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Tag: south korea

Is dog meat on the way out in South Korea?

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Daegyo, a Seoul restaurant famous for its dog meat-based offerings, is closing shop — just the latest sign that, as the popularity of dogs as pets increases in South Korea, the centuries-old tradition of eating them is on its way out.

Between the rise of a younger generation, with a deeper affinity to dogs as pets, and a burgeoning animal welfare movement, the consumption of dog meat has been declining steadily — so much so that the owner of Daegyo, at least, has come to see there’s no future in serving it to diners.

Oh Keum-il says Daegyo, which opened in a Seoul alley in 1981, will serve its last bowl of boshintang, or dog stew, today.

Oh, both chef and owner of the restaurant, is known for the dog meat dishes she developed and served for over three decades. But she has noticed that the popularity of dog meat  is mostly limited to older customers.

“There is too much generational gap in boshintang. There are no young customers,” she is quoted as saying in an Associated Press report featured in USA Today.

“The closure of Oh’s restaurant, dubbed by a local newspaper as the “Holy Land of boshintang” and frequented by two former presidents, Lee Myung-bak and late Roh Moo-hyun, shows one view of dogs is gaining more traction among young South Koreans,” the article reports.

Oh plans to reopen her restaurant as a Korean beef barbecue diner.

It’s has been estimated more than 2 million dogs are killed each year for their meat in South Korea.

Butcher Shin Jang-gun, who supplies dog meat to restaurants, said the number of merchants selling dog meat  has shrunk to half of what it was. Between 700 and 800 restaurants in Seoul now serve it, he said. Once more than 1,500 did.

“Dog is not an industry with a long-term future,” Shin said. “New generations don’t eat a lot.”

Dogs are still raised as meat on farms in South Korea, and they are still killed and butchered to order at street markets in and around Seoul.

At the same time, about one in five South Korean households now have a cat or dog as a pet, and economic forecasters say that number is increasing. One institute says the pet industry is expected to grow six-fold — from less than a billion to about six billion dollars — between 2012 and 2020.

South Korea is also where dog was first cloned, and the only country in which dogs are being cloned. Farm raised dogs were frequently used as surrogates and egg cell donors as that industry came into existence — not to produce meat, but to allow bereaved pet owners to get laboratory-made duplicates of their dogs.

(Photo: Lee Jin-Man / Associated Press)

Alyssa Milano helps rescue South Korean dog who was destined to become dinner

Alyssa Milano, whose pleas to help feed hungry children can be seen on TV, may be responsible for a South Korean family missing a few meals.

On the other hand, she helped save a dog.

An abused and neglected dog that drew the attention of a South Korean animal rescue group — a dog that the organization said was being raised for its meat — has been flown to the U.S., her airfare covered by the actress.

The Fuzzy Pet Foundation in California acknowledged Milano’s contribution to rescuing the dog in this video , posted on YouTube last week.

The foundation learned of the dog’s situation in April of 2013 when it was contacted by CARE,  a South Korean animal rescue organization that was seeking to find the dog a new home.

The dog, a Jindo who was given the name Bomi (derived from the word “spring” in Korean), was being raised by a family that, after repeatedly breeding her, planned to eat her, officials at the two organizations said.

She had been chained to a metal pole and was covered with mange and open sores, rescuers said. CARE said she had been bred several times, and that a recent litter of her puppies was found dead and frozen. CARE treated Bomi’s skin problems, and went to work trying to socialize her.

After being contacted by the South Korean group, The Fuzzy Pet Foundation began looking into shipping the dog to the U.S., and making arrangements for foster care and veterinary care.

“As responsible rescuers, we wanted to make sure we could provide Bomi with top-notch veterinary care, and secure her a forever home,” said Sheila Choi, founder and CEO of the foundation. “We also wanted to have a proper plan in place so that we were not just naively flying an animal to a different country without considering the animal overpopulation crisis happening everywhere in this world.”

Milano, whose ads for UNICEF seek to raise funds to feed hungry children, offered to pay Bomi’s airfare.

Bomi flew from Seoul to Los Angeles on November 12, and has been living in a foster home.

“This has been a magical time for all of us who have worked so hard to rescue Bomi,” Choi said. “We are truly humbled by Alyssa’s support, and honored to be in the position to save these precious lives.”

A small percentage of South Koreans still eat dog — mostly the poor, but also some well-heeled types who believe dog meat improves their health and renews their vigor. (South Korea is also the capital of dog cloning, though those efforts have been focused on pet dogs, as opposed to livestock dogs.)

Bomi, at last report, was still available for adoption. Inquiries can be e-mailed to info@tfpf.org.

Toying with your affections: Cute, cuddly, and cheaper than real dog clones


It’s a cute and cuddly little idea.

