In the late 90’s, long before I became involved with Free Korean Dogs, I was living in a Zen Buddhist temple in Toronto. The temple was run by a Korean Sunim (monk), so there were many Korean visitors and we became good friends. It was an incredible experience on many levels.
In 2001, I made my first trip to South Korea. Although I was looking forward to reconnecting with my Dharma friends from the temple, I was most excited about connecting with the spiritual tradition and lineage I had been practicing at the Toronto temple. My father fought in the Korean War, so I was also looking forward to learning more about his (horrendous) experience.
Buddhism is still quite new in the West, so many Western Buddhists tend to emulate the more established traditions of the East. In my case, this consisted of running around the temple with a shaved head and wearing monk’s robes. We would meditate, prostrate and chant a bunch of words in languages I didn’t understand. It was glorious… and often quite confusing.
On my first trip to Korea, therefore, I was looking forward to learning more about the history, culture and tradition of Korean Seon Buddhism. I visited many temples, saw the DMZ, attended a week-long silent retreat at a mountain monastery, and got completely smashed on Soju with my Korean friends. I also met the woman who would later become the love of my life: EK Park, the founder of Free Korean Dogs.
My experiences on this trip, and on the many more that would follow, forged a deep connection with this country and its people.
Culture of Compassion and Cruelty
Now fast forward to Spring, 2015. EK had flown home to Korea to visit her family and meet with some incredibly dedicated animal activists that she’d connected with online. The goal was to shoot some interview footage and learn more about their amazing work. But it turns out this was just the beginning.
It was near the end of her trip when I got a Skype call late one night. EK was completely fired up: “We need to do something about the dog meat industry in Korea!” Through tears, she proceeded to share stories about the dogs in Korea: accounts of gruesome torture and abuse, tales of heroic rescues and fearless demonstrations. I’ve never seen her so pumped, and that night the Free Korean Dogs project was born.
My own reaction took time to surface. What she told me just didn’t jibe with my personal experience in Korea. My Korea consists of temples, monks, friends, mountains and soju… lots of soju. Her stories uncovered a dark side of Korea that I either didn’t see or chose to ignore.
Let’s face it. All people are capable of great and horrible acts, and I’ve done my share of both. But the consumption of dog meat is such an unnecessary and cruel enterprise. That’s why we’re working to raise public awareness, build a strong community and encourage international adoption for Korean dogs. Our goal is to replace cruelty with compassion for dogs in Korea, because my Korea is better than this.