My View: Council Needs to Take Action on Sister City Issue Regarding Treatment of Dogs in South Korea

On Wednesday, the Vanguard published an op-ed from Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee that highlighted the mistreatment of dogs in South Korea and asked the question: “Why does Davis have a sister city relationship with Sangju Korea when the Koreans are mistreating dogs?”

Brett Lee concluded: “My inclination is to support Sangju as a sister city, but to officially express my concerns about the treatment of dogs.”

When Brett Lee approached me about writing this op-ed, he noted that the council had been receiving a lot of emails from various groups on this, but had seemed reluctant to take on the issue.  However, after he implored me to watch the video, it is obvious that this represents a major atrocity and that the city of Davis needs to address it in some manner.

I have not yet weighed in on this topic.  On a personal level, I find this quite appalling.  I’ll address the policy ramifications in a moment.

I have not eaten meat since 1998 and I am coming up on 20 years of vegetarianism.  I view that lifestyle choice, however, as a personal choice.   I’m not what you might call a militant animal rights person, but I don’t like seeing animals mistreated either.  I am not opposed to other people consuming animals.

To me, this is not about a cultural issue.  If South Korea wants to consume dogs, I don’t think we have a place in saying that they shouldn’t.  I also don’t have any more of a problem consuming dogs than consuming cows, chickens, pigs, etc.

For me, therefore, this is not an issue of consumption but rather the treatment of the animals.  And what I saw on that video quite frankly mirrors the atrocities of the Holocaust, to be absolutely candid.  To call this being inhumane to animals actually does a disservice to inhumanity.

I know some people will be offended by this comparison, but watch the video.  These animals are being tortured.  We know from the study of personality disorders that torture of animals is often seen as an early sign of lack of empathy, and linked to anti-social disorders and potentially becoming serial killers.

To put this another way, quite frankly, if this were an issue of slavery that we discovered in Sangju, then this would be a non-issue and a non-discussion.  We would cut ties with them yesterday and not look back.  I really don’t view the treatment of animals any differently.

We see the rabid mistreatment and torture of a living creature and we, as a community, should not approve of that.

Before I propose a course of action, let me respond to some of the points made by commenters.

First, there are those who believe that the city of Davis should deal strictly with local issues.  At times, I have agreed with that sentiment, especially with regard to international issues that we have little say over, and that could end up becoming divisive and a waste of time otherwise spent on more critical issues here at home.

However, the council largely rejected that point with regard to the Dakota Access Pipeline.  The council made the point at that time that the DAPL issue was not that controversial in the community, there were issues of local nexus, and they did not take a huge amount of time on that issue.

As Brett Lee said at the time, “I get what the concern is, what we don’t want to be doing is delving into controversial topics where we spin our wheels and use up a lot of emotional energy and time focused on things that are not our primary responsibility, I totally accept that.”  But he didn’t see this as a topic that distracted from the important business at hand.

This issue is a little different.  This is not a matter of Davis expressing policy preference, but rather a matter that Davis has a sister city relationship with Sangju, and therefore a direct nexus with potential problematic practices in that community.

There has also been the notion that the treatment of dogs is no worse than American meat houses.  First of all, while I will not defend practices of American meat houses, there are routine inspections and what we see in the video are not practices that would be permissible in the US.

Moreover, I would argue that if we do find out that US meat houses are mistreating animals or that conditions are deplorable, the answer is to confront that problem, not ignore the problem in South Korea.

The closer nexus, however, would be that animals at the Yolo County animal shelter were mistreated.  But here too, the response from the community was overwhelming.  The Davis City Council intervened in that case as well, and by most accounts things have improved at the animal shelter.

Again, that is not an argument for non-action.

The bottom line, from my perspective, is that we should not look the other way at absolute atrocities elsewhere simply because we are not perfect here.  We should strive to improve our own processes, while calling out abuses elsewhere as needed.

Should we sever ties with Sangju because of the treatment of dogs?  That is what some are calling for.  I think there is a reasonable process, however, that can begin with less drastic actions.