So why does it give me horror-show-like chills?

I was thumbing through the latest issue of The Bark magazine –  print version — when I came to a page devoted to spotlighting new products, including “Cuddle Clones, one of a kind plush animals made to look just like your dog! Capture the essence of your dog in this adorable product…”

Having written a book on dog cloning — the kind that takes place in a laboratory, with pet owners paying $100,000 or more to get genetic duplicates of their dogs – Cuddle Clones struck me as far less expensive, less intrusive and much more innocent way to have your pet re-created. Yet  the concept was still mildly troubling. Leave it to me to find the ominous in something as harmless as a plush toy.

And then to write about it, as if, behind the toy, there is some deeper meaning to be unearthed.

I think, as with real cloning, there may be — in regards to what it says about the essence of dog, and the essence of us.

For starters, you’re not going to recapture the essence of your dog in a stuffed animal, or by stuffing him, or by cloning him.

I’d even go so far to say that, even the most expert of breeders, even if they do manage to ensure many of the same traits are passed from one generation to the next, can’t recapture “essence” — a fuzzy term that, in this case, may be most synonymous with “personality” or ”soul.”

One can breed for looks and traits, but the essence of your dog — what makes him him — is uncapturable. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that what makes him him is all that he has experienced, including, and perhaps in largest part, you.

With cloning — real cloning — I arrived at the point where I viewed it as a selfish pursuit, most popular among wealthy and stubborn people who refuse to to accept that the rules of nature apply to them and their dogs. And I wondered whether, as much as having a dog re-created from a single cell might seem an homage to the original, it’s really an insult, like telling your dog, “You’re instantly replaceable; I can quite easily, if I pay enough, have another you fashioned in a laboratory.”

In reality, the clone, while a living, breathing genetic duplicate, is not the original dog. Though some customers believe otherwise, the original dog’s soul does not occupy it anymore than it would a freeze-dried version of his corpse — another alternative for those who insist on keeping a physical, though unmoving, version of their dog around the house.

Cuddle Clones, being toys, are far less creepy — and if it weren’t for the name I’d probably have no problem with the product.  A plush toy that roughly replicates your living or dead pet is not all that nefarious. And the plush toy company, unlike the real cloning companies, hasn’t directed its marketing strictly at bereaved, or soon-to-be-bereaved pet owners.

That does come up, however, in the “Top 10″ reasons the company gives for buying a Cuddle Clone. (Expect to pay $300, or, for a life-sized version, as much as $850, depending on weight.)

Those reasons, according to the Cuddle Clones website, include:

 ”Your pet is so cute or unique looking that you must clone him or her immediately.”

“Your pet has passed away and you miss hugging him or her.”

“Your daughter can’t bear to leave her best friend behind when she leaves for college or the military.”

“You lost the pet custody battle in a breakup.”

“You’ve wanted to scientifically clone your pet for some time now but can’t quite afford the $50,000 price tag.”

“Cuddle Clones can go places real pets can’t go (work, vacation, the grocery store, nursing home).”

Cuddle Clones aren’t going to wag their tails (at least not yet), or greet you at the front door. For that you’d require a real clone, though we’d advise against it, even if you do have more money than you know what to do with.

Those are manufactured in South Korea, and the price has dropped from the $150,000 the earliest customers were charged to around $100,000.

(How dog cloning came to be, how it was marketed, and the experiences of the first pet owning customers are detailed in my book, “DOG, INC.: How a Collection of Visionaries, Rebels, Eccentrics and Their Pets Launched the Commerical Dog Cloning Industry.”)

Only one South Korean lab is still offering cloning to pet owners, and it’s working on broadening its customer base — mostly American — by holding a contest in England that will reward a discounted cloning to the person who has the most “special and inspiring” reason for cloning their dog. Contestants are invited to submit essays, photos and videos, and the winner will get a 70 percent discount on the $100,000 price.

It’s sponsored by Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which is headed by Hwang Woo Suk, the former Seoul National University veterinarian who headed the team that produced the world’s first cloned dog, Snuppy. Hwang also claimed to have cloned a line of human embryos, but he was fired after those claims turned out to be fraudulent.

After starting his own lab, Hwang teamed up with an American company that held an online auction for six dog clonings and an essay contest in which a free cloning was awarded to a man who said his former police dog found the last survivor of 9-11.

As dog cloning hit the marketplace — actually doing so before dog had even been cloned — some of those who would become the first recipients of clones were chosen at least in part because of their heartwarming stories, which served to put a warmer, fuzzier face on the cold science of cloning.

