pork or beef — not nearly enough but they crave it and I’ve never seen animals eat so voraciously. Katie 2 is so hungry, the meat never touches the ground, each hunk grabbed and downed in mid-air while she already seeks out the next.


Eyes on the Prize

What I enjoy most is the way the attention and the food transforms their personalities. Katie 1 goes absolutely nutso after the first physical attention, and starts to yap and jump about in a jealous frenzy when I move on to share the love with her fellow prisoner.


Rare view of Katie 2’s dark eyes

I always worry that her yapping will bring someone to investigate (probably couldn’t care less), so that’s my cue to dig out and distribute my presents.


Lip-smackin’ goodness

I always follow up the meat with some high-calorie snack — not exactly healthy eating but a little fat and a few moments of pleasure. I would actually be surprised if Katie 2 survived another year. She just loves the attention, the poor old girl.


Pretty Eyes

I’d love to give them bones but don’t want to leave any evidence.


Still a handsome creature despite it all

Obviously they need a lot more than what I can drop off on my sneak missions. If I were going to stay here long-term, I’d find a way to kidnap them and put them somewhere nice where they could end their lives in comfort.

That’s probably an idle fantasy, but I wish I could at least find someone to keep up the visits after I’m gone.



Just doesn’t seem fair that I can get out of here while for the Katies, and who-knows-how-many like them, the sentence continues…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. This is so touching, and desperately sad, Goat. A little redemption – well done you – but they face a bleak future again when you’re gone. Perhaps you could get your ‘replacement’ teacher to continue the feeding?

    • Yes, I feel guilty already for getting them too used to my visits, try not to go too regularly etc but it’s going to be a dark cloud over my departure to be sure. Hopefully, yes, I can find someone — sadly that someone would almost certainly not be Korean.

    • It’s tempting but they’d probably run straight onto the road — and I doubt they would remain free for long. Wish I could pu them on leashes and walk them somewhere for a day. They’d be a handful, though!

      • Nah, only here till Dec 31 or maybe sooner (trouble at work!), and I live in a tiny yard-less apartment. I’d love to take them and give them at least a few years of yard, walks,freedom, good food, baths and company. Kills me that I can’t.

      • Well you’ve been so kind already. I am sure they appreciate your kindness.

  2. Yep, hate those “inside” dogs that get carried or pushed in a pram everywhere.
    Chihuahuas aren’t dogs, they’re rats with attitude.

    Have you found the Koreans to be denialists about dog eating?
    Apparently it wasn’t uncommon in the Shimane/Tottori region of Japan before WWII, but everyone here denies that Japanese anywhere have ever eaten dog.

    But as for the neglected mutts like yours: one really has to wonder why some people keep dogs.

    • I don’t bring up the dog-eating topic with students as it seems like a cheap shot. A few times it’s come up from them in the form of jokes etc — I don’t join in the laughter. Any time it comes up from adults it’s treated as something hicks from the boonies do…but over the years I’ve found even young university graduate students will often say they’ve had it but don’t eat it as a rule.

      Why do these people have dogs? Damned good question! It’s not like crime is a problem here, especially in the countryside! And no predators — usually not even any livestock! Maybe a farm or rural property isn’t complete without a barking dog on a chain?

  3. I feel (especially) compelled to comment. The dog article is highly emotive. Animals and children will always be so.

    But there is a reason for that and that being the innate human condition that feels the need to protect those vulnerable. People who don’t have this are, at best, sociopaths.

    Dog eating arguments aside, the Katies are not a food source. You would never let your cattle or other edible livestock reach this condition of emaciation.

    I’m not a big one for multilateral PC observations on cultures but anything I say here would be brief and, accordingly, could be taken out of context. So, I refrain and instead use a quote.

    “Those who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity will deal likewise with their fellow man.” (St. Francis of Assisi).

    • Great quote, Frank, and good points about the mentality of those responsible. Something is clearly missing there — something big. I often refer to Korea internally — it would be my title if I ever wrote anything serious about the place — as “The Half-Made Country”. Countless examples of basic ethics, morality, standards etc not keeping pace with monumental economic development. That ruthless peasant attitude: I won’t win many Korean friends for saying so, but it’s not buried very deep, it seems.

  4. Robert says

    That’s gotta be one of your most compelling entries, an at once touching and dreadful story. You’re doing a really good thing by bringing some comfort and pleasure into the Katies’ present, even if their future is beyond help.

    • Thanks, Robert. Yeah, I took their next meat outta the freezer this morning — they’re due for a nice snack after work today. I’ve never really got that sentimental about dogs — well, since I was a dog owner myself, years ago now. Think this will be good for me too ;).

  5. As a snapshot of animal care, this is pretty dreadful. It gives an indication of the empathy of someone who owns an animal, but does minimal effort in caring for it?

    These posts may be slightly depressing, but I’m enjoying ‘Korea Unplugged’. I’ve heard though your ambition to be a Korean tour operator has just been declined?!

    • I could certainly start a killer small-group tour outfit — Unseen Korea, perhaps — that would show participants a side of the place you don’t see in the tour brochures!

      I reckon animal welfare sucks in Asia in general. People walk past those dogs every day, presumably without creation. The brazen positioning of the poor beasts right next to the road shows how little anyone here cares.

  6. NOMADICLES says

    This is really upsetting. I am glad that you have been there to give them love and compassion. Is there anything that can be done about this by talking to your students or the locals there? Maybe there is an organization that will pay attention to this. I understand that it’s so easy for me to speculate possible solutions from the world’s largest ocean away. Can’t help but feeling that something constructive has to be done.

    • Yeah, I’m at a loss as to what to do. A friend suggested an animal welfare group/shelter, but I don’t even know if such things exist over here. And when I’ve mentioned “my dogs” to people here I have certainly not been overwhelmed with offers of help. Students: too ignorant, I think, nothing to compare the maltreatment to, to show them it’s bad. I rant and show pictures of garbage on the streets and beaches and mountains, etc, all the time, and get little more than blank stares. Plus there’s the Asian thing against rocking the boat, making a fuss. I’m hoping I can pass on the dog-feeding torch to somebody before I bail.

  7. NOMADICLES says

    That sucks… I’m sure you’re already doing it, but please be sure that they get enough water. I grew up in Korea. Sure, there is that indifference to dogs, and they don’t think it cruel to tie them up to a doggie house. However, I know that there are people who care, and who work hard to fight cruelty towards animals. I wish I personally knew people in Korea who can look into this, but all my relatives there are elderly folks who need care themselves.

    • If you can think of anyone who could help, Joy, let me know! They’re so sweet-natured despite their crappy existence; they were surely pets in the past before their lives took a nosedive.

      Good point about the water. Apart from my treats they seem to exist solely on dried pellets — salty, for sure, and there’s seldom much water in their bowls.

  8. a strawberry patch says

    Wow! I have been amazed (in a bad way) at some things about Korean culture since I started reading you – trash everywhere, etc. But this really takes the cake. You would be put in jail for that here in the States! Has to be someone heartless. Thanks for helping them.

  9. This is so sad. I am glad you are brightening their lives a little. I hope your replacement will want to do the same. This post reminds me of an experience in China (apologies if I have mentioned it before). I was on a bus. A dog was crossing the road safely ahead of us and the driver floored the accelerator and veered to the opposite carriageway in order to run it down.

    • Yes, when I said I wouldn’t want to be a dog in Korea I should have said I wouldn’t want to be an animal in Asia.

      The dog and I have become very close. I visit them most days and they’ve been getting a lot of bones and attention — even a cooked meal on occasion!

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