We are very aware that there are many animal lovers out there, so we’ve sat down with Ms. Park So-youn, the activist and founder of CARE Animal Rights Organization based in Korea.
Ms Park has dedicated most of her life by rescuing animals from horrific environments, and has built up the first and largest animal rights organization in Korea in 2002. The organization is going through a lot of difficulties lately due to several allegations, there’s so much misunderstanding and biased opinions that need to be rectified. Ms. Park has been cleared of most of the charges and legal procedures are still on-going.
We wanted to delve deeper to learn more about the animal organization, how we can co-exist with the animals in this world, and how we can prevent cruelty to animals and so much more. We’d like to send out a big thank you to Ms. Park and the organization for the interview. We wish them all the best!
I am the representative of CARE, an organization for animal rights; I’m also a vegan and an animal activist.
CARE was organized in 2002, and its name in English has always been the same. The initials standing for Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth, this means that animal rights should be respected just as much as human rights. By 2015, we’d begun using the same name in Korean also, with the epithet Animal Rights Group, so that we would be known as the Animal Rights Group CARE. Since 2015, we’ve been only using our English version of the name.
I think my life basically changed from the age of 8. Since I was so into animals, my mother had to wake me up in the morning just to tell me every time animals appeared on TV. I was fascinated with all kinds of animals, as beings that looked so different from us and still had such amazing, spectacular and lovable qualities.
Grown-ups tend to buy their kids soft, cuddly toys in the shape of animals, and show them picture books featuring animal characters. Most kids love animals, at times equating them with human-like characters. I was no different, just more into such things than most. But contrary to all that, when my mother asked me what I wanted to eat, and I would always say “meat!”; I loved eating meat from an early age. I never thought the animals I loved and the meat were one and the same.
Things then changed when I entered elementary school and my mother began taking me to school for about a week, until I got used to carrying a heavy satchel. In the mornings we would past a market, and one of the shops I had to pass by was a butcher’s, where we used to shop for meat. And what I saw there was totally new, because in the evenings, when we usually went there, I had never been able to come across such scenes! What I saw were some men, with their van in front of the butcher’s shop, from which they unloaded and carried in large chunks of something, hanging them on the ceiling of the shop. With a closer look, I could see legs still attached to them. I was so shocked at the sight of it all, and when I asked my mother what they were, she said “they’re pieces of the meat that you like so much!” I just collapsed to the ground and cried my eyes out.
It was as if I had killed my own friends and ate them: that was an awakening. I could never forget that shock, and at that moment I made a promise in my heart to help my animal friends, once I grew up. From that day on I could not consume meat. I would get sick at the very smell. I told my older sister about what I found out about meat, and we both became vegetarians. We were told off at the table because we refused to eat meat, then we would cry and sometimes eat just rice; this repeated day after day. My mother finally came to give up on us, and began cooking two separate meals- one with and the other without meat. Even dumplings were made in two types, one with and another without meat. It was the same with soup and potted food. My mother took all that trouble, all those years, because her two daughters would have to go without food otherwise.
Painful experience awaited in the holidays, when we visited relatives. In the rural countryside, we saw cattle with their noses pierced, and during winter, there would be icicles under their bellies, wild birds would be caught and raised… all that was so painful to see. Things were not much different in Seoul, where we lived. In the summer they would leave their dogs for days until their return, and those dogs would often starve. I would sometimes secretly take rice from home to feed neighbors’ dogs.
I have a lot of compassion in me. It was the same with people, not just animals. I couldn’t ignore people in need. But in my early twenties, I realized that human welfare was better taken care of by the government and social activist groups. For animals, however, hardly anyone cared. So I became involved in animal rights movement. At first I volunteered to work at various places, and this led to the organization of a group.
CARE is foremost an organization when it comes to revisions in animal protection laws in this country. Since the first revision in 2006, CARE has been behind most of the laws that have been revised. If you look at how we have achieved that, we have investigated incidences of animal abuse, rescued the animals involved, created an issue over it and campaigned; then finally, the creation or revision of law and system. This procedure is in itself typical and characteristic of CARE’s activities.
