So much of our work for animals depends on transforming the way people view animals, and so we are deeply proud to have brought a very special photography exhibit to Seoul, South Korea, in that spirit. Our Beyond Prejudice exhibition by award-winning photographer Sophie Gamand showed survivors of the country’s dog meat trade in a new light.
All of the dogs in the 17 portraits at the Seoul Metro Art Center were rescued from South Korea’s dog meat industry as part of our unique Models For Change program, which helps dog meat farmers transition out of the dog meat industry into alternative, humane livelihoods. Before taking these portraits, Gamand made personalized collars for by hand for her featured subjects to symbolize their journey from being just another body on a dog meat farm to becoming a loving and beloved member of their adoptive families.
The portraits in Beyond Prejudice challenge negative perceptions of “meat dogs” in Korea in the same way that Gamand’s 2014-2022 photo series Pit Bull Flower Power helped to transform the image of pit bulls seeking adoption at U.S. shelters.
The subjects of these 17 portraits come from some of the most heartbreaking circumstances. Before they were saved by HSI/Korea, they knew nothing of love or tenderness. Instead of being able to run in the grass, their paws were imprinted with the wires of their dirty metal cages.
An estimated 3,000 visitors attended our exhibit, which was also covered by some of South Korea’s top news media, helping to further broadcast the message that “meat dogs” are the same as any other dogs, and just as deserving of love and compassion. One attendee stood out, confessing that she used to run a restaurant that sold dog meat. “My daughter blamed me a lot and told me it was a sin,” she said. “When I think about what I did, I regret it a lot. I could have done other work.”
Celebrating survivors of Korea’s dog meat industry is essential in helping to dispel myths that dogs in the meat industry are stupid or soulless. The Korean dog meat industry often employs such messaging to assuage concerns among Korea’s ever-growing and vocal pet-loving population. Some dog meat industry insiders even call for certain dog breeds to be listed as “livestock” so they can continue to be farmed and slaughtered for human consumption.
Caption: Sophie Gamand and HSI/Korea director of government affairs Borami Seo appeared on Arirang TV, an international English-language network based in Seoul, to talk about the exhibition.
For decades the dog meat issue was widely considered far too controversial by the public and politicians to even discuss, let alone change. When we first began helping to close South Korean dog meat farms in January 2015, it was a challenge even to get politicians to admit the industry existed at all. Now we are at a crucial tipping point: Dog meat markets, restaurants, slaughterhouses and farms are also closing. There is immense public disdain for dog meat, with the vast majority of Koreans (87.5%) having either never eaten dog meat or having no intention to do so in the future, and a growing majority (56%) in support of a dog meat ban. The time has come for politicians to put their pledges to end the industry into action and to banish the dog meat industry to the history books.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.