Cage Free

Words and Photography by Sophie Gamand
Standing in the slippery mud amongst rusty cages, I struggled to find my footing under the weight of my camera gear. It was August in South Korea, and I was visiting a dog meat farm with Humane Society International, and I had never been so hot. Dogs were panting and barking all around me.

Some dogs hid quietly in the darkest corners of their cages, avoiding eye contact, while others bounced off the walls of their cages, wagging their tails furiously and stretching their paws towards me. Melting away in the heat and overwhelmed, I looked around for the perfect photo that would tell the story of these dogs when it hit me with brutal force: this was these dogs’ entire world.

The elevated cages, the uncomfortable wires cutting into their sensitive paws, and beneath them, a mountain of feces. Like a gruesome hourglass, it tallied the months and years of solitude, a lifetime of never feeling soft grass, never running free. For these dogs, the world was always slightly out of reach, yet ever present: changing, moving, breathing all around them.


Samwise the Brave is a beautiful, joyful pup who was particularly excited to make friends with the people who visited Farm 15. He is gentle and respectful, yet vocal when he wants something. He gets very excited to go on adventures with his adoptive family, and his parents take him hiking or camping regularly.


Winnie is blind and can be a little nervous. She doesn’t like being held for too long, or loud noises, or to be woken up in her sleep. Her parents have noticed that Winnie loves meditation music — she has a favorite artist, Deva Premal — who soothes her. She loves sleeping by the fireplace, and freeze-dried sweet potatoes are her favorite snack.


Daisy was just a puppy when she was adopted years ago, and she’s grown into a beautiful, gentle dog. She absolutely loves veggies and will shamelessly walk up to a stranger’s glass at a bar and start lapping out of it. Daisy sleeps like a teenager, her dad says; she’ll snore and grumble, and let you know that, no, she isn’t ready to wake up yet.

Theirs was a life suspended, trapped in limbo, waiting for a cruel end in a slaughterhouse. But these dogs were the lucky ones, about to be rescued by the team from Humane Society International, which was about to shut down this farm permanently. This would be HSI’s 15th farm closure. Each time, the organization works hand in hand with a willing farmer, helping them transition to a more sustainable, animal-free business. Dog meat is a dying industry in South Korea and most people want to see the cruel practice end, but nonetheless, an estimated 1.5 million dogs are intensively farmed in the country every year.

One disturbing myth persists, slowing down the work of animal rights advocates: the idea that dogs traditionally used in the meat trade — namely Tosas and Jindo mixes — are soulless, inferior dogs who are incapable of being pet companions, making the slaughter for their meat somehow acceptable.

HSI invited me to photograph dogs they’d rescued from these farms, and who had since been adopted. The resulting series of portraits celebrates the beauty and resiliency of 45 survivors of the South Korean dog meat trade. The series also reveals that any breed can be found on those farms. I adorned each of these survivors with a handmade collar that, like a wedding band, symbolizes a world of care and love. The portraits emphasize the idea that these dogs are sentient beings who must be cherished and protected. We hope they will help accelerate the end of the South Korean dog meat trade, something Humane Society International has been working toward tirelessly.


Bambi is a tiny long-haired Chihuahua who traveled back from South Korea with me. I like to joke that she was my emotional support dog as I processed what I had experienced on the dog meat farm. It was fun to be reunited for this photoshoot, now that she is living a wonderful life with her mom, Lindsey. Bambi loves to wave her paw to request belly rubs. She gets the zoomies after her bath, and is just the sweetest little girl.


Abby was a mom with puppies and a large scar across her shoulder. When Abby first arrived in her adoptive home, she feared rugs and stairs, and was quite timid. Over time, she’s become more confident, and will now let her family know when she’d like to go on walks and if it’s time for her treat. Abby enjoys hiking, wading in water, and running around off-leash.


Minnow is a sensitive dog who was rescued and adopted in 2015 by Abbie and her family of rescued parrots, dogs, kittens, chickens, and turkeys. Minnow now enjoys digging in the dirt or foraging alongside the chickens, and she and her mom are soulmates. Abbie says, “I was living life in shades of gray until Minnow came along, and my life turned to color.”


Wilf was a young pup on Farm 15, sharing a cage with his sibling and mother. His first steps as a family dog weren’t easy. Wilf was concerned with everything, from people to stairs to the collar and leash. It took a few days before he even let his new humans touch him, but smart Wilf has since adapted like a champ, learning countless tricks along the way. Now he is one happy dog!

To learn more about this project, visit



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