Animal Protection > Activist Interviews

Interview with Kyenan Kum founder of the International Aid for Korean Animals

Kyenan Kum, founder of the International Aid for Korean Animals talks to us about the horrific torture and slaughter of dogs in Korea for meat. To be the recipient of a dog's unconditional dog is a very fine thing indeed. How directly and intensely they express this emotion given half a chance.

Kyenan Kum is a slightly built, gentle Asian woman who visited Australia recently to highlight the devastatingly sad plight of Korea's dogs who are mercilessly beaten to death in the mistaken belief that the more painful the death of the dog, the more "invigorating" its meat will be. "Boshintang" is a Korean meat-stew that is marketed as a dish to bolster a man's flagging sexual energy.

Of course, this is all strictly a myth as dog's meat is not a cure for erectile dysfunction. More importantly, dogs meat in Korea is illegal. Korea's Ministry of Health banned the consumption of dogs, who are also companion animals in Korea, during the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul due to a international out cry over the vicious beating deaths and consumption of mans' best friend. What has happened over the years is a core of dealers determined to make boshintang a profitable industry have marketed the myth that dog-meat-stew is a long-standing Korean tradition dating back thousands of years. Not true, Koreans started eating dog after the war due to poverty, when there was nothing else to eat.

Kyenan Kum is asking the International Community not to forget and to allow her to speak for you on behalf of the voiceless so that their lives and their suffering can be spared.

Interview by Claudette Vaughan, August 2000.
CLAUDETTE: Kyenan Kum please tell us about the treatment of cats and dogs in Korea.

KYENAN KUM: The Ministry of Agriculture defines dogs and cats as companion animals not livestock. Many Koreans claim that the right to eat dog is a matter of cultural pride stemming from a centuries old tradition. We believe, however, that the habit of eating dogs gained prevalence after the Korean War due to widespread starvation. It grew in popularity after reconstruction because dog dealers and restaurants began to fabricate health benefits derived from eating dog meat. In reality the trade has more to do with greed and profits than any sort of tradition.

CLAUDETTE: And cats what is their worth?

KYENAN KUM: Cats have a special disadvantage in Korea. They do not hold any position of affection in Korean society. If one was to believe all of what is said about cats in Korean media and popular wisdom, one might assume that cats live to deceive and frighten people, as well as spread disease. Cats are considered to be a nuisance animal and many attempts have been made to eradicate the stray cat population, not by humane methods, but rather by beating the animals to death in sacks or in some cases, boiling them alive in large pressure cookers to supply the insatiable demand for so-called "herbal" remedies so popular in the East. Cats are not eaten like dogs are. They are mainly used as the fountain ingredient in elixirs that are erroneously believed to cure ailments such as arthritis and neuralgia.

CLAUDETTE: Westerners would baulk at the thought of eating cats and dogs but wouldn't turn a hair over eating chicken or lamb for dinner. What do you think about that?

KYENAN KUM: Yes, of course it is wrong but we must deal with one crisis at a time. I am travelling around to send a message to the West. I need your help in applying pressure to the Korean government for these outrageous acts upon our cats and dogs. In conservative societies such as South Korea, change is slow and requires constant vigilance and education. Our long-term goals at KAPS is to educate Koreans who are currently indifferent to animal welfare; fund a desperately needed sanctuary; provide low cost or free spay-neuter surgery for low-income pet owners; promote projects for the welfare and protection of Korea's animals. There is no other voice in Korea at the moment who is speaking out on behalf of these abused animals.

CLAUDETTE: What can we do to help your cause?

KYENAN KUM: We desperately need letters of protest from the International community at large. While it is illegal to eat dog in Korea, the Government continues to turn a blind eye but you can find a variety of meals featuring dog meat in the markets and can even pick your own live dog for slaughter for about $20.00 American. Remember that The International Outcry in 1888 can work again now with your help. (Please see the end of this interview for addresses to protest to.)

CLAUDETTE: You are the founder of two organisations can you tell us about those please?

KYENAN KUM: International Aid for Korean Animals was founded in 1997 by myself and my sister for the purpose of establishing a non-profit organisation, which would raise funds for the Korean Animal Protection Society (KAPS). Because Korea is such a hostile environment for animals, there is a particularly great need for such an organisation. There are thousands of animals in need of shelter, good homes and medical treatment but fundraising is extremely difficult there.

Without expenditure, it is very hard to raise public support and awareness for animal welfare issues. IAKA is based in California and it's specific purpose is to reach out to the broad-based international community for their support for Korean animals.

CLAUDETTE: How did the shelter in Korea begin?

KYENAN KUM: It began when I bought the sickest looking kitten I could find at the market. When the word spread that I was caring for sick and injured animals, people then began to leave animals on my door-step. Early in 1991 my sister and I combined efforts to persuade the Korean government to establish the first Korean animal protection law. Currently the shelter is home to over 85 dogs and 260 cats as well as a few orphaned and injured wildlife. Of course KAPS is concerned for all animals but we are currently concentrating our efforts on companion animals. There are no advocates here for them and cats and dogs continue to suffer in silence at the hands of people who torture with impunity.

CLAUDETTE: How did you get started in all of this?

KYENAN KUM: My attitude towards animals was shaped early in life through my father, a herbal medicine doctor, who was very fond of animals. As a child, I was surrounded by animals and naively assumed all Korean households were similar. When my sister an I were in middle school we had a mixed breed dog called Yangu who gave birth to eight beautiful puppies. Shortly after the puppies were born, Yangu ate some poisoned meat and died a pitiful death. We buried her in a secret place in the countryside, but when we later went to visit the grave, we found that her body had been removed. As is still common today, the dog meat dealers who had laid the poisoned bait had taken the dead animal to be sold. After another family dog was poisoned in the same manner I began to realise that many people did not share my family's fondness for animals, and I felt compelled to do whatever I could do to help these animals.

CLAUDETTE: Can you give us an inkling into your sister Sunnan's daily routine please?

KYENAN KUM: Sunnan divides her time running a drug-store with her husband and operating KAPS shelter which is located in a small building adjacent to the dog shelter. Increasingly her time is spent campaigning for animal welfare and caring for the ever-growing number of animals at the shelter. In addition she publishes a Korean language newsletter, which includes excerpts from her daily journal as well as animal issues currently in the news. I operate International Aid for Korean Animals (IAKA) from California and publish the English language version of the newsletter.

CLAUDETTE: It's been a great pleasure meeting you Kyenan Kum and I'm sure Animal Liberationists everywhere will rise to the call and respond positively to help Korea's cats and dogs.

Write your messages of protest!

Full a full list of address details, and further information on the situation in Korea, go to the Korean Cats and Dogs page on our website.