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“ABBY was a mom with puppies, and a large scar across her shoulder. When Abby first arrived in her adoptive home, she feared rugs and stairs, and was quite timid. Over time, she’s become more confident, and will now let her family know when she’d like to go on walks and if it’s time for her treat. Abby enjoys hiking, wading in water, and running around off-leash.”
“WILF was a young pup on Farm 15, sharing a cage with his sibling and mother. His first steps as a family dog weren’t easy. Wilf was concerned with everything, from people to stairs to the collar and leash. It took a few days before he even let his new humans touch him, but smart Wilf has since adapted like a champ, learning countless tricks along the way. Now he is one happy dog!”
“WINNIE is blind and can be a little nervous. She doesn’t like being held for too long, or loud noises, or to be woken up in her sleep. Her parents have noticed that Winnie loves meditation music — she has a favorite artist, Deva Premal — who soothes her. She loves sleeping by the fireplace, and freeze-dried sweet potatoes are her favorite snack.”

When Sophie Gamand entered Farm 15, a since-destroyed dog meat farm in Gyeonggi-do province, South Korea, she was overwhelmed by the sounds of barking. “I will always remember standing in the middle of the cages, trying to take everything in,” she tells me. “Some dogs pace in the cages, some hide from me, some stretch their paws out for me to touch them, to provide them with the release they so desperately want.”

Sam at Farm 15

In the midst of it all, she found Sam. “I don’t know what his story was; the farmer didn’t care about him,” the photographer remembers. “But as soon as I approached the cage, he wiggled, begging for pets. I put my fingers against the cage, and he kissed them. Then he rubbed his body against my hand, begging for more. 

“I put my hand inside the cage as much as I could, getting scraped by rust and feces and sticky fur. He flopped on his back and whined, wiggling, kissing–just so happy. The farmer threw some slop in his bowl, but Sam refused to eat. All he wanted was to hang out and be touched.”

She was there with Humane Society International, the nonprofit rescuing all the dogs, knowing that she’d also photograph these dog meat trade survivors once they were off the farm and adopted into loving homes in the United States. Unlike most dogs in the trade globally– including those bred in South Korea for meat, raised on factory farms, and then slaughtered–Sam would eventually get another chance at life.

In South Korea, HSI is working on the ground with dog meat farmers who want to get out of the trade; HSI’s Models for Change program helps them transition to animal-free businesses, and in turn, the farmers sign a legally binding agreement never to reenter the animal business. “The farmers usually know each other, so they’ll transition and tell their friends, and it’s a word-of-mouth scenario,” Gamand says.

Interested farmers reach out to HSI, and each farmer plays an active role in the closure of the farm. “Some go on to become ambassadors for the program,” Gamand says. HSI provides veterinary care, and the dogs travel to Canada, the US, or the UK. When they’re ready, they’re made available for adoption. Meanwhile, the farms are destroyed, and the farmers transition to sustainable businesses, such as blueberry or water parsley farming.

“The reason I agreed to take part in this project is because HSI treats the farmers with dignity,” Gamand says. “I believe that animal welfare starts with human welfare. We cannot make a permanent change for the animals unless we support their humans. Helping these farmers transition to other businesses, in dignity, is so powerful and so important.” 

In 2019, Gamand spent two days with the dogs at Farm 15, talking to them through the cages. This farm had 90 dogs and puppies, fewer than most of these large factory farms. “One thing was very important to me: to visit a farm in person,” the artist tells me. “I just couldn’t imagine doing this type of work without having set foot on the farm. I needed to be there, to feel with all my senses, what it truly meant to be a dog raised on a meat farm. 

“One thing struck me and will stay with me forever: the mountain of feces under each cage. It’s that visual. They looked like gruesome hourglasses, tallying the months, the years of misery, dog after dog in those cages. Those mountains are the symbols of a life stolen. The world is always out of reach for these dogs.”

Puppies, including Soju, at Farm 15
Farm 15
Farm 15

On Farm 15, as on similar farms, the cages were barren, and the dogs’ feet were rubbed raw from standing on bare wire. One had a broken leg. “Many of them were found dehydrated, malnourished, and exhibiting untreated injuries and skin conditions,” HSI shared at the time. The individual farmer at Farm 15 had set out bottles of frozen water to keep the puppies cooler on hot days. But it’s worth noting that many dogs on other dog meat farms have no such shelter or relief from the elements during brutally cold winters and hot summers, very little food, and no water, as per HSI.   

According to HSI, “most dogs slaughtered for meat in South Korea are killed by electrocution, although some are also hanged.” But the dogs of Farm 15 were lucky. Many not only survived but went on to flourish. One of the survivors, Bambi, traveled home with Gamand; during those early days, the artist found the long-haired chihuahua provided emotional support following the trauma they’d both witnessed. 