First, the council should have a meeting to discuss a formal response, including a letter that calls out and condemns the treatment of dogs in South Korea.

Second, they should request a formal response from Sangju.

Third, they should determine the next course of action based on Sangju’s response.  It may be that intervention by Davis can lead Sangju to clean up their facilities that deal with the packaging of dog meat.

That stops short of what some people clearly want – which, I think, is to end the South Korean dog meat industry – but, as I said, I don’t believe that is an appropriate request.  The more appropriate request is that, if they are going to continue the consumption of dog meat, the treatment of the animals has to markedly improve.

Severing ties may ultimately be necessary, but is probably not the best way to change the practice.

For those who think that we should simply mind our own business, I’m sorry, I can’t go along with that.  What is happening there is too horrific for business as usual to continue.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith O

    A few questions, how authentic is that video because videos can be edited and doctored?

    Was it from an operation actually in Sangju?  

    Do you know if those types of business practices are actually sanctioned by Sangju or Korea?

      1. Keith O

        I think that should all be looked into before any letter is sent out.

        That would be like a video surfacing of dog fighting events being held in Alabama then Sangju sending us a letter saying they are concerned about being our sister city because of this occurring in the U.S.A.

        Or for that matter any number of other things that Sangju might find unseemly happening over here.

        1. Lynda Clegg

          You only need to do a little research on the dog meat trade to see a vast amount of videos of dogs being abused, you know they skin and boil them when they are still alive also. It’s truly heartbreaking. In my opinion animal torture is not culture, I am confused as to why people think it is. I would be ashamed to have anything to do with South Korea. Please make the correct choice, look in the eyes of these poor animals, please show some compassion x

        2. Bonnie WongHarano

          There are many organizations running rescues and organizing local activists to stop the huge trucks with inhumanly packed and injured dogs or cats. The false myth that torture releases adrenaline in the animal making the “meat” more tender lends itself to the horrific torture of these animals many of which are abducted pet. They have their legs amputated one by one, are electrocuted, hung and skinned, boiled, or tied up and hand blow torched all while being conscious, terrified and alive. Also right near by are the caged victims who have heard the screams, smelled the blood and have seen this torture and killing right before they are next in line for the same treatment. How can anyone with the ability to make or influence change not do whatever they can to help prevent this slaughter of thousands of defenseless animals everyday. Marc Ching from the LA based organization The Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation has risked his life to film many slaughterhouses and compiled what he has seen as a presentation with Congressman Hastings to help pass House Resolution 30, which is an effort to put political pressure on the Chinese government to end the dog meat trade. The dog meat industry is well organized and has even corrupted local police who even escort the trucks to the slaughter houses.  Here is a video that says it all                                

      2. Marzia Molineris

        Dear David Greenwald! We are a group of compassionate and dedicated volunteers from Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and England, following and Nami Kim of Savekoreandogs, helping raise awareness about the horrific Dogmeattrade in Korea, that is outraging millions of people. All people questioning the  veracity of the hundreds of footages posted on Youtube by different activists are only cowards who finds it easier to pretend to ignore than to take action! We beg you to take action and express your opposition to the torture of Dogs to your Sister City of Sanju. This city does not deserve to be supported by Davis in any way. Thank you so much for your attention.

  2. Alan Miller

    I have not eaten meat since 1998 and I am coming up on 20 years of vegetarianism.  I view that lifestyle choice, however, as a personal choice.   I’m not what you might call a militant animal rights person, but I don’t like seeing animals mistreated either.  I am not opposed to other people consuming animals.

    DG, everything you wrote above mirrors myself.  I began (pesco-veg for me) in 1988, I suspect about the same age as you were.

    I watched five minutes of the video.  That was quite enough.  It is sickening.  If this starts a non-city-related movement or group in Davis, I’m OK with that.  Brett Lee taking his local ‘fame’ to make this an issue, fine.  However, I do not believe it is the purview of the City, as I believe the City Council should stick to matters affecting the City.  Conditions at the Yolo shelter are within that, as they are our shelter.  If we found out Red Bluff treated their animals particularly horribly, that is not for Davis city government to take up.  Individuals, fine.

