The dogs were brought to the state after the Humane Society International rescued them from dog meat farms, where they were being raised for human consumption.
The Humane Society International started working in South Korea about two years ago to learn about both the dog meat trade and Korean culture, said Kelly O’Meara, co-director of Companion Animals and Engagement for the Humane Society International. The organization has since rescued 525 dogs and brought them to either the United States or Canada.
O’Meara said the dogs are kept in barren metal cages and receive small rations of food in the farms.
“They really are completely neglected from the day they’re born to the day they are slaughtered,” she said.
Once the Humane Society has rescued the dogs, they are placed in local shelters, O’Meara said. The shelters are then responsible for rehabilitating the dogs and setting them up for adoption.
The Watauga Humane Society in Boone received four of the dogs from the most recent group, though they are not yet available for adoption, said Laurie Vierheller, the executive director of Watauga Humane Society.
“We decided to provide them with a 14-day quarantine to let them adjust and kind of settle in and de-stress and to let their vaccinations take effect,” she said. “Just generally, they’ve been through a lot to get here.”
UNC Asian Studies Assistant Professor Ji-Yeon O. Jo said there is a portion of South Koreans who eat dog, but an overwhelming majority do not.
“It is a small part of Korean culture but I feel like it’s somehow over-emphasized, especially in Western media,” Jo said.
She said those who eat dog do so because it is believed to be lower in fat than beef or pork, and it is considered a delicacy.
“I think people have to understand the culturally-specific context why dog has been consumed,” Jo said.
She said eating dog was popularized during the Korean war when the country was poor, and today the majority of people who still consume dog are from the generation that lived through the war.
The Humane Society International also works with the farmers to close down their properties and transition away from animal agriculture, O’Meara said.
“What we discovered is that many of the farmers were actually eager to get out of the industry,” she said. “It is a dying industry and it’s also one that carries quite a bit of shame.”
O’Meara said part of the transition involves foreswearing future dog farming.
“Part of the agreement is that they sign onto a contract that states they will never enter into the dog meat industry again, and that the properties will not be ever used for that purpose,” she said.
More people are beginning to oppose the idea of dogs being consumed for meat, which is creating a societal divide within South Korea, O’Meara said. Local organizations and activists in South Korea are actively working to end the dog meat trade.
“This is a movement that is already taking place in Asia that we’re hoping to expedite through our reinforcement of the work and movement that is already in play,” she said.