(Second of two parts)
Their eyes said yes, their feet said no.
All four of the dogs at the Watauga Humane Society — each being held in individual quarantined kennels after their trip from Korea — initially reacted the same when I stepped inside.
They’d take one step forward, their bright eyes shining with what seemed to be excitement, anticipation or maybe curiosity; then they’d take three steps back.
It was understandable. They’d come from a farm in South Korea — one of more than 1,000 such farms there where dogs are raised as livestock and sold as meat, where they’re often mistreated and neglected and have little human contact.
In the weeks since they were rescued from a farm in Jongju, quarantined and, along with 27 others, shipped to the U.S., the four dogs have grown a little more sociable by the day.
Yet clearly, they were still torn between the fear they had learned from experience and that innate something — call it resilience, goodness of spirit, or that seemingly limitless and often unexplainable love for our species — that all dogs are born with.
With dogs, that innate something, given a chance, almost always wins out.
That has been the case with rescued fighting dogs, puppy mill dogs, and those raised as meat. They’re willing, despite whatever mistreatment they endured at our hands, to give our species a second chance.
We sometimes return the favor.
Since the beginning of 2015, Humane Society International has worked with Korean animal activists to remove 525 dogs from Korean dog farms and ship them to the U.S. and Canada to find new homes as pets.
The organization works to persuade dog farmers to forfeit their canine livestock and move on to new careers, often providing financial incentives for them to do so.
The latest shipment was a smaller one — 31 dogs from Jonju, and they’ve been distributed among five different North Carolina humane societies and shelters that serve as emergency placement partners for HSI and HSUS.
All four of the dogs who came to Watauga Humane Society were Jindos, a breed known for their loyalty that originated on the island of Jindo, off the southern coast of South Korea.
The breed has been designated by the Korean government as a national treasure.
Yet they — especially the white and yellow ones — are commonly seen in cages at outdoor meat markets, waiting to be sold, slaughtered and butchered.
At the farms, the dogs spend most of their lives in cages, treated like livestock, at best — and sometimes worse than that.
How does a dog raised in those conditions go on to be a family pet?
In small and hesitant steps, not overnight, and not without some work and patience.
But the proven fact is, they do.
That has been the case with the the four previous batches of farm dogs who have been rescued from Korea and gone on to find adoptive homes in the U.S. and Canada.
“I can give you hundreds of stories of wonderful adoptions that have taken place with them,” said Kelly O’Meara, director of companion animals and engagement for HSI.
The four Korean dogs that came to the Watauga Humane Society had been there three days when I visited. In the quarantine area, I walked into each of their kennels and took a seat on the floor.
One sat in the outside section of his kennel and — no matter how much I gently coaxed — would take more than a step or two inside.
Another trembled in the corner, venturing a little closer after 10 minutes passed, but only close enough for a quick sniff.
One came within a few feet of me and retreated, before lingering long enough to allow herself to be petted.
The fourth would come close, then fall back, finally coming close enough to sniff my hand, and allow it to pet him. He decided he liked it.
“Every day gets a little better,” said the HSI’s O’Meara. “You’ll hear from the shelters, ‘He gets closer, he sniffed me today.’ It’s a big deal for a dog that wouldn’t come within five feet, and now its coming up and licking your hands.
“Some take months but they do get there and when they do, they’re wonderful companion dogs,” she added.
The four are expected to get out of quarantine next week. Then they’ll be taken to Asheville to be spayed and neutered. Depending on how the dogs react to that, the Watauga Humane Society could start taking applications from people interested in adopting them the last week in October.
Details will be announced on their Facebook page.
At the Cashiers Highlands Humane Society, applications are already being taken for the 11 Korean dogs they took in, though the dogs won’t be able to be taken home until after Nov. 7 when they are spayed or neutered.
Other dogs that were rescued from the farm in Jonju — an illegal one because the farmer didn’t own the land he was using — are at Paws of Bryson City, Moore Humane Society in Carthage, and Outer Banks SPCA in Manteo
Laurie Vierheller, executive director of the Watauga Humane Society, said helping the dogs find a home is rewarding in itself, but the benefits to a shelter go beyond that.
Taking in the dogs strikes a chord with the dog-loving community members whose contributions keep local humane societies afloat. It brings traffic to a shelter, and often those who come to see the dogs rescued in a high-profile case end up going home with one, or adopting another resident of the shelter.
The HSI’s O’Meara says some shelters and humane societies avoid getting involved as emergency placement partners because they want to focus on finding homes for local dogs in need.
But those who do take part, she said, have noted “a spike in adoptions, for all dogs, when they receive these dogs…One shelter, within two weeks of the dogs arriving, every dog in facility was adopted out.”
“It highlights the work they do in their communities. These homeless animals come with an incredible story. That brings in traffic, and brings in people who would provide wonderful homes.”
(Part one of this series can be found here)
(Photos: Jindol, at top, and the other Korean farm dogs soon to be available for adoption at the Watauga Humane Society; by John Woestendiek)