  3. Eileen Samitz


    Good article and I agree with your approach. My only concern is that the process should not be drawn out.  If this sister city does not respond in a timely manner to stop this barbaric practice, we need to cut ties with them. As I have said before, if this was a human rights abuse issue anywhere on the same level, Davis would be on top of condemning it and disassociating itself with that entity, as it should also with these poor animal victims. My appreciation to Brett Lee for stepping up on this issue.The City should not hesitate to act on this.

    1. Howard P

      Eileen and David…

      One question… since the research Brett’s intern did/does not link Sangju to the abhorrent practices, shall we sever relationships when they can’t “stop” something they may well be not a part of?

      “Yes or no, have you stopped beating your spouse?” logic?

      Or do we demand the City of Sangju end the practices in all of Korea?  They should equally demand we ensure that the new president will immediately act to rein in North Korea’s nuclear capability, and completely disarm NK… that would be more reasonable than dog-meat, or treatment of animals, for their own survival interests…

      These folk should be petitioning Congress, the President… not the City of Davis… but we may be the proverbial “soft-target”…


      1. Tina Overgaard

        Actually Howard, House Resolution 30, introduced by Congressman Alcee Hastings, has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and hopefully will be going to the floor for a vote soon. The Resolution addresses the dog meat trade in only in China as well as the barbaric Yulin Festival however, many Congressmen and Congresswomen have noted that they would like to see other Asian countries on the resolution, including South Korea. The majority of our representatives in the White House condemn the dog meat trade. There have been several Mayors across the United States, most recently Chapel Hill North Carolina, that have contacted the Mayors of their S. Korean Sister Cities and Friendship Cities to voice their concern.

  4. Eileen Samitz

    Howard P,

    Since this a common practice in Korea, it is likely it is practiced in Sangju, however , the City can of course ask and regardless ask them to condemn the practice.

    1. Howard P

      Then, I hope that it is diplomatically worded, and not include the phrase “it is likely it is practiced in Sangju”… as an “over-the top” example, I’d be really pissed if someone asked me, as a male, when will I stop raping women, because males are most likely the perpetrators of rape. By the original article, it sounds that the practices exist, but are far from “universal” in Korea.

        1. Howard P

          Still, would want it to be diplomatically worded… several of those posters favoring a hard-line approach should not be involved in the drafting of the communique, IMO.

          Are you a resident of Davis?

  5. Tina Overgaard

    Thank you Mr. Greenwald for looking at this issue logically. So often people misunderstand what is going on. No living thing should suffer this type of torture.

  6. Giny Woo

    Mr. Greenwald,  thank you so much for writing this thoughtful and compassionate article and supporting our campaign to save the Korean dogs and cats from horrific cruelty.  Korean government is very good at taking the heat and doing nothing to change so we need a lot of compassionate people from all over the world speaking out against this atrocity and put a heavy pressure on the Korean government.  So we thank you and please continue to advocate for the Korean dogs and cats in the meat trade.   We are also grateful to Mr. Brett Lee and the Davis City Council members for not ignoring our request and writing a commentary about the terrible plight of these animals.  We hope that the City of Davis will join the growing number of cities around the world who have spoken out against this illegal and cruel trade.  You can find more information about our Sister City Campaigns here:

    Thank you!!


    [moderator] edited to break link for spam filter. Copy and paste, remove space.

  7. Molly Nemec

    I sincerely hope that the city of Davis, California decides to take a stand against the horrific and vile dog and cat meat trade in South Korea!  Nearly 3 million dogs are egregiously tortured and brutally slaughtered each year by being boiled alive, skinned alive, hanged and beaten or blow torched alive.

    Torture is NOT culture!  The dog and cat meat trade stems from ignorance and superstition, not science or medical fact.  The older men believe that eating a dog or cat who has been tortured will make their bodies stronger and will have the same effect as Viagra.  As you can, see it’s cowardice and utterly cruel.