Once rescued, the dogs were cared for and rehabilitated in anticipation of finding homes. “A lot of these dogs have zero experience outside their cage,” Gamand explains. “They’ve never seen anything else, never experienced being touched gently, or walked on a leash.”

After the dogs had settled into their new homes, the photographer traveled to visit them, setting up sessions in local studios. She handcrafted elaborate collars for the dogs to wear during their photoshoots, with the collar symbolizing the promise we make to dogs when we bring them into our homes: the vow to care for, feed, protect, and nourish them. To keep them safe. 

All of the dogs featured in Gamand’s Dog Meat Survivors, a project made in collaboration with HSI, were adopted. “When I later gathered testimonials from their adopters, it was interesting to see how many families mentioned the dog being afraid of things like stairs,” the artist remembers. “Just not even understanding the concept. Also, a lot reported their dogs having vivid dreams–you know, when they bark/whine and shake their legs in their sleep.” Little by little, though, they learned to trust. 

Although in other parts of Asia, such as China and Indonesia, pet dogs are routinely stolen for the meat trade, and in South Korea, pet dogs are sometimes abandoned at these farms and sold for meat, most dogs in South Korea are bred and factory-farmed for the trade, with an estimated one million dogs raised for human consumption a year. This is in spite of the fact that the majority of people in South Korea do not and would not eat dogs, and 60% support a legislative ban on the dog meat trade, according to research from HSI. As Gamand notes, the First Lady recently spoke out, urging an end to dog meat consumption. 

Many farmers in the industry, like the owner of Farm 15, want to get out of it. He’d heard about HSI’s program through a friend, and having lost more money than he’d made, he didn’t see a future in the animal business. “Rather than selling [the dogs] off to traders, I thought it would be so much better if they can live their life and not die for meat or live the life of a fighting dog,” he said at the time. “That why I’m working with HSI.” Gamand remembers him asking for a picture with one of the dogs; he said he was excited that she’d have a new life in the US.  

It’s a myth that only specific types of dogs are farmed for meat; while tosas and jindo mixes are bred on these farms, so are all types of dogs. “On the farm I visited, there was a husky, a golden retriever, two Boston terriers, a chow chow, and so on,” Gamand says. Aside from the dogs who are born into the trade, some are given to these farms by their former owners.

One challenge is that some people think of “pet dogs” and “meat dogs” as falling into different categories. Tosas and jindo mixes, like pit bulls in the United States and Canada, are misunderstood. The trade paints them as “soulless,” so part of Gamand’s motivation was proving that they are, in fact, soulful, gentle, curious, playful, and affectionate–just like any other dog. 

It’s important to note that cruelty to animals isn’t limited to one part of the world; in the United States, approximately one million dogs are euthanized annually because they do not find homes. That’s where Gamand sees parallels between this work and her ongoing advocacy for pit bull-type dogs. “Pit bull-type dogs are viewed (around the world, not just here) as disposable, soulless, ‘vicious,’” she explains. 

“They are so incredibly misunderstood. Similarly, tosas are used in fighting in SK, and also used for their meat. Despite being South Korea’s National Dog, Jindo mixes on meat farms are viewed as these disposable mutts nobody should care about. All these dogs are viewed as less-than, and people are told by the trade that they cannot make good companions. But that’s not true. They all have tremendous potential and are so resilient. They’re longing for love and safety. Aren’t we all?”

Gamand is also careful not to point fingers at countries where the dog meat trade still exists; instead, she’s focused on helping them end it for good. In South Korea, she stresses, local animal advocates are pounding the pavement, fighting to end the trade. She stands with them.

The trip to Farm 15 was not the first time Gamand has encountered sick and dying dogs. At the animal control center where she found her own dog, in Puerto Rico, she witnessed serious cruelty and neglect. But no matter how many times she sees animals suffering, it doesn’t get any easier.

“If I let myself feel too much, it gets overwhelming,” the artist says. “Still, I do want to feel because if you stop feeling, you probably need to find another job. Feeling is important. If I have to cry, I do. Sometimes I get angry. Most importantly, I channel that sadness–and the anger that comes with–into my work.”

With that idea in mind, the photographer handmade each of the collars herself, thinking about what materials would catch the light, move with the dog, and create compelling shapes. Some of the adopters drove for hours for the chance to participate in the project, and staff from HSI were present during the sessions to help with handling. “They were so gentle and reassuring,” the artist says. 

“These dogs have been living in homes for a while now – some have for years, but still, they can be a little shy. So for each dog, we have to try things. Make them feel comfortable around us. I like to think of my shoots as opportunities for these doggies to experience something else in a safe, supportive environment.” 

Gamand doesn’t think the dogs remembered her from her brief time at the farm, but she’s okay with that. She remembers all of them, and that’s enough for her. Now part of a family, Sam, the wiggly dog, likes to snuggle up with his parents for naps. He enjoys chasing squirrels, and he regularly embarks on camping and hiking adventures. “Walking away from Sam that day in 2019, knowing his journey on the farm was not quite over yet, was really hard,” Gamand tells me. “But I knew his release was coming.”

