|L.A.-based French photographer Sophie Gamand poses in front of the portrait of Soju, rescued from a dog meat farm in Korea, at Humane Society International Korea's exhibition "Beyond Prejudice" at Seoul Metro Art Center inside Gyeongbokgung Station in Seoul, Tuesday. Courtesy of Humane Society International|
By Lee Hae-rin
French photographer Sophie Gamand still vividly remembers when she first met Soju, a small orange-furred chow chow mix, in September 2019 at a dog meat farm in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province. On that day, she witnessed the transformation of this helpless creature from a dire situation through a rescue mission.
Born and raised for human consumption, Soju lived in a small, filthy elevated cage without adequate food, water or care all his life. The operator of the dog farm identified him ― and other canines ― by their weight, similar to meat pieces sold at a butcher shop, because that was all he was worth for him. This grim reality saw many dogs lead wretched lives, dying of neglect or being slaughtered for their meat.
Thanks to Humane Society International (HIS) Korea, Soju was given a new chapter in life. He was safely rehoused into a transport container and found a loving family through a shelter in Virginia. Soju now lives in Boston, with the new name given by his adoptive owner as a reminder of his Korean origin. His days are now filled with leisurely strolls, especially on snowy days, playing with dog toys and taking naps.
|HSI employees and volunteers carry dogs out of a farm in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 25, 2019. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
Four years later, Gamand returned to Korea to shed light on Soju's story in his birth country. "Beyond Prejudice," an exhibition organized by HSI Korea, features 17 portraits of dogs rescued from dog farms across the country between 2015 and 2020. These canine survivors come from a variety of breeds, including Jindo mixes, Korean Tosas, Pomeranians, Corgis and Golden Retrievers, all of whom have survived and thrived beyond their harsh beginnings.
Gamand said she wanted to highlight the dogs' dignity, resilience and individuality and "dispel the myths" that dogs in the meat trade are soulless.
"(For) Tosas and Jindo mixes who are traditionally seen as meat dogs, the industry says they are 'soulless' and it's ok to eat them because they are like cattle. With the series, we want to show that's not true. They are just equally as soulful and they have a story and personality, as any other dogs," Gamand said during an interview with The Korea Times at the art center, Monday.
The colorful and elaborate collars she crafted symbolize the commitment of a relationship, similar to the wedding rings exchanged between married couples.
"When you welcome a dog into a family, you give them a name and the leash, and I thought it was a symbol that we belong together, we're a family now. It's a promise that I'm going to take care of you, give you food and water, love and shelter," she said.
|Visitors tour at Humane Society International Korea's exhibition "Beyond Prejudice" at Seoul Metro Art Center inside Gyeongbokgung Station in central Seoul, Sunday. Courtesy of Humane Society International|
"I didn't want to come in as a white foreigner saying 'it's bad to eat dog meat,'" she said, adding that a "respectful, kind and compassionate way" is needed when addressing this culturally sensitive topic, with all parties involved, mirroring HSI Korea's groundwork of collaborating with farmers.
With the goal to end the consumption of dog meat and the cruel industry within the next decade, HSI Korea closed 18 farms in Korea and rescued over 2,700 dogs since 2015. The organization also supports farmers' transition to more profitable and humane livelihoods, such as herb and fruit farming with funding from HSI Global.
Many dog meat traders in Korea wish to leave the industry due to the growing social atmosphere against dog meat consumption, yet have no choice but to keep their business because they do not know any other way of making a living, according to Lee Sang-kyung, the campaign manager of the group.
"I believe that animal welfare and human welfare have to work hand in hand. We have to take care of the people, and the same time of the animals. Otherwise, we never really solve the issue," Gamand said.
According to Nielson Korea's survey conducted in October, 87.5 percent of Koreans said they would never eat dog meat, while the public support for a ban has spiked to 56 percent from 2017's 35 percent.
"It's time that the law and the industry follow. The system has to change because the culture has already changed," she said.
Based in Los Angeles, Gamand has used photography as a tool for advocating for animals, focusing with a particular emphasis on vulnerable and rescued animals in her previous series. Her last project "Pit Bull Flower Power," with 450 pit bulls, is known for redefining the breed's reputation in the U.S., earning her recognition at the International Photo Awards in 2020.
HSI Korea plans to hold another exhibition of Gamand's works at the National Assembly in July, to urge legislation of dog meat bans. Her works from the exhibition can be found on HSI Korea's Instagram and Gamand's website.