American Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy and his boyfriend Matthew Wilkas visited a dog meat farm in South Korea in what he described as "one of the saddest places” he had ever been.
"I am honestly feeling heartbroken," the 2014 Olympic silver medalist said as he and Wilkas, a theater and film actor, explored the property on Friday.
The pair traveled to the farm in an effort to raise awareness of the treatment of dogs brought up to be slaughtered for their meat, The Associated Press reported.
Both said they were not trying to dictate to Koreans what they should or shouldn’t eat, but believe even animals raised for food should be given a better quality of life.
"They are out here in the snow, they're shivering, they're barking, Kenworthy told The AP. "They just want attention. Some of them look like they haven't had food in ages. And it's just something that needs to change."
Officials counted 87 dogs, some of which were pregnant, at the farm located about 100 meters off a busy road in Siheung, about 45 minutes away from Seoul.
Puppies and their mothers were housed in a narrow planthouse surrounded by rusty pipes, dirty ceramic pots and old mattresses.
Dogs outside were kept either on chains or in wire cages.
"I don't think it's fair to come and say, 'The way that we do something is the right way,'" Kenworthy said. "But also, I don't think that cruelty is culture."
Kenworthy made headlines when he rescued five stray dogs while in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
One of those dogs still lives with his mother and two others are with his ex-boyfriend, The AP reported.
Kenworthy was made aware of the dog meat trade when Humane Society International (HSI) asked him last year to star in a public-service announcement (PSA) with other Olympians.
HSI filmed Kenworthy during Friday’s visit, which will be used in a second PSA.
The organization offered to buy the farm from its owner, who said he never planned to sell dogs for slaughter but was forced to when his pet Jindo dogs kept having puppies, AP reported.
The farm owner accepted HSI’s offer and said he plans to use the money to farm mushrooms and other plants.
HSI is pressuring the South Korean government to ultimately shutter the dog meat industry, setting an example authorities could follow by providing resources to farmers open to shifting their focus.
The Siheung farm is the eleventh that HSI has helped close. There are an estimated 17,000 dog meat farms in the country.
At least 2 million dogs are killed and eaten every year in Korea.
But the thousands-year-old practice has decreased in popularity, as many younger citizens are generally against or indifferent to the tradition.
The dogs rescued on Friday will be vaccinated and quarantined on the farm until mid-March, the AP reported.
Authorities expect they will be flown to North America to be adopted out.