    Thankfully, many younger generations in South Korea are against these atrocities and see companion animals as “Friends, not Food!”  There are many activists in South Korea who have been fighting to end the dog and cat meat trade for a very long time.  They welcome the help and support of North America, Europe and Australia in this battle for humanity and compassion.  We must stand with the side of righteousness.

    By the way, the dog and cat meat trade does NOT exist because of poverty or starving children.  South Korea has a great economy with corporation headquarters, such as Kia, Hyundai, Samsung and LG.

    I strongly encourage the city of Davis, California to use this sister city opportunity to stand against torture and barbaric practices.  3 million companion animals need our voices.  Thank you for caring,  fine people of Davis, California!

  8. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

    Nearly 3 million dogs are egregiously tortured and brutally slaughtered each year by being boiled alive, skinned alive, hanged and beaten or blow torched alive.

    By the way, the dog and cat meat trade does NOT exist because of poverty or starving children.  South Korea has a great economy with corporation headquarters, such as Kia, Hyundai, Samsung and LG.

    Don’t buy Korean’s made  products. This is a very sickening  even to  think or read about.

  9. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

    Dog’s nose, ears cut off in ‘extreme case of animal cruelty’
    Reward for person responsible climbs to more than $11,000

    Updated: 12:00 PM PST Jan 19, 2017

    Law enforcement officers and human society workers and volunteers are searching for the person or people who cut off a Rottweiler’s nose and ears in an “extreme case of animal cruelty,” according to the Michigan Human Society.

    1. David Greenwald

      What is your point? Do you notice law enforcement is investigating the case and searching for the individuals responsible? That’s not happening in South Korea.

  10. Giny Woo

    Dear Mr. Greenwald,
    Thank you so much for writing this thoughtful and compassionate article.  The cruelty inflicted on these animals in the South Korean dog and cat meat industry is beyond what words can express and brings shame to our humanity. South Korean government is very good at taking the heat and doing nothing to change.  So, we need many caring people from all over the world to speak out and take action against this horrific and illegal trade in order to put  heavy pressure on the South Korean government.  
    So we thank you for caring and, hope that you continue to advocate for these animals.  We are also grateful to Mr. Brett Lee and the Davis City Council members for not ignoring our request and for sharing online,  the terrible plight of these animals.  We hope that the City of Davis will join the growing number of cities which have taken action to urge their counterpart in Korea to enforce the law.  Their participation is already making a difference.  You can find more information about our Sister City/Friendship City Campaigns here:
    Thank you!

  11. Susan Campbell

    Many South Koreans are fighting to end the atrocious dog meat trade — but their government suppresses and gags them. They are appealing to the international community to help them. Pressure from global citizens and governments is raising awareness and creating change. Without our voice the innocent will continue to suffer.

    Consider this >
    1) The dogs are tortured on purpose, very extensively.
    It is not just “killing” as if it were killing cows, pigs or other livestock. It’s about *torture* — and no, what livestock face in general animal agriculture is not torture, (this is not to downplay or excuse such cruelty, but to highlight the vast, fundamental difference between unintentional suffering, and deliberate torture). By contrast, in the dog meat trade dogs are deliberately *tortured*. The methods of torture are precisely done on purpose to maximize suffering and to cause as much pain and suffering as possible.

    They have their feet cut off alive, are skinned from face to anus alive, are nail-gunned to a wall alive, hung, have their intestines ripped out alive, are slow-roasted/blow-torched alive, and boiled alive.

    2) They are torture-consumed for superstitions which encourage the torture.
    The reason the dogs are tortured is due to false beliefs that increased animal suffering also increases male virility and masculine strength. They also believe that “the greater the suffering, the tastier the meat”, and that it cools the body in summer. It is torture-consumption as a delicacy for myths, not regular consumption for sustenance.

    3) The dog meat trade exists in a cultural and political climate of authoritarianism, corruption, and animal sadism. South Korea’s Animal Protection Act exists yet it’s almost never enforced, loopholes are exploited, and an illegal trade continues to be allowed. These conditions reinforce each other in creating and maintaining an environment in which a trade of animal torture continues to thrive – pet theft, unregulated meat, atrocious acts of torture all allowed while corruption and complete lack of laws or enforcement of laws.

