Wearing a bright blue collar, Junior paced excitedly around the Humane Society of Calvert County in Sunderland. He poked around on a couch, sniffed the floors and walls and even happily licked a camera lens while a photographer attempted to snap a picture.
What a difference a couple of months make.
A few months ago, Junior was housed in a small cage on a dog meat farm in South Korea awaiting a dire fate to be served in a restaurant or during bok nal, which are the three hottest days between July and August according to the lunar calendar, when 70% to 80% percent of dog meat is consumed.
But Junior, who is a Tosa mix, and 104 other dogs — including 60 from a farm in Hongseong-gun, South Korea — were rescued through a joint effort by the Humane Society International and Humane Society United States. After staying in a temporary shelter in Korea until travel restrictions were modified, the animals finally arrived at Dulles Airport in the early morning hours of July 15 following a grueling 20-hour flight to begin new lives.
“Thanks to the hard work of our staff and partners, both in Korea and the U.S., these dogs will now have the happy lives they deserve: with families who love them,” said Kitty Block, the CEO of Humane Society International and president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, in a news release.
Junior was one of 11 dogs that was picked up at Dulles by the Humane Society of Calvert County. Prince Frederick Chrysler donated two employees and two vans to aid in the transportation.
“To see the dogs come in, and knowing what they’re life was like,” said Pat Beyer, the treasurer of the Humane Society of Calvert County, which is not directly associated with the national or international Humane Society organizations. “We understand it’s [Korean] culture and it happens, but we’re all very proud to help them knowing the process that these dogs went through. This is what we believe in.”
Another eight animals were sent to the Tri-County Animal Rescue facility in Hughesville.
“I’m always excited to help save animals,” said Tri-County Animal Shelter supervisor Kim Stephens, whose facility also took in dogs from Korea in 2018. “That’s really why we’re here.”
A long journey
The dogs — 60 of which were rescued from one farm — were transported to facilities in Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, while another 14 were flown on to Montreal.
Humane Society International vice president Kelly O’Meara said her organization has rescued 2,000 dogs and helped close down 16 farms since January of 2015 during a “very large, robust campaign” to try and end the dog meat trade.
O’Meara said the group is trying to help the farmers convert from what is a slowly dying tradition.
“In the last 10 to 15 years trade has been steadily diminishing to the point where the farmer is even unable to make ends meet, so they’re actively looking for a way to get out of the industry,” O’Meara said. “They see it themselves as a dying industry [so] they are eager and anxious to work with us because it’s an opportunity to move on and also finding a humane alternative for the dogs, which in this case is rescuing them.”
O’Meara said her organization will help farmers move into other fields, such as agriculture or water delivery. Stipulations in the “transition agreement” include a 20-year contract, which bans the farmers from raising any animals at all.
“What we’re doing is providing an opportunity for them to transition into something new and do something with the dogs,” said O’Meara, who added that HSI does not purchase the dogs from the farmers. “In this case, thankfully, we were able to rescue them and move them onto a happy life that they deserved in the first place.”
Now the animals are at local facilities becoming acclimated to their surroundings and being prepared for adoption.
“The prospective adopter has to understand that these animals have been in cages and will need a little socialization and housebreaking,” Stephens said. “It will take time and patience, but they will make excellent pets.”
Heidi Lichtenberg of Hollywood knows that first-hand after she adopted a pair of Jindo puppies from the Tri-County Animal Shelter in 2018.
“They’ve seen stuff so they’re timid of men because that’s who abused them,” said Lichtenberg, referring to Honey and Soju, who were adopted together because they are emotionally attached. “But they will warm up to them. They’re very good with kids and overall they’re just very sweet dogs.’”
Last year, Kathleen Knisely of Four Oaks, N.C., adopted a Jindo — a hunting dog known for its toughness and bravery — from the Tri-County Animal Shelter.
“She was very scared when I got her,” Knisely said. “I couldn’t even pet her, but now she’s attached to me and follows me everywhere.”
On July 22, Knisley made an 11½-hour, 538-mile round trip back to the Hughesville facility to pick up another Jindo.
“We had to get her two plates [of Arby’s roast beef] and then she tried to get my sandwich,” Knisley said with a laugh, referring to Pearl, a name she selected because it was easier for training purposes. “I was expecting to do a lot of rehabilitating with her, but I won’t. Maybe it’s her temperament.”
While some of the dogs are instantly adoptable, some have a longer road ahead of them. Stephens said four of the animals at the Hughesville facility “are a little shy and will need a little time to settle in.” At the Calvert facility, a Jindo named Wolf remains inside his enclosure, rarely venturing to the outdoors area. And Dreama, a Tosa mix, was diagnosed with what Beyer said was “a large mammary mass” and was scheduled to be operated on on Wednesday.
But all that pales in comparison to what the dogs would have endured in South Korea, according to the Humane Society.
During boknal days, the dogs, many of which are kept in cramped cages and fed very little, are killed and then prepared in a hot, peppery soup. According to www.hsi.org, the soup is believed to “reduce lethargy and revitalize one’s health during the summer,” and is eaten by some, though not a majority, of South Koreans.
“Seldom do you ever see a dog in good condition,” O’Meara said of the trauma and malnourishment the dogs, many of whom were pets. “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.”
Changes are afoot
“There is a strong societal change happening in South Korea, especially among the younger generation who see dogs as companion animals,” O’Meara said. “And so it’s really only the older generation now that still has this idea to consider the consumption of dog meat. And it’s a very small minority who do consume dogs on a regular basis.”
O’Meara added South Koreans view dogs differently.
“There’s a strong myth that was developed by the dog meat industry that there’s a difference between a dog used for dog meat and a dog that is a pet,” she said. “One of our major initiatives in the country has been to dispel that myth.”
As she cuddled a Jindo puppy named Nani, Calvert Humane Society of Calvert County vice president Tanya Gott said her organization was more than happy to help out.
“It was overwhelming to see the dogs come in and see the caring nature of the humane society and how they treated them,” she said. “We’re just grateful we could help these dogs.”