|Park So-youn has long been the most famous face of the animal rights movement in Korea. Yonhap|
|President Moon Jae-in adopted Tori, a dog rescued by CARE, soon after being sworn into office in 2017. Courtesy of CARE|
By Jung Min-ho
The leader of one of South Korea's largest animal rights groups is facing a police investigation and lawsuits from donors and her own staff after allegedly secretly exterminating more than 200 dogs and cats she "rescued" in front of cameras.
Park So-youn, the founder and director of Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (CARE), was once hailed as an animal savior who devoted her life to saving their lives, especially those abandoned.
The group's no-kill policy, which she announced on Facebook in 2011, touched the hearts of many who share the same philosophy about how animals should be treated. Thanks to that bond of sympathy, CARE collected nearly 2 billion won ($1.8 million) from generous donors last year.
Now everyone who thought they knew her is feeling betrayed because of what she allegedly did when the cameras were off. After media reports of her alleged lies, they realized that all her campaigns might have been nothing but media stunts.
Park is now accused of euthanizing at least 230 of the dogs and cats CARE rescued from "animal abusers" between 2015 and September last year.
She also is suspected of covering it up from the media, donors and even most of her own staff. According to a whistleblower, she ordered staff to "find new dogs and disguise them" so TV producers would not notice that CARE euthanized six of 12 dogs it rescued from a dog-fighting businessman in 2016.
The whistleblower, who said she revealed the secrets to the media because she felt guilty about being part of what she thought was wrong, claimed CARE carried out rescue operations more than it could handle; one of the reasons, she noted, was Park wanted media attention that would help ensure a continued stream of donations.
Viewers are mostly interested in watching such rescue efforts, but they pay less attention to what happens to the animals afterward, the whistleblower said.
CARE's internal documents show that Park ordered a large amount of anesthetic drugs used for euthanasia before the "Namyangju Project," which was aimed at rescuing 200 dogs from a dog farm Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, last July. Based on the purchase timing, many think she proceeded with the operation with a plan to kill some of the dogs later.
|A woman sheds tears as CARE officials call on its leader, Park So-youn, to resign for allegedly euthanizing more than 200 dogs and cats without telling them the truth, during their protest in central Seoul, Jan. 12. Yonhap|
A CARE official told The Korea Times the organization had no choice but to kill rescued animals because it did not have enough space for all of them.
"Park is obsessed with rescuing animals, without considering the capability to protect them in the future," the official said.
Other animal rights groups are also turning their back on her.
"All animal rights groups need to stop using the animal version of 'poverty porn' as a means of raising funds," the Korea Companion Animal Association said Monday.
Donors are leaving the group too. After the issue came into the spotlight, CARE's website has been filled with complaints; they criticized Park, saying they would discontinue contributions.
Cho Seung-hyun, vice spokesman of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, urged police and prosecutors to get to the bottom of the issue. He said: "CARE's hypocrisy damaged the good name of other activists."
Park faces charges of fraud for failing to inform donors of the euthanasia practice and animal abuse charges for killing them without any justifiable reason under the Animal Protection Act ― a law she fought for years to strengthen.
Park said that euthanizing some animals was inevitable because of a surge in rescue requests. On Monday, she said she had "no intention to quit" and would have a press conference soon to explain the situation.