Two years after learning about South Korea's animals rights,
protection, and laws, where does the country stand now?

Words and Photographs by Sunmi Louise

Sleepless nights, early mornings, and constant worrying, this is how my days have played out since my mother brought home four baby kittens that were thrown away in the thrash outside. As I look down at their little faces during while bottle feeding, all I do is hope that they grow into healthy and happy cats - and that they get adopted into loving forever homes.

"Did you hear about the dog they found in the thrash bag?" An acquaintance asked me this after I told them about the kittens. I have seen the photos of the shocked dog that was luckily found in time. In the Korean news there is a trend of animals being found buried alive or thrown away like garbage into thrash; while some are lucky, many are not. These types of incidents do not surprise me anymore as I have seen many vile acts against animals. I've grown up with restaurants selling dog meat stew in the neighborhood, I've been shown photos of Indonesia's meat markets where one can find bat, rat, snakes, cats and monkeys. There's no judgment because it's part of the culture, and many countries make do with what resources they have to eat and survive. The one thing that seems to surprise individuals is the lack of animal laws and protections in developed countries. Even if the countries do have some basic laws, they are never enforced and people are able to get away with many acts of cruelty every time.

It's a curious thought how one culture views an animal as holy, as food, or as a pet. These notions started my journey to Seoul to meet with AJ Garcia in January 2013 to learn more about South Korea and where it stands in terms of animal rights, protection and laws.


It was a cold January in 2013 as Bryan, Young-min and I navigated the subways and streets of Seoul to reach the neighborhood where CARE café is located; Jongno-gu. My nerves were getting the best of me, but at the same time everything felt right. I was finally starting what I have always dreamed. Everyone has to start somewhere, and this story and interview was a humble beginning into the world of journalism and documentaries I am so inspired by.


CARE café is a fun place to bring your pets to enjoy delicious vegan dishes – and healthy smoothies!
No meat, egg, or dairy – soy milk is used instead. You can order appetizing Indian dishes, pasta dishes and salads.
For dessert you can enjoy vegan ice-cream, cookies, teas, pound cakes and smoothies.

It was a cold January in 2013 as Bryan, Young-min and I navigated the subways and streets of Seoul to reach the neighborhood where CARE café is located; Jongno-gu. My nerves were getting the best of me, but at the same time everything felt right. I was finally starting what I have always dreamed. Everyone has to start somewhere, and this story and interview was a humble beginning into the world of journalism and documentaries I am so inspired by.

As we entered the cafe we were welcomed by warmth, soft lights, the aroma of vegan dishes and the sight of dogs walking around as their owners were relaxing and taking pleasure in their conversations. The walls were adorned with paintings depicting animals. After getting a glimpse of the this part of the cafe, we wondered about the rooms beyond. What an awesome place we all thought. After ordering the most appetizing vegan pasta dish I have ever tasted and a fruit smoothie, the real work began.

Tell me a little about yourself.
I was born in Venezuela. AJ is my nickname. I moved to the U.S when I was 10 years old. I’ve lived in Florida and New York. My first time in Korea was 2004 and I spent my college sophomore and junior year here. Went back to the states to graduate and came back to and taught English at a high school and then a private women’s university. I met my friend who helped with CARE and while running on a trail, he asked me to help, and that’s when I said yes to CARE. When I went home I told my parents I was vegan, that I was quitting my job to become a full-time activity.

When did it all begin (going vegan, helping animals) for you?
I went vegan 3 years ago. Always had a thing, volunteered, but it was nothing serious. Some friends from college asked me to help them with a project during my time off. It was to go around dog meat farms and talk to them, get footage, and I fell in love with the work. Seeing everything first hand changes everything. My diet was always vegetarian based and I became vegan because many of my friends and wife are vegan.

How long have you been working with CARE? What do you do?
3 years. I am the Director of Investigations Affairs and I work with the expat community and international groups.

