Cleo the Cat - Rescued From South Korea's Death Markets
Animal Stories from

From In Defense of Animals (IDA)

December 2012

As part of our undercover investigation into South Korea's dog and cat meat trade - dog and cat meat in South Korea is neither legal nor illegal but inhabits "a legal blind spot" - IDA's investigative unit arrived at the notorious Moran Market, Seongnam-city's infernal outdoor nightmare.

Entering this twisted farmers' market, we passed cage after cage of dogs, pitiful and doomed, as well as black goats, bunnies, chickens, roosters, and a cage of tiny kittens, many with their eyes closed, meowing softly.

Cleo cat meat market

Then, amid the rot and stink of the buying and selling, the weighing of dogs, the slaughtering in the back of stores, the blood everywhere, the unforgettable sound of a blowtorch removing fur was a wailing and desperate cry coming from a little black and white cat.

As we started to speak to her, the farmer noticed our interest, and asked, "How we want it to be?" - meaning, prepared as soup or porridge or as an extract, or do we want it alive?

It was in the 1980s that cat-part products began to be advertised as having so-called medicinal properties and sold as remedies for rheumatism and arthritis, most famously for the knees. Approximately 100,000 cats each year are slaughtered for soup and goyangisoju or "health tonics." Unlike dogs, cats are not farmed for their meat, but are stolen, surrendered, or picked up as strays.

There isn't a country in the world that has identified a humane way of supplying dogs and cats for human consumption, so butchers kill with frightening impunity in the most horrific fashion. Cats are bludgeoned and thrown into boiling water while conscious. Many have their legs broken so they can't escape, and are often skinned alive. And perhaps most pernicious of all is the nightmarish fiction, fueled by profit, that the more suffering endured during slaughter, the more tender the meat and more potent the so-called medicinal properties.

As much as we wanted to free all the market's victims, we finally left "hell on Earth" with the little shorthaired cat in a cardboard box with no holes, and named her Cleopatra. After a vet visit and boarding with a South Korean activist, IDA funded her transport to Los Angeles, where she now lives with Heather and Rudy, her foster parents, who are over the moon about little Cleo, and her brother, Oli, whom she worships.

Every day is a new adventure, whether it is the two cats madly dashing about the house and then curling up together, Cleo trying to clean Oli's head, Cleo playing with her toy, and Oli loving his laser pointer. Recently, a bug was spotted in the house causing all kind of havoc. It took a while for the cats to see the tiny beetle on the ceiling but then they were transfixed for hours. Oli made bird-like chirps, emitting sounds of "ma, ma, ma," as Cleo was watching Oli, waiting for his direction. And then the acrobatics began, both felines, with their lithe stretches, trying to reach the beetle. As Cleo gazed with excitement, she was very vocal, gushing her deep sighs of pleasure. The two great friends watched and hoped for some movement on the beetle's part, but soon gave up and took off for their coveted afternoon nap together.

Once howling inside her revolting cage at Moran Market, Cleo is all happiness and contentment now, purring with constant delight at being free and loving Oli. To quote writer Monica Edwards, "Purring would seem to be, in her case, an automatic safety-valve device for dealing with happiness overflow." 

Return to: Animal Stories