Animals, Korea
Comments 15

A Korean Flashback #4: A Dog-Forsaken Land

So here we are, flashbacking/flashing back to a generally unhappy period of my life again. Why? Perspective is a funny thing. I’m way more miserable lately, but at least my Korean prediament was alleviated by the promise of something exciting to live for at the end of it.

It’s weird, but putting together these little collections, even when they’re not exactly uplifting, is distracting from the occasionally bleak present I occupy right now.

Enough of that — there’s enough misery in this post, but it’s not mine, and just maybe it’s leavened here and there by glimpses of something else in the eyes of my charismatic assemblage of subjects.

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2. Ginger (L) & Mary Ann, a Brittany setter & an English pointer, soon after I “met” them near my place. They hated me at this point — it was mutual. I passed them often as I climbed the road into the mountains. Note that at this early stage, they still look fairly healthy.

I did a Korean Flashback — which is my way of breaking from the regular seaside-wandering stuff I’m sharing of late, while mining some of the thousands of un-shared shots and stories from my two years in that country — a little while back about cats, and it’s easily the most-viewed, most commented-upon post I’ve ever done.

That post, Where the Kitties Get No Pity, was featured on Freshly Pressed, and it’s still attracting the occasional “like” or comment from feline-fancying followers in far-flung lands (or FFFIFFLs, as I refer to them).

I was surprised, amazed even, but I concluded that there are a lot of Cat People out there, and also that, happily, the highly civilised folk who comprise my readers tend to look aghast on animal cruelty or neglect.

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3. A rainy day on a later hike. Ginger’s misery — never loved, never walked, fed a rice-based gruel — is obvious. And just look at the shit pile these guys called home.

I think I commented on Kitties (it’s in bad taste to re-read your own posts) that though cats had a rough time of it generally in Korea, they still had it all over their canine counterparts — at least cats are not (to my knowledge) often eaten nowadays (unlike in other parts of Asia), and they don’t spend their lives on chains while they wither away, eaten up by parasites and neglect, festering in anger and loneliness.

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4. Everything changed one day when I tossed them a snack. They became my pals, my only friends in Korea, & I’d visit almost daily, sneaking in at night with bones, meat and other snacks, filling their water bowls, and sitting with a beer to chat with them while watching nervously for the mean-looking owner, who busted me once or twice & didn’t look impressed…

No, I’m not Korea-bashing, and yes, anyone Korean or otherwise who tells you that dog-eating is a thing of the ignorant past is just plain full of it. I walked thousands of miles in Korea, and many’s the time I came upon (ugh) “dog farms”, the yelping of caged unfortunates audible for miles around.

Hell, there were caged mutts on the next street to my apartment in urban Jangyu! These weren’t purebreds either; my guess is that they were bred for meat, for sale to restauranteurs (ha) or the nice folk in the middle of the supply chain.

The BBC claims that, in 1999, more than 6,000 restaurants served soups made from dog meat in South Korea ~ Wikipedia

But the eating of dogs is only part of the story.

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5. Ginger attacking a bone I brought her. Note how skinny she is now. Both of them were riddled with worms and the ground stank from diarrhoea.

I’m generalising, but as I said, I walk a lot and I observe a lot and I take a metric shit-tonne of pictures, and I’ll stand by this: There are three main groupings of dog in Korea.

There are the ones cultivated as pets, almost always shitzus, or chihuahuas, or some other small, yappy and tiny apartment-compatible economy model, the kind you see preened and dolled up in spangly little jackets and other accessories, the type just as likely to be carried like a freaking baby as walking on four feet like a real dog.

(Lest we forget, every dog you see is a distant descendent of the mighty wolf! The domestic dog, says one scientist, is an extremely close relative of the grey wolf, differing from it by at most 0.2% of [mitochondrial DNA] sequence…. In comparison, the gray wolf differs from its closest wild relative, the coyote, by about 4% of mitochondrial DNA sequence.)

