Perceptions in South Korea about dog meat are changing, with more Koreans than ever before supporting a ban on it. But some within the country continue to believe that "meat" dogs are somehow different from "pet dogs" and therefore not adoptable. Humane Society International is working to change those misconceptions and one young South Korean is now speaking out about her own experience visiting such a farm and coming away with an entirely new perspective on these animals—and a best friend.

Annie Ko, a musician in Seoul, was introduced to HSI as a translator for our rescue team in 2015 and was with us in 2016 when we were on the ground in Wonju to close down a dog meat farm. In a new HSI video, Annie recalls her parents didn't care at all for dog meat so she was curious about it and had tried it. "I thought it was just a type of meat,” she says.

But Annie had a change of heart when she witnessed the cruelty and suffering on a dog meat farm. “I saw the circumstances of the dogs … It was a big shock to see how they are raised and how they are killed for their meat. It really made me think.”

Her perceptions about the kinds of dogs that were typically found on meat farms also changed. She came across DeeJay, an adorable Labrador mix puppy living with his equally adorable siblings in a raised metal cage with wire flooring. It didn’t take long for her to fall in love and adopt him. “DeeJay is my family,” she says, as she snuggles with him during the interview. “I didn’t know I could love a dog this much.”

Annie now hopes to spread awareness and change perceptions among other South Koreans about adopting dog meat farm dogs, much like Korean American actor Daniel Henney, who adopted his dog, Juliette, rescued by HSI from a farm in 2020, is doing.

While pet ownership is on the rise in South Korea, most people still buy puppies from pet stores, which in turn source them from squalid puppy mills. Over the past six years that we have been working in South Korea, we have rescued more than 2,000 dogs from the trade, but most are transported out and rehomed in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands through our shelter and rescue partners because we cannot find homes for them locally.

As Annie says in the video, there are dogs of many different breeds to be found on meat farms. There are cocker spaniels, poodles and golden retrievers, among others. Many are just puppies and a number of the dogs were once pets, abandoned by their families. Given a chance, all make wonderful companions. “The best thing about DeeJay is that he really loves people, and he is really warm. When people meet him and I tell them he was rescued from a dog meat farm they are really surprised," Annie says.

Ending the dog meat trade and changing perceptions on adopting a dog meat farm animal is a "lifelong battle," she adds. But fortunately, thanks to campaigns run by HSI and local Korean animal welfare groups, there is significant progress. In a 2020 Nielsen poll conducted for HSI, the number of South Koreans who support banning dog meat increased dramatically from 34.7% in 2017 to 58.6% in 2020. Nearly 84% of all respondents, including both those who have and those who have not consumed dog meat previously, say they are not willing to consume it in the future.

This is a sea change from just 2015, when we first began this work to shut down Korea's dog meat farms and turned a global spotlight on this problem. But with thousands of dog meat farms still operating in the country, and millions of dogs held captive in these farms, we cannot afford to be complacent-- not until the day that dog meat farms cease to exist. We celebrate DeeJay and Juliette, and the 2000+ other dogs we have rescued from the trade, and applaud Annie, Daniel and others in Korea and around the world who have opened up their hearts and homes to these animals. We will continue to work for the day when dog meat is banned, and all dogs are regarded as companion animals, with hearts filled with love.