Small stuffed dogs, all identical, were handed out as a promotional tool by one of the labs. Customers shared their stories, sometimes in exchange for a discount, and marveled at how much their clones resembled the originals.  Then there were the best ambassadors of all — the puppies. Whatever fears and concerns surrounded cloning — from animal welfare issues, to where it will all lead, to the utter lack of government regulation, especially in South Korea — images of nursing and frolicking puppies had a way of pushing them aside.

Cuddle Clones — even just the marriage of those two words — could similarly, if unintentionally, serve to make real cloning more palatable to a public that may not know that dog cloning isn’t cute at all.

It involves the use of numerous dogs for egg harvesting. After the cells of the donor dog are merged with those and — with help from an electric jolt – begin dividing, more dogs yet are needed to serve as surrogates. More than 1,000 egg cells were harvested to clone the first dog. While the process has grown far more efficient, multiple attempts are still required to ensure an exact lookalike is born — into a world where dogs are routinely put down because of overpopulation.

The American company selling clonings — all carried out by Sooam – later shut down for reasons that included concerns about whether proper animal welfare protocols were being followed in the South Korean labs. RNL Bio, the company that cloned the first dog for a customer, has stepped away from dog cloning, citing negative public opinion as one factor.

But canine clones are still being churned out at Sooam, and the price — once $150,000 a shot — is continuing to drop, meaning more people will be able to afford a laboratory-produced replica of their dog.

For those who can’t, there are Cuddle Clones – soft and huggable plushies, filled with synthetic fabrics, that seem to send the message that clones are adorable.

And clones may be just that  – both the real ones and the stuffed ones.

Dog cloning, though, when it comes to the process, is not so pretty, not so heartwarming, and not so cuddly.

You  might even say – though it would be too late — that it’s nothing to toy with.

(Photos: Top three photos courtesy of Cuddle Clones, bottom two photos, of dogs being cloned at Sooam, by John Woestendiek)

Gorilla still mourning death of her mate

Ever since her mate at the Seoul Zoo died last month, a female gorilla named Gorina has been showing signs of depression, zookeepers say.

Gorina and her 49-year-old mate Gorirong, who died last month of old age, had been cohabitating for 24 years.

And even though they didn’t always get along, the female Lowland Gorilla now sits still for days, gazing vacantly at the sky, according to the JoongAng Daily. Her fur has become brittle and she has exhibited violent behavior.

In an attempt to help Gorina, the only remaining Lowland Gorilla in the country, staff at the Seoul Zoo are trying everything from providing entertainment and reading material to making special meals. 

Park Hyeon-tak, a zookeeper at Seoul Zoo who has been taking care of the gorilla couple for four years, said Gorina seems to be suffering from depression.

Gorirong and Gorina began living together 24 years ago when Gorirong was transferred from a zoo in Africa. Together, they were the zoo’s most popular attraction. Members of a critically endangered species, they failed to produce any offspring.

(Photo: from the flickr page of fPat)

“Dog, Inc.” — Uncanning an excerpt

The agitated American was back.

She’d stood before the same ticket agents at the United Airlines counter in Seoul-Incheon International Airport the day before, and the one before that – pleading in tears one moment, loudly threatening lawsuits the next. She and her five nearly identical puppies needed to get home to California and putting them in the jet’s cargo area – as the airline was insisting its rules required – was, to her, out of the question.

Even after she presented them with some dubious “official” certificates stating the pups, despite their tender age, were service dogs, the airline officials held firm. She could carry one in her lap. The other four, they insisted, would have to travel as cargo.

“But I have three handicaps,” Bernann McKinney countered, big blue eyes staring out from under blond bangs. “I should be allowed to take at least three dogs, one for each…”

From Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend

When airline officials refused to let Joyce Bernann McKinney and her five dogs board the cabin for a flight from Seoul to San Francisco, she took some drastic steps. That’s the kind the former beauty queen with a scandal in her past has always been prone to taking — the cloning of her dead pit bull Booger being perhaps  a prime example.

McKinney, who, like other customers, banked her dog’s cells before the cloning of dog was even achieved, would wait for years — first for the science that brought us Dolly the sheep to get around to dogs, then for her laboratory-made replicas to be born.

When, as the first customer of commercial dog cloning, she went to meet the newly born clones, things went smoothly at first. She and her dogs would have a moment in the spotlight — but stepping into it would bring some other things back to life as well.

She’d be recognized from video of the press conference as the woman who, 30 years earlier, had been charged with abducting a Mormon missionary in England, and accused in court of having her way with him. (Her trial never took place because she fled the country then, disguised as a member of a deaf mime troupe.)

Getting Booger cloned — and all this is just part of the “uncanny” referred to in the book’s title — was a similar mission in many ways, marked by the same single-minded persistence and her refusal to take “no” for answer as she crossed an ocean, and a number of other boundaries, to be reunited with her true love. In 1977, it was Kirk, the Mormon missionary. In 2008, it was Booger, the dead pit bull.

