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ABC – Going to the Dogs
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is working hard to beat up tonight’s scheduled “Foreign Correspondent” programme on Korea’s dog meat trade. It has turned it into a news item, and it has made it the lead story on “Foreign Correspondent”. This morning’s Herald Sun warns: “Watch for horrifying footage of a dog being tortured to death. Some believe the fear creates hormones which improve taste.”
My wife is Korean. She’s had dog meat about once in her life (and hated it). It’s hardly mainstream. She says people eat it because they believe it boosts energy. Her theory is that the meat has such a rich taste that it must be cooked with numerous vegetables, spices and herbs to make it edible, and it is these that boost the energy, not the meat itself.
Why doesn’t the ABC investigate the massive infrastructure that undergirds the pet industry in Australia and other Western countries? In a world where millions of people are sick and starving, pharmaceutical companies sink enormous resources into the continual development of new, improved pet-care products.
Here in Melbourne we live in a well-off suburb, with vet clinics all around. It’s a huge industry. Our own vet moved just last month to lavish new premises. It cost us $168 six weeks ago when we took our golden retriever to him for her annual check-up, injection and flea treatment. Our oldest boy loves animals and would like to become a vet, but it’s as hard to get into a vet’s course at university as to enter medical school, so lucrative is this business.
Friends own a lovely sheltie which caught a virus earlier this year and became seriously ill. It was rushed to a clinic and placed on a drip for 10 days before recovering. The bill was $1,200. These people are good Christians who strive to raise their kids to be sacrificial in working to help the suffering of the world. But what do you do when the clinic phones every day and asks for instructions on whether to keep the dog on the drip and your daughter is so sick with worry that the dog might die that she can hardly eat or go to school? My friends are probably still in conflict.
Growing up in Korea, my wife always had a dog as a pet. But if it got sick the expectation was that it would probably die. You didn’t take it to the vet. Sometimes my wife would come home from school and find that her dog had disappeared. It was sick, and her father had somehow disposed of it. She’d cry for a few days, and then get another dog. That was life.
But strange Asian eating habits are always good for a laugh and a bit of shock-horror in the Western media. When I was a freelance journalist in Tokyo I always knew that I could sell a report on the (very few) restaurants that sold grilled snake and raw horsemeat and turtle blood and simmered grasshoppers and barbecued sparrows. I stopped writing the stories because I felt that newspapers just published them in order to poke fun at the Japanese, and I didn’t want to be part of that. These restaurants were not at all part of mainstream Japanese life. Most Japanese have never eaten those dishes.
The average Australian knows next to nothing about life in South Korea (one of our biggest trading partners). The ABC would serve its viewers better if it devoted its resources to stories that helped us towards a better understanding of the country.
May 8th, 2002