Dog off the menu: South Korean kennel mother saves pups from the plate

Jung Myoung-sook, is considered eccentric in a country where puppies are still a traditional delicacy but says: I only feed my babies Im happy and healthy

Hey, my newborns. Devote your mommy a kiss, tells Jung Myoung-sook, 61. She lowers her face and a puppy near a snow-covered kennel licks her lips; another gently paws her cheek.

Puppies bark and wag their tails as they follow grey-haired Jung through a hillside compound that shelters more than 200 dogs.

In South Korea where puppies are considered a traditional delicacy and have only recently become popular as pets Jung is viewed by some as odd. But others assure her as a champ of animal rights.

Rescuing and caring for puppies for 26 years, Jung has moved seven days because of neighbours complaints about noise. She often stops to pick up dogs roaming the street, and has bought others in danger of being sold to dog meat farms or restaurants.

Some question whether someone as poor as Jung who ekes out a living cleaning a store and collecting recyclable boxes can feed and care for so many dogs.

Authorities in the central city of Asan know about Jungs current shelter, which she opened in 2014, but have no legal liability to inspect it, according to an official who refused to give his name because he wasnt authorised to comment.

Pets are growing in popularity in South Korea. One in five households has a cat or dog, but activists say public attitudes of pets lag those in the west.

Supporters of Jung ensure her as a heroine, saving stray or lost dogs from being killed for food or euthanised at public shelters if not adopted or found by their owners. About 81,000 stray or abandoned animals, mostly puppies and cats, were sent to public shelters in 2014, down from a million in 2010, the government said.

My babies arent hungry. They can play and live freely here, said Jung. Some people talk about me, telling: Why is that beggar-like middle-aged girl smiling all the time? But I just focus on feeding my babies. Im happy and healthy.

Dozens of other South Koreans are believed to be raising large numbers of puppies, sometimes in unsanitary conditions where cancers spread easily. Jung says her puppies are mostly healthy, while some succumb in fights with each other.

Most of the dogs live with her for good. She said she spends about US $1,600 a month on food and medication, and otherwise relies on donations of soybean milk, pork, dog food and canned meat. Family, friends and sometimes strangers send her money.

Park Hye-soon, a local eatery proprietor, has given Jung leftover pork for four years.

She lives only for her puppies, he told, without doing much for herself.

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