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6. Mary Ann was much stronger and fitter, but also very ill. As my departure from Korea approached, I hatched a plan with Kate to kidnap them one night, get them their rabies shots, walk with them up the coast over the 30-day waiting period, and fly them to Kate’s place in America. It seemed like my duty, and Kate was very supportive. It was going to be very tough, highly illegal, but worthwhile…

The next grouping is the “working dog” — my term, and used with a splash of irony, since virtually all of these I encountered, as in rural Japan, spend their lives, un-walked, un-living and un-loved, on chains, in crummy plastic kennels at the front of farms/market gardens, or perhaps factories or gas stations.

These poor beasts, almost always the Korean Jindo breed, seem to function as guard dogs — guarding what, who can say? Korea’s low crime rate is world-famous, and outside the cities you’re not exactly struck by all the, er…wealth just ripe for the plucking.

Not saying this is unique to Korea — as a walker, I’ve been harassed by dogs, as I mentioned here when talking about the Japanese version, on four continents. But I was really struck by the disregard for the beast’s quality of life in Korea.

The third grouping is the strays. Or perhaps semi-strays in some cases. As with cats, in my part of Korea (the semi-developed south-east), this was the type I encountered most often. Sad specimens usually, skinny and diseased, and decidedly skittery. But free, at least, and speaking as a skinny and decidedly skittery humanoid, I’ll take it over chains any day…

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7. Ginger would always stand on her hind legs and nestle her head against my leg, just craving affection. Mary Ann was so freakin’ strong she’d just about knock me backwards leaping up and nearly choking herself on her chain. Look at what starvation & worms have done to Ginger’s build.

My heartbreaking personal connection to Korean dogs, illustrated in the eight pictures below the header shot, has been covered here and here. For newer readers, I’ll summarise in their captions.

I’ll also add that I don’t speak, as an Australian, with complete ethical superiority. In recent months the issue of greyhound racing, with disgusting use of live bait in training and the shooting in the bush of failed racers in grotesque numbers, has been in the news.

As a former co-owner of two whippets, the sweetest mutts you could hope to meet, I hope it’s a matter of time before this revolting industry is consigned to the same place they sent chimney sweeps, bear-baiting and child-miners in the enlightened west.

For now, I’ll stop ranting and let you commence scrolling. My standard excuses apply: I had no zoom lens, and my subjects were usually not too sociable (“my” pooches excepted), so, as with the kitties, there are few close-ups. But the plus side is that you’re granted a look at my subjects within their landscape.

Also, sorry if loading takes forever: these shots (generally presented chronologically) are my babies, and it was too hard to leave any out, so I’ve exceeded my usual shot limit — and then some!

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8. I went over to New York in mid-2013 to see Kate — and when I returned, my beautiful friends had gone, replaced with this very nervous & equally doomed creature. I was crushed. I suspect the owner had grown suspicious. I doubt they were eaten — too sick, too skinny — but I fervently hope they are dead now, rather than still living in misery & captivity.

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9. A last visit to the replacement dog, which was just as nervous and agitated, shortly before leaving Korea.

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10. A far happier dog, early in 2012, at Jangyu Temple, in the mountains above my town. Temple dogs seemed to be better cared for (as you’d expect), but on later visits this fellow (there was another one but it seemed to have been moved on) was always chained — see the pictures near the bottom.

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11. If it’s junk, chuck it in the creek — that was the prevailing philosophy, unfortunately, with Daecheong Creek in Jangyu. A dog kennel joins the other crap in my local waterway.

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12. Two pampered pooches on a wooded hill near Queen Heo‘s 13th-century tomb, Gimhae.

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13. On Haeundae, Korea’s most famous beach, two elegant puff-balls are taken for a stroll.

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14. Temple dogs getting an eyeful of the foreigner on a walk in Busan.

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15. One of the saddest specimens I encountered, on a wet day on a lunch-break stroll from my Thursday/Friday school (“Hell Skool”). I went back to this overgrown wasteland with snacks but never saw this stray again. That’s it in the header shot as well.

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16. A startling encounter with two strays next to the Daecheong. They soon bolted…

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17. ..to join the rest of their gang and attempt to escape via these stepping stones.

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18. Typical farm dog, a white Jindo, Gimhae.

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19. And another near the Daecheong. Not sure if this one’s a stray — it looked healthy — or just allowed to run free. It may be the same one in the next shot on a later date.