    4) Dogs are companion-domesticated animals, and as such their intelligence and compassion are not just evolved, but meaningfully evolved in the relationship with humankind. Human sentimentalism towards dogs is justified because it is a natural consequence of that relationship forged over countless generations throughout the birth, rise and evolution of civilization.

    More importantly, that sentimentalism is a two-way street: it’s not just that we feel sentimental and empathetic towards dogs; it’s that *they* feel those ways towards *us* — the key detail that is often overlooked.

    We’ve long taken for granted the loyalty, compassion, empathy and service of dogs. It is dogs who protect our families, especially our children. Dogs who provide therapy for the handicapped, elderly, sick and depressed. Dogs who locate victims stranded in the aftermath of disaster. Dogs who protect and serve human society as officers. And it is dogs who are risking their lives on the front lines of war for whole human nations, so that people continue to have the freedom to recklessly write off their importance on the internet.

    And yet, even if we were to ignore all of these points, the dog and cat meat trade would still be inexcusable because:

    5) The victimization of one group of innocents (eg. cows, pigs, etc) does not justify the victimization of additional innocents (eg. dogs and cats). Cruelty doesn’t justify cruelty. Rape in country A doesn’t justify rape in country B. Child slavery in country A isn’t justified because it happens in country B. It is an entirely backward, counter-productive sentiment to assume that cruelty pardons cruelty.

    Cruelty is not “culture”.
    Respect for different cultures has its limits. I know of no rational being who, in the name of cultural diversity, defends the barbaric practices of ISIS, the chillingly efficient holocaust perpetuated by the Third Reich, or the execution of homosexuals and atheists, or wife-beatings, rape epidemics, female genitalia mutilation, child sex slavery, infanticide and ethnic cleansing.

    The rampant, hellish victimization of innocents, especially those who never consented to being a part of such a “culture”, does not pardon cruelty. There is no honor in the torture and slaughter of innocent dogs in a civilized society.

  12. Alana Poulie Lewis

    Mr. Greenwald – Thank you for your  thoughtful research and approach to this topic.
    Torture is wrong and stepping into stop it shouldn’t be predicated on who the victim of the torture is… it just needs to end.  

  13. Rose Luigi Hunter

    Thank you so much Mr Greenwald, Brett Lee and the Davis City Council Members, for hearing their CRIES!!!!!!!!!!!! Please help stop the insane Dog and Cat torture hell.. THEY ARE BOILED, SLOWLY BLOW TORCHED, SKINNED, PAWS CHOPPED OFF, THEIR HEADS ARE BEAT IN ALL WHILE “ALIVE” The extreme torture is intentionally brutal and performed in full view of other terrified dogs due to Asian belief that adrenaline and fear running through a dog’s blood before the dog dies makes the meat more tender and better tasting. ” THE MORE THE TORTURE THE TASTIER THE MEAT” They believe eating dog meat will keep them cool during summer months, give men sexual stamina, and ward off evil spirits. There is no place in modern society for these sadistic and barbaric cruel practices. Extreme cruelty cannot be dismissed as a matter of culture. No animal deserves this fate. If any animal deserves our protection as a reward for his services to man it is the dog.
    Through the ages, man has called dog one of his closest companions and also called him protector. Dogs risk their lives every day to serve and protect us in the military and police force, they are devoted service companions to people with disabilities, they sniff out bombs in airports, search for victims in emergencies, and they provide emotional support to the sick and elderly. There are so many reasons why we call them man’s best friend. Dogs are inherently good, they love us unconditionally, they are our loyal and devoted companions, and our faithful protectors.

    Please, see them…

  14. Marijke Beldman

    Many thanks mr. Greenwald and Brett Lee!! The dogs and cats need every help they can get. It’s about millions of dogs and cats a year only in South Korea! The same happens in other Asian countries.

    1. Howard P

      Thank you for your input… do you reside in Davis, or Yolo County?  If not, please let us know where you reside so we may offer opinions as how you folk deal with issues… fair is fair, and we value transparency.

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