“SAMWISE THE BRAVE was a beautiful, joyful pup who was particularly excited to make friends with the people who visited Farm 15. Each time I would approach his cage, his paw would stretch out to me, and he would flop on his back for belly rubs. He really stayed with me after I left the farm. Sam has his own Instagram (@Samwise_the_brave_dog). His family describe him as gentle and respectful, yet vocal when he wants something. He gets very excited to go on adventures with his adoptive family, and his parents take him hiking or camping regularly.”
“SOJU BEAR was just a tiny chubby puppy when I photographed him on Farm 15 in South Korea. He was living in a wire cage with his siblings and mom. He grew up to become a gorgeous doggie, full of personality. Soju loves snow, long walks, napping and his family. Even though he was only a baby on the farm, it has left an imprint on him. He has vivid dreams, hates being confined in a crate, is afraid of large trucks and cardboard boxes. Soju might not be super cuddly, but in the morning he’ll meet his family with lots of wiggles and kisses, and they know it’s from the heart. Soju has his own Instagram (@Soju_Bear).”
“DAISY was just a puppy when she was adopted years ago, and she’s grown into a beautiful, gentle dog. She absolutely loves veggies and will shamelessly walk up to a stranger’s glass at a bar and start lapping out of it. Daisy sleeps like a teenager, her dad says; she’ll snore and grumble, and let you know that, no, she isn’t ready to wake up yet.”
“LUNA was such a treat during our special photoshoot! So elegant and soulful! Luna was originally rescued from a dog meat farm in South Korea, where she was awaiting a cruel fate. But she now lives the good life and her and her dad David are fierce ambassadors for rescues of the dog meat trade (they have an Instagram @luna.hermione.leila.from.korea).

“These days, Luna prefers running free and hiking through woods, than walking on a leash in the city. Just like most of the rescues from the dog meat trade, Luna had a lot to learn. At first, she had threshold issues, and at the shelter, she would make herself as invisible as possible. She was afraid of people, especially those scary fishermen whipping their fishing poles through the air. Loud noises would make her bolt out the dog door. Even just a sneeze.

“It took a lot of love and patience for David to gain her trust. Still, when you pet Luna, it’s hard to tell whether she enjoys it or not. She is so guarded. But as soon as you stop, she’ll raise her front leg and place her paw on you. And you know that she knows that you know.”
“CHEWY lived on Farm 15, the farm I visited with HSI. He was a high energy, typical Golden on the farm. His living conditions were sad, but he at least had his own enclosure where he could romp around, unlike the mutts who lived in small, painful, dirty cages. The farmer definitively had his favorites.

“Chewy scored a home with HSI’s president. He had a bumpy ride at first, struggling to adjust to life as a homed pet. He is afraid of other dogs, would jump all over people and grab their clothes, would stay up all night stress-barking, eat his own feces… Chewy was a project for sure.

“But with the help of a professional dog behaviorist, lots of love and patience, Chewy’s family was able to turn things around and now Chewy is a lovable, adjusted companion. His best friend is his cat brother. He did fabulous during our photoshoot! These days, Chewy loves to bring a toy on his walks, or lay his head on them during his naps. He has a menagerie of about 15 stuffies to choose from, and carefully picks one every day.”
“BAMBI is a tiny long-haired Chihuahua who traveled back from South Korea with me. I like to joke that she was my emotional support dog as I processed what I had experienced on the dog meat farm. It was fun to be reunited for this photoshoot, now that she is living a wonderful life with her mom, Lindsey. Bambi loves to wave her paw to request belly rubs. She gets the zoomies after her bath and is just the sweetest little girl.”
“MOON’s dad found himself with a lot of free time after the pandemic hit his dog walking business. He started volunteering at @homewardtrailsrescue to fill the hours, and soon got an email about a special transport coming in from South Korea, dogs who had been rescued by HSI from the meat trade.

“As Chris helped carry doggies in crates from the airport to the van then to the shelter, Moon caught his eye. He snapped some photos and spent the evening afterward thinking about what it would feel like to adopt Moon.
It took three meet-and-greets for Moon let Chris even pet her. She needed time to trust. But Chris wasn’t willing to give up.

“Since then, they’ve become, of course, inseparable. Like so many other dog meat survivors, Moon had to learn a lot, including basic things like stairs. At first, she would guard things – including her dad, but has mellowed out a lot since realizing he isn’t going anywhere! Moon has such a great temperament; she helps assess new clients for her dad’s dog walking business (The Fido Group) and she absolutely loves hanging out with other dogs. Moon perks up when watching TV, especially animal shows. She’ll sit up and bob her head in curiosity for hours.”

Make a donation to HSI and support their life-saving work. Gamand will be opening an exhibition in Los Angeles this fall; follow along on Instagram at @sophiegamand for updates. All images © Sophie Gamand.

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