When Meghan Kahler and Steven Halstead adopted the Japanese mastiff, he came with the name Daniel.
He is a big, old goofy dog, emphasis on big. He has paws the size of saucers and a head the size of a volleyball. He tips the scale at more than 100 pounds, with a wide body and a back you could use as a coffee table.
Daniel didn’t seem to be a good name, the couple thought. It didn’t seem to capture his personality, or his heritage, so they changed it.
They named him Ham.
It’s not short for Hamilton – as in the play or the founding father. It’s just Ham, “like Christmas ham,” Meghan said.
It made sense. They adopted Ham around Christmas 2020. And just a few months before that, Ham was destined to become ham, having been rescued from a South Korean farm where dogs were bred and raised to be food.
“We think we’re funny,” Steven said. “For a meat market dog, it’s a great name.”
Ham was among 170 dogs liberated from a farm in late October last year, rescued by South Korean members of the Humane Society International’s Animal Rescue Team from the facility in Haemi, a rural town south of the capital, Seoul.
Although dog meat is not a staple in the South Korean diet, it is still part of the nation’s tradition, particularly in rural parts of the country during what’s known as Bok days, the hottest days in late July and early August. Bok days are, quite literally, the dog days of summer. Consuming dog, it is believed, increases energy and brings luck and prosperity.
The majority of South Koreans, though, abhor the practice. Eighty-four percent of South Koreans, according to a poll commissioned by the Humane Society, have never eaten dog meat and have no plans to do so. And a majority of South Koreans – 57 percent, according to the poll – believe that dog meat consumption reflects poorly on the nation, contributing to racist Asian stereotypes.
The South Korean government, responding to increased pressure, both internationally and domestically, has been leaning toward banning dog meat. Authorities, in the past couple of years, have shut down some of the nation’s largest dog meat farms, markets and slaughterhouses.
Among those was the farm in Haemi. The 170 dogs in the farm lived in terrible conditions, kept in cages, stacked one upon another in a long, seemingly haphazard structure fashioned from PVC pipe, corrugated metal sheets and plastic tarps.
An investigator from the Humane Society described the conditions as “truly pitiful.” Nara Kim, the Humane Society’s dog meat campaign manager, said, “Every dog meat farm I’ve visited has a horrible stench of feces and rotting food, but there was something different about this dog farm; it had a smell of death. When we found these dogs, they had looks of utter despair on their faces that will haunt us forever.”
Nine of the dogs wound up at the York County SPCA. All but one has been adopted, a difficult feat considering that these dogs would need special attention to make the transition from the dinner table to the couch.
Watch video above: South Korea expected to grant legal status to animals to end years of abuse and abandonment