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Tag: olympics

A funny — and life-saving — thing happened on the way to the slaughterhouse

jindolThe four new arrivals at the Watauga Humane Society, a no-kill shelter nestled in the hills outside Boone, N.C., started adapting to their new lives not long after they were removed from a farm south of Seoul, Korea.

They continued to grow a little less timid and fearful of humans while they were quarantined in a sanctuary there, flown to the U.S., driven hundreds of miles to five different shelters and quarantined again.

Soon, they’ll be making the final step on the way to becoming pets, instead of meat.

twopartsThe four are among 31 dogs from Korea who arrived at no-kill shelters in North Carolina last week to be put up for adoption.

And those 31 are among 525 who have come to the U.S. and Canada since the beginning of last year, when Humane Society International added a new strategy to its campaign to bring an end to dog farms in Korea — closing them down one farm at a time.

Representatives of HSI, working with local animal activists in South Korea, have succeeded in shutting down five farms since then — usually by negotiating deals with the farmers and persuading them to pursue new, less brutal livelihoods.

One dog farm became a blueberry farm. Another switched from raising dogs to growing chili peppers. One dog farmer agreed to stop dog farming and, with help from HSI, started a water delivery business.

It’s only a small dent, given there are thousands of dog farms in South Korea, some with 1,000 dogs or more, all being raised to be sold for their meat.

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They are commonly abused and neglected and spend their lives in crates before being sold to markets, where things get even crueler.

Farm dogs are sometimes boiled alive, sometimes beaten before slaughter under the belief that it makes their meat more flavorful. Their meat is sold to individuals and restaurants at open air markets, where you can pick a live one for butchering.

It’s all a perfectly legal tradition under laws in Korea, where a minority of the population still eats dogs, and many believe the meat offers health benefits, particularly in the summer months.

That minority is shrinking more as younger Koreans turn away from the practice, a fledgling animal welfare movement grows and the perception of dogs as family members becomes more widespread.

Perhaps, South Korea will, in time, outgrow the practice. Perhaps the Olympics coming to Seoul in 2018 — as it did in 1988 — will lead government officials, who did their best to hide it then, to take more meaningful steps.

Until then, animal activists — locally and globally — do what they can.

My first exposure to dog farms was seven years ago, when I went to South Korea to research a book I was writing on dog cloning. On the road to achieving that “feat,” researchers regularly bought and borrowed meat dogs from farms, using them for experiments, to help clone the first canine and to clone the dogs of pet-owning customers once the practice hit the marketplace.

I ended up at Moran Market — and quickly wished I hadn’t.

Images of what I saw then still pop up in my head, unasked. I’ll spare you the graphic details.

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It is estimated that more than 2 million dogs are slaughtered for human consumption in South Korea each year.

Add in those consumed in China, Vietnam and other Asian countries, and as many as 30 million dogs a year are killed for their meat.

South Korea is the only country where the practice has been industrialized. The New York Times reported in May that government data show there are more than 17,000 dog farms.

The Humane Society program is an attempt to shine a light on the issue, while also giving at least a few of the dogs a chance. On top of that, it strives to show that farm dogs, stigmatized in Korea and often perceived as different from pet dogs, are one and the same.

In one of the largest agreements brokered so far, this past May, a dog farmer in Wonju turned over all 260 of the dogs he was raising — mostly on discarded scraps he collected from restaurants — in exchange for certain considerations.

The particulars of the deal weren’t announced, but HSI offers incentives to farmers — $2,000 to $60,000 depending on the number of dogs involved — who agree to forfeit their dogs and get out of the business.

That farmer, Gong In-young, told the New York Times that many of the dogs were just weeks away from being sent to the slaughterhouse.

Gong, in addition to his farm dogs, had a pet dog, too. Asked about the difference in the lives of his farm dogs and his own dog, a spitz named Snow White, he described it as “the difference between heaven and hell.”

The most recent batch of dogs transported to the U.S. by HSI was small by comparison.

The dogs lived on a small farm in Jeonju, about 120 miles south of Seoul. A Canadian organization, Free Korean Dogs, was tipped off about it by local activists and, upon further investigation, learned it was an illegal operation.