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20. When Dogs Run Free — off for a trot along the Daecheong, half an hour from my place.

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21. Two sparky little fellows taking a walk, also near the Daecheong.

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22. Busted — a Jindo digging up a potato patch on the outskirts of Busan, as I headed down from a night stealth-camping in the mountains.

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23. Typical gas-station mutt, keeping all that valuable gasoline safe from thieves. This was in Ulsan on my 13-day walk up the coast.

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24. Worried-looking pooch in one of the ubiquitous Bongo vans (always, ALWAYS blue) loved by Korean farmers. This was also on my Goat Killer Trail walk northwards.

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25. Guardian of the Gods — diminutive guard-mutt at a statue-sellers on the edge of Busan.

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26. At the annual Daeboreum festival on a beach in Busan, a bonfire spectator cradles an unimpressed companion.

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27. Typical nervous farm semi-stray of indeterminate heritage stretching its legs among the rice paddies of Gimhae.

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28. This fellow looked healthy and cared-for, even if it was always on this chain when I passed it in my local Jangyu neighbourhood.

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29. Hyundai & a chained Jindo (this is in Yulha, down the road from Jangyu) — it doesn’t get much more Korean than this.

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30. Another freewheelin’ stray or semi, playing in the crapped-out wastelands adjoining the Daecheong.

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31. This poor beast in farm country near Hell Skool HATED me, but I don’t think it was personal. Its whole life was spent chained in this enclosure, barking out its misery & rage at any who passed.

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32. A mop-like specimen in the farmland near Busan, one of the most wretchedly unkempt mutts I’ve seen in my life. If anyone actually owned this poor sad creature, they deserved to be flogged in the town square.

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33. A little gang of farm semi-strays goes ape-shit as I pass, heading miserably towards Hell Skool. God, how I envied them.

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34. Under a bridge on the Han River, Seoul, where residents take shelter from the summer sun.

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35. The same temple dog as seen in #10, on a much later visit. The sign reads “KEEP AWAY!”. I didn’t…

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36. ..and the beautiful fellow just lapped up some attention.

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37. Another abandoned pooch, cruelly dumped on the streets of Jangyu…

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38. ..and another, right near my main school. Oh, the humanity.

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39. On one of my last hikes into the mountains looming above my apartment, I met this friendly and healthy-looking chap on the roadside — and was immediately fearful it would end up under a car.

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40. Near a persimmon farm not far from home, this poor pooch, a study in misery, sits chained in a box as it will, I assume, every day of its sorry life.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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15 Comments

  1. I remember some people who visited Korea around the same time as us (April 2003), and they said that they found a restaurant that served dog meat.
    Their recounting of the episode was that the owners were both proud of showing Korean cuisine (much like the Japanese are when it comes to whale meat), and miffed at being caught out.

    Do you suspect the dogs were just “security”?

  2. It was quite distressing seeing the images of Mary Ann and Ginger’s deterioration and also the condition of the other maltreated dogs. I don’t think I took in much of the rest of the post so have returned again for a closer look at the other dogs. Some very poignant images there. They certainly pull at the heart strings. It must have been difficult to walk past these dogs regularly. My dogs have rarely been chained up in their lives – they’ve always had farms and very large fenced yards to live in. It’s amazing the situations that an animal can survive that would have us going crazy/giving up very quickly.

    • Yes, I was touched by how sweet-natured that pair was in spite of all the mistreatment they’d endured. I felt really bad for leaving them there but the whole idea was probably too ambitious (and dangerous). Who knows, maybe I’d be a prisoner of some kind myself if I’d gone through with it.

      • I know it was hard to leave them there but I’m glad you didn’t try to take them. They have relatively short lives. You could spend a very long time in prison though…

  3. If we only made our own species suffer, that would be bad enough. But to do so in so many ways, to so many other species… it’s very depressing. Your photos are stunning, though.

  4. Oh, so sad. And baffling really given that they seem to serve no real purpose. Great post, of course, although hard to bear!

    • Thanks, Rachael! One hopes that societies evolve in some crucial ways (despite all evidence to the contrary). My own hope here in Australia is that the recent crisis exposing rampant animal cruelty will help speed the abolition or disappearance of the dog-racing industry.

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