You probably have been many horrific scenes of animal abuse, can you talk about that. How do you view those who do it?
I did one year of undercover work in the dog meat industry from October 2011 to July 2012. I focused more on getting evidence. I pictured myself as a moving camera. It’s difficult going back watching the footage and seeing everything. The people, they are victims of the industry; their father did i it’s what they know. Never met bad people who enjoyed it, they are not evil, but doing their job. Do I agree with it? I don’t agree, but I am not judging them.

Do you have a future vision? What do you hope to accomplish in 2, 5, 10, or 20 years?
Everyday is a battle and I’m just going day by day. I Did investigation work in the U.S for other organizations and I hope to do more of them. I want to see CARE grow and expand more, also keep saving lives living cruelty free. I want to make sure people have and know the info to make compassionate choices. I want to take part in more Crossfit games as a vegan athletic to do that to try fundraising more.

Can you talk about the shelters and café? Where do you get your recipes from? Any tips for new vegetarians and vegans?
CARE is the largest animal welfare in Korea. Started in 2002. My wife is the founder and director. There are two adoption centers and one shelter. 100% nation based and not government-funded, and we can’t do it without volunteers.
Some tips. I had it easy The hardest thing is other people who aren’t supporters and make you feel bad. You have a choice and animals should not suffer. Stick with it and having a reason helps. Search the internet and join networks. It is possible. Being educated on the subject is important.

Can you give more insight on animal abuse in Korea – specially the dog meat industry – and your views.
Animal rights doesn’t exist here. The concept of animal protection is new, still at the infancy stage of the issue and we’ve come a long way in ten years. Things are changing every day. Now animal abusers can be jailed and fined if found guilty, and this just came into effect last year. The first person that was found guilty was a monk, and his sentence was 6 months. He killed a Jindo with an axe because it was barking. On the topic of dog meat, maybe in 50 years it will die off on its own. The market is decreasing and the younger generation is less willing. It will probably always be there, but not as mainstream, it’s about speeding up the process to end it.

The questions and answers were an eye-opening hour and we asked as much as we could think of and learned as much as we could. AJ’s story was of bravery and hope, and he has come a long way on his journey. After lunch and talking AJ gave us a tour, and it did not fail to inspire and awe each one of us. The rooms were all decorated with ornaments of animals, there was outdoor seating and so many ornaments. The coloring of the place can instantly give anyone a feel good attitude, and it was all peace and love.

When we left CARE café we were a little overwhelmed and disheartened by what we learned. It’s a more deeper and complex matter than animals right and protection; it’s how humans treat and view other living beings. Everyday rhinos and elephants are being butchered for their tusks just so a person can show it off in their living room, orangutans natural habitats are being destroyed for palm oil which is unnecessary, and babies are being taken from their mothers so someone can say they have an exotic – and often times illegal – pet. Why do people carry out these gruesome and hurtful acts? We are not the only living beings on Earth and isn’t it time to start treating the other fellow earthlings and home with respect?


CARE runs is owns no-kill shelters and adoption centers.


Volunteers who visit CARE can walk the dogs and take part in seminars.

"CARE also promotes a vegan lifestyle as it is a significant and effective way to decrease animal suffering and help the environment."


When we arrived back in our hometown after our day in Seoul, I still couldn't stop thinking to myself of all that transpired. There's a way we take home that's been the same route for many years, and there's been this Jindo dog living outside at the same place for as long as I can remember. Through the snow, the heat, the rain and falling of the leaves, that Jindo has stood against the weather in a dog house too small. It's sad to say the Jindo's situation is very commonplace, and it's easy to find dogs placed outside in all sorts of weather conditions with a few comforts. In the U.S when there is mistreatment of animals, animal control or the police are called and the pets are usually taken away with repercussions to the owner(s). Here, if that was to happen, would be a miracle. For all the animal rights activists and people who care, that is nothing more than a fairytale.
For now, there are brave people who volunteer and work for their rights and they will keep fighting.

Changes are happening everyday, and while it might seem like nothing is going in the right direction, good things take time. I don't expect Korea to change over night, and maybe it won't happen in the next two or five years, but progress is being made.