At the same time, one thing we can gather from this is that it takes a huge unfortunate incident in order for the laws to change in Korea. CARE’s activities include the revision of laws, campaigns, education, investigation, abuse reports, rescue, and running shelters and adoption centers. Although we work for laws and systems to change, with every cruelty and abuse issue, we never neglect the animals involved.
We work for various animal issues, but one we are very deeply engaged in is the attempt to ban dog slaughter in this country. Recently we have shut down dog slaughterhouses and rescuing the remaining dogs raised for meat. CARE is the group that rescues the most animals in Korea, and that includes the animals that are never rescued even by the government, the animals existing in the blind spots uncovered by rescue laws. This means that sometimes unhealthy animals with no hope for adoption, or animals with violence issues are rescued by us. We wish all of these animals may be given chances of life also, but it is simply impossible to do, on our resources. This is why CARE had euthanized these animals, according to the standard procedures. It should be noted, however, that Korea’s laws do not allow euthanasia carried out by private organizations.
CARE did not go out of its way to publicize these tragic realities, but early January this year, the person in charge of the recently euthanized animals talked to the press about it; this drove CARE into dire circumstances, where CARE came very close to becoming abolished. For two months every newspaper in Korea reported on the issue, and CARE is still suffering from various distorted presentations of the true facts.
The animal protection laws of Korea do not restrict the ownership of animals by their abuser; dogs in slaughterhouses are neglected, and indeed, slaughter itself is not punished by law. In these circumstances CARE has shut down dog farms and slaughterhouses, rescuing all the dogs from those places and 20% of those dogs, with no better choice left, had been euthanized. And this is what has been, for the last months, disparaged and misrepresented as if we have slaughtered those animals.
I am facing police investigation regarding this issue, and must meet various rumors and wild suppositions. But I am willing to turn this around so that we could throw a light upon these animals, so cruelly abused under the realities of this country, and make things better for animals in a realistic and rational way, by making a change in the system.
The animal rights groups of Korea and the many people acting for animals are often engrossed in moralistic idealism, and unwilling to voice the reality that is so harsh for these animals. Unconditional opposition against euthanasia is the result of simply ignoring the reality, and in turn ignoring the animals dying even at this moment. CARE sees the need for proper awareness of animal rights and continuing education. So that is another of our objective at this point.
CARE must become recognized as the group that stands out among all animal rights organizations. CARE has never been afraid to voice its agenda against the government’s wrongful policies, and so has led to many successful results. We are adamant and proud in stating that we have always acted for the lessening of pain for animals, instead of working to enrich ourselves. But after the malicious press reports on the recent euthanasia issue, and because of the lack of sufficient understanding on euthanasia itself, we have lost two thirds of our sponsors. We are planning a project to make our sponsors understand and be educated. We must publicize the integrity of our activities, and work at multiplying our sponsors again.
We must also stabilize our shelter facilities. In Korea, there is no legal foundation for private animal shelters, so that most such facilities are run illegally. We are worried about the shelter grounds of CARE; we are demanding the revision of laws, to allow legal management of shelters by private organizations, and striving to secure real estate for CARE animal shelters. CARE is an organization that must exist in Korea. It is the only group with a voice for animals’ interest. The objective of CARE is to advocate animals. Sometimes we come to a crossroads of decisions. There are compromising points for the stability of the organization. But we always find our answer by putting animals first. The integrity of CARE is in its determination to champion for animals, and we strive not to lose that determination, in the face of all kinds of adversity.
There are 10 million pets in Korea. The pet culture is becoming more and more sophisticated. However, it is also the only country with dog farms, and the only dog meat consuming democracy. It is also the only country with animal protection laws as well as dog slaughtering realities. The actions of dog farms and slaughterers, though illegal, are protected in the name of livelihood, and the enormous pain of the slaughtered dogs is neglected.
We don’t hope for an overnight change of the national awareness of these issues, but with the right pressure on the government, it will have to face decisions. This is why an international, global action is required. We have ideas for all the world citizens to create sensation; that will be carried out this year. We are against dog meat because pain is the same for all animals. The pain of animals are directly linked to us humans, and we are obligated to lighten the pain of animals, even if we begin by relieving the pain of one kind of animal. If we look upon dogs, universal pets, as meat, how could we relieve the pain of other animals?
