The accusations come from staff members at the Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (CARE), who said the charity’s head, Park So-yeon, ordered the destruction of more than 230 dogs – about a quarter of the animals the group had rescued.
The charity has a declared “no kill” policy for the canines it rescues – mostly from Korean dog meat farms.
Speaking to the Hankyoreh newspaper, staff said around 10 per cent of the dogs were suffering from incurable illnesses and most were killed because they were too big to be kept comfortably in the space available.
After they had been put down, the animals were then listed as having been adopted.
Current South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who loves animals and owns several dogs, adopted a pet from the charity when he came to power in 2017.
The organisatoin has made numerous appeals for funds to help it make more rescues, and in those fundraising efforts it has always asserted that it does not kill dogs even if they are not adopted.
In a statement, Ms Park said a “small number” of exterminations had been “inevitable” since 2015 due to a “surge in requests for rescue missions”.
She said usually only particularly aggressive dogs, or those with incurable illnesses, would be put down, and that would only happen after significant attempts to cure them had proved hopeless.
CARE staff members mounted a protest in the organisation’s offices at the weekend, demanding Ms Park’s resignation.
Eating dog meat is a tradition in South Korea, with records of the practice stretching back to the first century. But despite the long history, it is not a core part of the Korean diet.
Though there are still an estimated 3,000 dog farms across South Korea, eating the meat is rapidly declining, creating an increasingly pressing problem of dog over-population.
According to a 2017 survey, just 30 per cent of South Koreans eat canine meat. But the same survey revealed 40 per cent believe the practice should be banned.
It also found 65 per cent of people supported raising and slaughtering dogs in more humane conditions.
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