When she returned to Seoul a second time to pick the Booger clones up, her problems – once she refused to permit the pups to fly in the cargo hold — continued.

What she did next was one of the scenes I used to open my new book, “DOG, INC.: The Cloning of Man’s Best Friend” — an excerpt of which, for those of you seeking a preview, I’ve just added to the book’s website: Dogincthebook.com.

Once she’d picked up the dogs in Seoul, she sought travelers who would be willing to pretend they were handicapped and take one of the “service” pups aboard the cabin with them. She went to the airport every day, offering free airfare to anyone willing to take part in the ploy. But she found no takers.

Eventually, her money and patience and energy running out, she began bringing the dogs to the U.S. one at a time — leaving four in a Seoul kennel, flying one to San Francisco, leaving him in a kennel there, then flying back to Seoul to pick up another.

Not until her third trip there did she find some willing accomplice. She managed to get all five clones to her home in Riverside, Calif. But there would be more troubles ahead.

In addition to being one of the main characters in my book, McKinney is the focus of a new Sundance-bound film by documentary-maker Errol Morris, called “Tabloid.” It focuses on the 1970s-era “Manacled Mormon” scandal, the feeding frenzy it represented for the British press and the toll that took on McKinney.

“DOG, INC.” delves into Mckinney’s background, as well as those of pet cloning’s other customers, including a police officer-turned-actor who says his German shepherd found the last survivor of 9/11, and a Texas rancher who learned the hard way that the clone of his unusually tame bull Chance, Second Chance, wasn’t the same gentle soul. It looks too at those who funded and researched the effort to clone a dog, and those who sought, and are still seeking, to make cloning pet dogs a profit-making business.

(This Saturday, Feb. 5,  I  — along with my dog Ace (no, he’s not a clone) — will hold a book signing for “DOG, INC.” at the Book Escape, 805 Light Street, in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood, from 1 to 3 p.m.)

Snuppy’s puppies being offered as pets

DSC02429Offspring of Snuppy — the world’s first cloned dog — are being offered to the public by Seoul National University, where Snuppy was created in 2005.

The Korea Times reports that applications are being accepted, and the nine puppies will be given to good homes at no charge.

The puppies aren’t clones themselves, but are the offspring of Snuppy and two female Afghans that were cloned at SNU to serve as his girlfriends, and for research purposes — namely to determine whether two cloned dogs can produce pups the natural way, or at least through artificial insemination.

Snuppy became a father in May last year after impregnating the two female clones, named Bona and Hope. It was the world’s first successful breeding involving only cloned canines. One of the 10 puppies died after birth, but the remaining nine — six males and three females — remain healthy.

Lee Byeong-chun, one of the leaders of the team that created Snuppy, said the school will take online applications until Oct. 31 and offer the puppies to  pet owners for free after a screening process. Each dog will be spayed or neutered.

“We will look through the applications and give the dogs to owners who we believe are most capable of raising them,” Lee said.

Lee’s team used artificial insemination to impregnate the two cloned Afghan hound females with Snuppy’s sperm last year.

Lee collaborated with now-disgraced gene scientist Hwang Woo-suk in the creation of Snuppy in 2005. Hwang was fired from SNU in the following year after his work on cloned human stem cells was exposed as fraudulent.

Since then, both men have continued to clone dogs — Lee at SNU and Hwang at a private facility he opened outside Seoul in 2007.

Lee had also announced plans to mate the world’s first cloned wolf, born in 2006, with other cloned wolves. Those plans took a blow earlier this week when the world’s first cloned wolf, Snuwolf, was found dead in a Seoul zoo.

(Photo: By John Woestendiek)

Cloned drug-sniffing dogs on duty in Seoul

Six cloned drug-sniffing dogs have gone on duty at Seoul-Incheon International Airport in South Korea.

The dogs are among seven genetic duplicates of a single Labrador retriever named Chase, cloned at Seoul National University for use by the Korean Customs Service.

The dogs, having completed 16 months of training, will work at the airport and three other customs checkpoints to deter drug smuggling, according to the Associated Press.

They are part of a litter of seven born in 2007 through cloning a skilled drug-sniffing canine in active service. They were all named “Toppy” — a combination of the words “tomorrow” and “puppy.” One dropped out of training due to an injury.

The cloning  was conducted by a team of Seoul National University scientists who in 2005 successfully created the world’s first dog clone, an Afghan hound named Snuppy.

The customs service says using clones could help reduce costs due to the difficulties in finding dogs qualified to sniff out contraband. Only about three of every 10 naturally born dogs the service trains end up qualifying for the job.