On August 13, five family members lined up in black suits for an "unusual" funeral ceremony in the suburban city of Gwangju on the outskirts of Seoul. The mourners were praying not for a beloved family member but for their pet dog. Funeral songs were played and the ashes of the dog were enshrined in the sacred place during the hour-long ceremony. According to an on-line funeral service company, an average of 10 funeral services for dogs are performed each day and the cost of the service is 150,000 won(about 850 U.S. dollars). At the same time a few kilometers away in a Seoul office, five employees were busy packing dog meat to sell through their internet shopping mall. Company sources reveal that meat equivalent to 10 dogs is sold each day to over 800 customers. These days dogs are treated like an adored member of the family in Seoul where they were once raised to feed the hungry stomach of their masters. Yet dog meat is so popular among the Korean people even instant dog soups line supermarket shelves. Furthermore, a dog meat buffet appeared in a satellite city of Songnam east of Seoul, touching off a flurry of complaints from groups of animal lovers. They demanded the ward office crack down on the buffet restaurant. In South Korea killing dogs is illegal. Cooking and selling dog meat are also banned because it is designated as abominable food by law. But the reality is that an increasing number of Korean people are enjoying dog meat or soup. It is not unusual to spot young ladies and even small kids eating dog meat along with their parents in downtown restaurants. Traditionally dog meat and soups are considered as stamina food for adult males. In the past Korean people had to kill their dogs to supplement their scant protein intake. Nowadays, the younger generation of Koreans are turning to canine meat for its taste and nutrition. Korean people have long believed that dog meat is a classic example of stamina food and the best aphrodisiac. Dog meat and soup are particularly popular during hot and muggy summer days, since people believe dog meat will bolster their weakened body. Several Chinese traditional medicinal books teach that dog meat is the best stamina food to fend off summer heat and to regain vitality. These books also write that dog meat is the best food for patients convalescing from their illness. Dog meat was and is equally loved by people in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Dog meat is called "sweet meat" by North Korean people and is loved by Dear Leader Kim Jong-il as well as his late senior, Great Leader Kim Il-sung, according to Fujimoto, a Japanese man who was their chef.
Fujimoto revealed that Chairman Kim never failed to eat dog meat in the hot summer days. He said that Junior Kim was a well-known food connoisseur who enjoyed all kinds of rare dishes from around the world.
Koreans' love of dog meat became a target of criticism from the international community, particularly Western countries. During 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup a lot of Westerners complained about the "dietary habit" of Korean people, triggering a national debate on the pros and cons of eating dog meat.During the World Cup Brigitte Bardot, French actress-turned animal rights advocate, had a tug of war with Korean nationalists who argued for their right to enjoy dog meat. Her web site was virtually shut down after it was showered with protest email from angry Koreans. She led an economic boycott against Korean products after calling Koreans eating dog meat a "barbaric custom." Proponents of eating dog meat defend themselves by saying that French people are equally cruel for the way they treat goose to make foie gras(fat liver), one of their delicacies. They argued that the French also ate horses, dogs, cats, and even rats in the past. Other Asian people including Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese are also enjoying dog meat recipes. Opponents counter-argue that the medicinal or nutritional effects of dog meat have not been scientifically proven and the national image of Korea is being stigmatized by the dog eating habit. Animal lovers argue that dog meat eating ranks alongside labour unrest as the main reasons for Korea's tarnished international image. But as Korea modernizes and emerges as one of the world's strongest economies the power enjoyed by animal rights activists also increases. Now that they are rich enough more and more people are buying dogs not for meat but as a pet. A social change from the traditional extended family to modern nuclear family boosts to a recent trend in which people are adopting dogs or other pets to avoid loneliness. In a bidding house for dogs in Daejeon in South Choongchong Province an Alaskan Malamute puppy was auctioned off at 1,250,000 won(1,065 U.S. dollars). One in every five people in the city owns dogs or other pets. On the national level almost 10 million South Korean people are estimated as lovers of dogs or other pets, according to a kennel club. Nearly one in every four Korean people are raising dogs. Dogs as pets are estimated at 3.5 million nationally. Last year alone 500,000 pet dogs were imported into the nation. Beauty saloons for dog and other pets and hotels for them are growing fast in number. Medical insurance programs are created for their dogs. "In spite of current economic sluggishness, the pet dog industry is growing by a whopping 30 to 40 percent every year and will expand three-fold by 2005," said Park Ye-kyong, an official of Korean Kennel Club(KKC). Currently the pet dog industry is estimated at 1,500 billion won(1.3 billion U.S. dollars).
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Bum-Jun Suh, who studied at Sungkyunkwan University, serves as staff reporter of The Seoul Times.
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