WONJU, South Korea (Reuters) - “You’re OK, you’re OK,” Lola Webber, a campaign manager with the Humane Society International (HSI), whispers to a lab-mix puppy, cradling her in a jacket as dozens of dogs bark in nearby cages.
The puppy is moved from a rusty cage on a dog-meat farm in South Korea to a plastic crate, given the name Demi, and placed in a truck where she begins the long journey to a shelter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to be put up for adoption.
“As soon as they’re ready for adoption, we find that there are line-ups of people - literally people would line up at shelters - in the U.S. to adopt these dogs because people are so engaged by their sad and compelling stories,” said Andrew Plumbly, another campaign manager for the HSI.
Demi was one of 10 dogs rescued on Tuesday from a farm in Wonju, 90 km (55 miles) from the South Korean capital, Seoul, where 200 dogs were being raised for human consumption, to start new lives as pets under the HSI’s campaign.
The farm is the sixth that the group has helped close down in South Korea since 2015, and follows six-months of negotiations, medical examinations and vaccinations.
Because airline flights can only carry a limited number of dogs a day, it will take a couple of weeks for HSI to rescue all 200 of the dogs at the farm.
Hygiene there is “non-existent”, Plumbly said, with waste collecting beneath cages where dogs are exposed to extremes of weather and fed once a day, according to HSI.
The owner of the farm, who has been in the business for 30 years and declined to be identified, cited poor health as a reason for getting out of the business.
Consumption of dog meat is on the decline in South Korea, where it is mainly eaten by older people and dogs are increasingly popular as pets.
Still, HSI estimates there are 17,000 dog-meat farms in the country.
Humane Society International hopes the government will ban the breeding of dogs for meat ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea.
Recently, the mayor of the city of Seongnam, Lee Jae-myung, who is running for president, ordered the closure of a big dog-meat section of a city market.
Seafood will be sold there instead.
Reporting by Nataly Pak; Editing by Tony Munroe