While dog farms are legal, this farmer and his dogs were squatters, occupying land that didn’t belong to him. Law enforcement authorities were contacted and ordered the farmer and the dogs off the land.

That left the farmer willing to negotiate, and he eventually agreed to turn all 30-plus dogs over to a sanctuary at the end of July.

HSI, working with Free Korean Dogs, then took steps to have them shipped to the U.S., making arrangements for them to be taken in and adopted out by no-kill shelters who participate in the Humane Society’s Emergency Placement Partners program.

Those who participate in the program accept dogs the Humane Society has rescued — from everything from puppy mills to natural disasters.

All 31 farm dogs, after their flight and a few days in Maryland, were brought to shelters in North Carolina.

In the parking lot of a shopping center in Cary, the dogs were turned over to volunteers from local humane societies and shelters in the state, the News & Observer reported.

Those shelters included Cashiers Highlands Humane Society, Paws of Bryson City, Moore Humane Society in Carthage, Outer Banks SPCA in Manteo, and the Watauga Humane Society in Boone.

I visited the four who went to Boone last week.

I wanted to take some photos. I wanted to see how anti-social and fearful of humans they might be, or if that resilience dogs are famous for was already becoming apparent.

I wanted to understand how hard it might be for them to shake the past. Many who have adopted them say they’ve gone on to make greats pets — as has been the case with many of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs, puppy mill dogs and other dogs who have seen and suffered from the worst in humans.

And in the back of my head, which is also where those images of meat market dogs linger, I was thinking I might like to have one.

(For part two of this story, click here.)

(Photos: From top to bottom, Jindol, one of the four Korean dogs now at the Watauga Humane Society, by John Woestendiek; caged dogs at a South Korean dog farm, by Jean Chung for The New York Times; dogs awaiting butchering at Moran Market in Seoul, by John Woestendiek)

Naming your dog after an Olympic athlete

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The Olympics provide us regular folks with a lot of inspiration — whether it’s to chase a big dream, get off the couch and start exercising a little bit, or simply come up with a name for a new dog.

Meet Leah Smith, a pit bull mix at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society who has been named after the gold medal-winning swimmer from Mount Lebanon, Pa.

Leah Smith, the human, returned home this week with a gold medal for the women’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay and a bronze medal for the 400-meter freestyle.

And one of the first things she did was meet Leah Smith, the dog.

leahsmithThe humane society posted these photos of the meeting — during which the dog got to try on the Olympian’s medals — on its Facebook page

KDKA in Pittsburgh reports that the one-year-old pit bull came to the humane society as a stray.

Given how often they have to name dogs, it’s not surprising that an animal shelter would turn to athletes, historical figures, or names in the headlines, for some fresh and innovative monikers.

I haven’t fully researched it — because I’m on the couch, watching the Olympics — but I’m sure that over the years plenty of dogs have been named after Olympic athletes.

There are bound to have been both canines and felines who went through life named Carl Lewis, Peggy Fleming, Greg Lougainis, Mary Lou Retton and Nadia Comaneci. There is bound to have been a spitz or two named Mark.

This year, the possibilities are pretty endless — given all the U.S. winners, and all those who captured our hearts without winning.

(On the other hand, you might want to hold off a few days on naming your dog Ryan Lochte.)

Still, there are plenty of good names available. It’s just a matter of picking the appropriate one.

Michael Phelps, or Katie Ledecky (or, if you prefer, Lickedy) would work for a water-loving dog, like a retriever or Newfoundland. Simone Biles would be a fitting name for a Jack Russell terrier or other acrobatic breed.

While it’s a lot of syllables, Dalilah Muhammad (gold medal winner for the 400 meter hurdles) might make a good name for an ultra-agile border collie; and what greyhound or whippet wouldn’t appreciate being called Usain Bolt?

Personally, my idols have more often come from the world of journalism — even though journalists, according to Donald Trump, are “the lowest form of life.”

I’m thinking of naming my next dog Morley, after Morley Safer. That would allow me to write a book called “Morley and Me.” I also have a name picked out for his sister: Leslie.

