A former director of an animal rights organization in South Korea has been sentenced to two years in prison for euthanizing 98 rescued dogs in her group’s care – largely to save money. The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported on Tuesday.

The Seoul District Court handed down the verdict on the former organization chief, who was accused of violating the Animal Welfare Act. “Without seriously considering the capacity of the facilities, she threw herself into animal rescue, but killed some of the rescued animals when space ran out,” the court said.

The convict was accused of euthanizing rescued dogs between 2015 and 2018 to free up space at the facility and reduce the cost of medical treatment for the animals.

She was also charged with breaking into private pet farms in August 2018 and stealing five dogs with a total value of around 1.3 million won (about 940 euros).

A former employee of the animal welfare organization uncovered the actions of his superiors in 2019, which caused outrage at the time.

The convicted leader of the association had protested her innocence and claimed that she had rescued animals destined for killing and humanely euthanized about 10 percent of them without pain.

Dealing with dogs is a sensitive topic in South Korea, which is sometimes the subject of heated debate in society.

On the one hand, more and more South Koreans are keeping dogs at home and are campaigning for animal welfare: footage of an injured search and rescue dog that South Korea sent to the earthquake area in Turkey recently sparked a debate. While many praised the rescue dogs’ efforts, some online questioned whether the dogs should be equipped with protective gear, the Korea Times wrote.

The rescuers’ team responsible for training and handling the animals denied the allegations of animal cruelty and said they are doing their utmost to ensure the safety of the rescue animals at all times.

On the other hand, dog meat is still eaten in South Korea – which is not yet illegal there. A 2022 study by the country’s government and civil society advisory body found that more than 520,000 dogs were bred for meat production in South Korea. About 388,000 of the animals were slaughtered each year, The Korea Herald reported.

In addition, according to the study, there were a total of 1,156 dog farms across the country and more than 1,600 restaurants serving dog meat.

A survey of the study also came to the conclusion that almost 56 percent of South Koreans were of the opinion that dog meat should no longer be eaten. Almost half of those surveyed rejected the dog meat trade. 88 percent stated that they did not eat dog meat themselves.

Politicians in South Korea have been debating a ban on dog meat for several years. In 2021, former President Moon Jae-in called on the government to consider banning dog meat consumption.

In May 2022, then-designate Agriculture Minister Chung Hwang-keun said he would work to end dog meat consumption through a social compromise. “As the number of families with pets has increased and public interest in animal welfare has increased, a ban on dog meat is the direction our society should be moving.”

South Korean First Lady Kim Keon-hee also called for a ban on eating dog meat, as reported by Yonhap.

Sources: Yonhap News Agency, The Korea Times, The Korea Herald