Seoul (CNN) - One of South Korea's most prominent(유명한) animal shelters has been rocked by a euthanasia(안락사) scandal, amid accusations it secretly put hundreds of dogs to death despite its "no kill" ethos(기풍, 정신).
This week, a dozen employees of Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (CARE) demanded the resignation(퇴임, 사퇴) of the director, Park So-yeon, after a whistleblower(내부 고발자) came forward to claim the shelter had secretly euthanized more than 230 dogs (동물보호소가 230마리가 넘는 개를 몰래 안락사 시켰다) in the past three years.
In a statement posted online, Park admitted to euthanizing some animals at the CARE-animal shelter, but said it was a limited number and only done as a last resort for ill dogs(그것은 제한적인 숫자이며 아픈 개들을 위한 최후의 수단으로 시행된 것이다). CNN has reached out to Park for further comment.
CARE has long spearheaded(오랫동안 선봉에 서다) campaigns to rescue animals from the South Korean dog meat trade. The shelter gained national attention(국가적인 관심을 받다) in 2017 after President Moon Jae-in adopted the country's "first dog," named Tory, from the shelter. Moon, a longtime animal rights proponent(오랜 동물권리 옹호론자), posed for photos with CARE staff, including its director.
Last week, a senior manager at CARE, Lim Hee-jin, told the South Korean investigative website Newstapa that Park had secretly been putting dogs down for years, while promoting the shelter as a "no kill" sanctuary.
Lim did not respond to multiple attempts to reach her. CARE staff said she was unavailable for interview.
"Only a few executives were aware(일부 임원들만 알고 있었다). I asked her to just come clean: Say that we were holding them but had to put them down. We can honestly tell people that," Lim said in an interview with broadcaster CBS. "She said no, because we had euthanized too many."
The generally adopted standard for "no kill" shelters is to save more than 90% of animals, and most do carry out limited euthanasia -- of very sick or aged animals, or due to mass overcrowding(매우 아프거나 나이가 많이 든 동물들, 또는 과잉 수용으로 인한 것).
According to Lim, CARE policy of 100% rescue rate quickly led to overcrowding. As a result, Park allegedly began euthanizing animals, beginning with sick and aggressive dogs, but then more generally(처음에는 아프고 공격적인 개들로 시작했지만 뒤에는 더 일반적으로 안락사를 시키기 시작했다).
Lim provided Newstapa with an invoice -- later posted online -- allegedly from an animal carcass(동물의 사체) collection company, which billed CARE for collection of 5.7 tons of carcasses between 2015 and 2018. A CARE employee told CNN he had seen the document and confirmed the figure, but it is unclear how many of the carcasses were the result of euthanasia or natural deaths(얼마나 많은 사체가 안락사의 결과인지 또는 자연사의 결과인지는 분명치 않다).
The case against Park was further bolstered by the leaked recording of a conversation(대화 녹취가 유출되면서), allegedly between Park and Lim, that appeared to support claims that she willfully euthanized healthy dogs(그녀가 의도적으로 건강한 개들을 안락사 시켰다).
In the recording, which CNN has heard but not been able to independently verify, a woman can be heard discussing how to cover up the deaths of half a dozen dogs rescued from the country's dog-fighting circuit(이 나라의 투견장에서 구조된 열두 마리의 개들 중 절반에 대한 죽음을 감출 방법).
The rescue of the dogs in 2016 had been heavily publicized by Park. But when the members of the media requested Park provide an update on their whereabouts later that same year, the woman in the call is heard suggesting they buy new dogs to cover up their deaths(죽음을 덮기 위해 새로운 개를 구입하자고 제안하는).
"We need to say they were ill or just expired," the woman's voice says in the leaked call. "If we say that some perished, it won't be an issue. How will we fit the number? If we bring many of them from one place at once, it will be suspicious. If we gather a few here and there, it won't be known. Their snout can be dyed a bit darker."
Shame and scandal
At a press conference this week, broadcast online, CARE employees held signs saying "Park must resign," and "CARE staff were deceived."
Several of the speakers were overcome with emotion, breaking down in tears(눈물을 터뜨리다) as their colleagues spoke of their devastation at the news.
"I'm very ashamed and terribly sorry for the animals that died for no reason(아무런 이유 없이 죽은 동물들에 대해 부끄럽고 정말 미안하다)," said Lee Mi-hee, who worked at CARE rescuing dogs for two and a half years.
She blamed the situation on a broader pattern of questionable behavior by Park, including "coercive orders(강압적인 지시), indiscriminate rescues(무분별한 구조), and leaving unplanned messes for the employees to resolve."
"The fact that this is the result of blindly following her(맹목적으로 그녀를 따른 결과) shames me greatly and I'm disappointed in myself," Lee added.
In a statement uploaded to CARE's social media, Park said the group had "tried their best to save them but some animals had to be given up for various reasons in extreme circumstances."
She added that only a small number of animals were euthanized "for unavoidable reasons after a general discussion between staff."
Kim Tae-hwan, CARE's public relations manager, told CNN the staff does "not agree with that explanation."
"The revelations show the number of animals killed was not small at all(죽은 동물의 수가 전혀 적지 않다)," he said. "There were many arbitrary orders(독단적인 지시) to euthanize animals."
According to Kim, staff at the shelter were shocked by the report. No one at CARE except for top executives were involved in the euthanasia, he said. Staff are now calling for Park's immediate resignation so the charity can continue operating. They also blamed Lim, the whistleblower, for not coming forward earlier, and helping Park secretly euthanize animals for years.
At the press conference, CARE staff had a new concern: Many donors were cutting funding in response to the news(많은 지원자들이 이 뉴스를 보고 지원을 끊었다).
"There are still 600 animals in CARE's shelter. Please do not forget about them," animal manager Lee Eun-hye said. "The animals do not deserve this."