As for Leah, the pit bull mix, she goes up for adoption tomorrow.

(Photos: Western Pennsylvania Humane Society)

Woof in Advertising: Olympic Mer-mutts

Just in time for the Olympics, Farmers Insurance has come out with a new series of ads featuring dogs making the best of a flooded home.

woof in advertisingThe latest in the Farmers “We Know From Experience” campaign, the ads feature dogs as athletes, competing in events that include diving and synchronized swimming.

The venue? The living room of a home that flooded after one of the dogs turned on the kitchen faucet, causing the sink to overflow.

That part of it, Farmers says, is based on a real claim.

The “Mer-Mutts,” as they are becoming known, are featured together and in separate spots featuring the dives of each — complete with commentary.

You can find all of them here.

Oscar winning actor J.K. Simmons introduces the ad, calling the event a combination of “form, grace and ill-behaved dogs.”



(You can find more of our Woof in Advertising posts here.)

From Sochi to DC: More strays arrive


Ten more Sochi strays — saved from the streets by rescue groups in Russia — arrived in the U.S. last week.

The dogs were among those rounded up by rescue organizations before and during the Winter Olympics in an effort to save them from being poisoned and killed by authorities who considered them a menace, or at least an embarassment.

“These 10 are representative of some of the dogs that have been removed from the streets and are now up for adoption in Sochi,” said Kelly O’Meara, director of companion animals and engagement for Humane Society International. “They’re the sweetest, most interactive, very friendly dogs, very adoptable, that just happen to be unfortunate enough to be living on the street.”

The dogs landed at Dulles Airport Thursday. They were taken to the Washington Animal Rescue League, which will be responsible for finding them new homes.

More are expected to be arriving in coming days.

HSI worked with PovoDog Animal Shelter in Sochi and two other organizations to arrange vaccination, documentation and travel for the dogs, who spent two days in transit.

“We are excited to make the connection for homeless Sochi dogs with loving homes in the United States, with our focus on helping street dogs in Russia and around the world,” O’Meara said. “Our goal is to protect street dogs from cruel and unnecessary killing programs — like the one employed by Sochi officials to ‘clean up’ in advance of the Olympics — by working with governments to create humane and effective dog population management programs.”

HSI had urged the International Olympic Committee and Sochi authorities last year not to conduct a pre-Olympic “cull” of street dogs, and got some assurances that would be the case.

When it was exposed before the Olympics started that the program was underway, HSI petitioned President Vladimir Putin to put an end to it. The organization has offered its assistance in creating a humane program to control the population of street dogs.

HSI assisted American skier Gus Kenworthy, an Olympic silver medalist, in bringing home four strays.

It is also pushing the International Olympic Committee to mandate humane animal control standards when identifying a host country for future Olympics.

Each of the arriving dogs will get a medical evaluation, and they could be available for adoption within weeks, said Bob Ramin, CEO of the Washington Animal Rescue League.

“These animals are seeing a lot of new things and experiencing a lot of new things, so they’re kind of stressed out,”  Ramin said. “We want to make sure they know they’re in a safe place so we’ve got our staff working with them one on one.”

Tweeting wolf: Olympian’s video of “wolf” in the hallway was Jimmy Kimmel hoax

With help from an Olympic luger, Twitter and a dog who is at least part wolf, Jimmy Kimmel has once again put one over on the news media.

Then again, fooling the news media has a very low degree of difficulty these days.

Kimmel conspired with 21-year-old luger Kate Hansen, under whose name the video was posted on Twitter and elsewhere.

“I’m pretty sure this is a wolf wandering my hall in Sochi,” she said in a comment accompanying the video on YouTube.

Pretty much every major news outlet quickly picked up the story Thursday, echoing the Olympian’s cry of wolf, and apparently forgetting the entire moral of that fable.

USA Today was among those setting the record straight today — generally in a humorous vein that didn’t focus on how any laziness on the media’s part might have contributed to being duped.