I can think of a lot of animals with the deepest pain, but a dog rescued last year, called Gang-gun, is especially weighing on my mind. Fire had spread to a dog farm in the country, and all the dogs were burned to death except this guy, who survived burnt wounds to the whole of his body. He was found, dying from burns and hunger for a whole month, and taken to the local shelter and left there. When CARE heard about him, he was rescued as an emergency case, received veterinary treatment, and is now protected in our adoption center. He needed plastic surgery among other measures, because his ears had shriveled and eyelids had melted down. He has slowly opened up to people and is happy now, but still waiting for adoption. We are hoping for an overseas adoption for him.
I also remember Tori well, a dog adopted by the president Moon Jae-in. Tori had been an abandoned dog facing death for meat consumption, but after being rescued and treated by CARE he had been waiting to be adopted for 2 years. Due to prejudices against black dogs, Tori had not been given a chance sooner. After we told the story of Tori, president Moon adopted him, with a message that everyone, human or animal, must be freed from prejudice and discrimination.
The animals rescued by CARE are hurt by cruelty and abuse, and found in hoarders’ homes, farms and slaughterhouses. We rescue dogs, cats, horses, oxen and cows, goats, deer, chickens, rabbits, and other animals abused in zoos. Adoption of these animals takes time, but the hardest problem is faced by dogs. It is hard to find more adopters in this country. Korea still cares a lot about purebreds, and the outward appearance of each breed is thought of as very important. A lot of the dogs rescued by CARE are large and mixed breed dogs; there are very few people willing to adopt them. And, as the main form of residence in Korea is the apartment, there are not enough houses with gardens that require bigger dogs. As hard as it is to find adopters, we cannot send them to people who would tie the dogs down to give leftover food.
So recently, we have been working hard at overseas adoption. We send profiles of dogs with their stories, pictures, movies along with their state of health, and when dogs are adopted we send them after domestic quarantine procedures. Before those procedures we often provide general and rabies vaccines and spaying. We also gather volunteering travellers to take the dogs on their trips abroad, to save transport fees. We feel so rewarded when healthy and loving dogs find good homes abroad, after having found it so hard to become adopted here. Disabled dogs with no hope of adoption in Korea are often chosen by people in other countries. We are saddened at the realities of this country – that these dogs will likely never find homes here – but that’s where education comes in. We must work at that too.
I do feel the most rewarded when CARE’s activities lead to changes in laws, and bans against certain actions. We have illegalized dog meat festivals such as what we see in China. That was in 2003. There were plans to hold a dog meat festival in Seocheon, expanding it gradually nationwide. However, on the day before, all the equipment and publicizing banners were got rid of, so that the whole thing was called off. We held protestations so that there is no dog meat festival in the country. Also, we have prevented the live burial of cattle and pigs, which was the convention when viruses struck. We did this by filming and exposing the atrocities.
The year of 2006 saw the deadliest incident of Incheon, Jangsu-dong, where dogs were rescued despite facing theft charges. That led to the first revision in animal protection laws in 15 years. That was also when we got our first and only legal precedent of illegalizing and imposing a fine on dog slaughter for the purpose of meat consumption.
As I’ve stated before, there must be a change of awareness about animal rights. Before the recent hardship we’re going through, and what needed to change first was the awareness of the government, the legislators and executors of the law in my opinion. But now, I think education must come first for animal rights activists. The biggest problem is the idealistically moral attitude that ignores the realities faced by animals. There are also groups working for their own private interests and gain by using animals; we need to educate activists and sponsors to prevent such behavior.
Now that a bill to ban dog slaughter has been introduced, CARE will work to make it pass. We will definitely resolve this problem in Korea, the only democracy where dog meat is consumed. We have various plans for better awareness of the public and the passing of laws, within the year.
Thank you for your time. We wish you and CARE all the best!
To help the animals in need, please consider making a small donation: https://careanimalrights.org/donate/
Or volunteer your precious time: https://careanimalrights.org/volunteer/
Please visit the website, if you wish to adopt an animal: https://careanimalrights.org/