Hansen, who finished competing Feb. 11 and is staying at the Olympic village, tweeted the video with the hashtag #sochiproblems and #sochifail. The hashtag was commonly used by visitors to Sochi for complaints surrounding the Games, including some about stray dogs.

Kimmel came clean last night, revealing the set created in the studio to resemble the dormitory corridor, and the wolf-dog, named Rugby.

Hansen appeared, via Skype, on the show as well, and said she has experienced some repercussions for the role she played.

Sochi’s strays: Heck with the gold; here’s to bringing home some dogs

jacobellisAt least two Olympic athletes from the U.S. are reportedly planning to bring home stray dogs from the streets of Sochi — and that has prompted another chorus of grumbling from the “they-care-more-about-dogs-than-people” crowd.

You know the type — they assume that if you show compassion for dogs, you must have none for people, and they think that is some kind of disorder, and that they must inform the world about it

The truth is, people with compassion for dogs usually have more empathy for people too, and often dogs are the ones that taught them that.

Yet, to read recent pieces like this one in The Guardian, and this one in Slate — or at least their headlines —  the writers make is sound like it’s an either/or proposition: One who rescues dogs must not give a whit about humans.

You might look at Gus Kenworthy, the skier who’s bringing home four stray pups and their mother from Sochi, or Lindsey Jacobellis, the snowboarder who’s bringing a street mutt back to the U.S., and see people doing something heroic, good and noble.

But some people — and they’re not all journalists, more often they are nameless Internet commenters — have an innate need to find, or manufacture, a downside, and broadcast it, portraying an act of kindness toward a dog as proof that the world’s priorities have gone topsy-turvy.

kenworthySo Kenworthy is bringing home five dogs, they’d say, what’s he doing about human rights issues in Russia?

It’s true that there are plenty of those in need of attention. It’s true there are people who find dogs easier to love, and easier to help, than humans. It’s true, too, there are millions of homeless dogs right here in America.

But where does one person get the right to question and critique another person’s charitable acts — to whom they should give, exactly what they should save or rescue, and where they should do it?

I may lack the appropriate Olympic fervor, but I am far more impressed by an athlete bringing home a stray dog than I am by how fast he or she can slide down a snowy hill; and I think the dogs will bring them, in the long run, far more joy (though fewer commercial endorsements)  than a medal.

The athletes aren’t there to rescue dogs, and they aren’t there to solve human rights problems. Any action they might take regarding one or the other is bonus to be appreciated, as opposed to grounds for criticism.

Yet, a headline in Slate asks the question,  “Why are Olympians putting puppies before people in Sochi?

(Maybe because the athletes aren’t finding people starving and sleeping in alleys, and couldn’t bring them home even if they wanted. Maybe because it’s easier to toss a dog a sandwich than it is to end government oppression. Maybe it’s because they know the city of Sochi has a contract out on strays, and a company is exterminating them.)

Josh Levin, Slate’s executive editor, wrote that, while he finds puppy-saving commendable, there are far bigger issues in Russia in need of addressing, such as:

“…the country’s 2013 passage of anti-gay propaganda laws, as well as a number of other disturbing transgressions: the fact that more than 50 journalists have been murdered in Russia in the last 22 years; that Sochi’s venues were built by more than 70,000 migrant laborers who toiled ceaselessly in violation of Russian law …”

I’m not sure your average bobsledder is equipped to single-handedly rectify issues like that — at least not during the couple of weeks he’s visiting.

A stray, hungry dog, on the other hand, is something a single person can do something about — whether it’s tossing him something to eat, or slaloming through enough red tape to bring him back to their home country.

So we say “Go Team!”  

And good luck with those athletic events as well.

(Photo’s: Jacobellis with the dog she befriended in Sochi; Kenworthy with the four pups he plans to bring home /Twitter)

Olbermann on the strays of Sochi

Here, better than any ski jumper, snowboarder, or twizzling ice skater, Keith Olbermann nails it.

His take on the stray dogs being captured and killed at the Olympics in Sochi —  at the same time that pampered pooches are on parade at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York —  provides some contrast, some context, and shows lots of conviction.

Who is really the biological trash, he asks — the dogs being exterminated, or the exterminators?