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Tag: resilience

Off the menu and into your hearts: 31 Korean farm dogs come to NC for adoption


(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)

Ace is home, and I’m ready for 62


Call it an early birthday present — Ace is home and doing remarkably well.

After surgery to remove his bladder stones, and an overnight stay at the animal hospital, I picked him up yesterday evening.

I was warned he could be leaky for a few days, and that his pee could contain blood — much like that I’m still scrubbing out of my living room carpet from the morning before surgery — but, sequestered in the kitchen, he made it through the night.

When I let him out this morning (after relieving myself, it should be noted), he walked down the stairs, did his business, and came back to lay down on the front porch, just as he normally does.

All of which leads me to marvel, yet again, about what a stoic and resilient beast he is — far more so than I.

I turn 62 tomorrow and, believe it or not, I am happy to do that. I am happy for my year as a 61-year-old to be over. It included, in this order, quintuple bypass surgery for me, the death of my father, and the death of my mother.

When Ace became completely blocked up this week by what X-rays showed was a horrific number of bladder stones, and the veterinarian recommended, even with some risks, immediate surgery, I balked.

Might it be possible, I asked, to wait until after Sept. 5? My 61st year has been a particularly accursed one, I explained, and I don’t want to give it one last chance to hurt me.

Between saying it out loud, and the look on my vet’s face, I realized I was being ridiculous. Tomorrow is fine, I agreed. That was Tuesday.

stones 001Thursday, Ace was home, having emitted just one tiny whimper on the drive. On my ride home from the hospital, after heart surgery, I emitted a dozen whimpers, six grunts, four goddammits, and more than a few dirty looks at my brother for hitting bumps.

During the night, I heard Ace moan once. I, due to back problems, probably moaned 10 times last night.

I took three months to recover from my surgery; Ace looks like he is going to take about three days.

True, they were different kinds of surgeries. True, Ace is on pain pills, more than I would ever be permitted. Ace was prescribed Tramadol — and is to be given eight 50-milligram pills a day. My doctor, who prescribed the same for my back pain, at the same dosage, says I can only take two.

Still, on the one-to-ten scale of stoicism, Ace rates at least a nine, while I can barely eke out a two.

Ace — in his early 80s, if you compute his age in human years — is handling old-man-hood much better than I am.

He didn’t like being sequestered in the kitchen. He prefers following me from room to room and keeping me in sight. But he put up with it, and with no leakage or accidents the barriers have already been lifted, at least during daytime hours.

He is mostly sleeping, and mostly sleeping with his eyes wide open, which I’ve never been able to figure out how he does.

stones 007In addition to the drugs, and a bill for more than $2,000, the vet gave me what he said was just a small “sampling” of what was taken out of Ace.

There were hundreds of little stones, enough to make a nice bracelet, should there be a jewelry maker out there who is interested in — and not too grossed out by — taking on the job.

I also brought home a dog without the monstrous front claws Ace used to have. I’ve written before about our efforts to control those. Since Ace was going to be under anesthesia anyway, I requested he be given a pedicure. In retrospect, given the vet spent hours meticulously removing all the stones from Ace’s bladder, I feel a little guilty about that.

On the other hand, it symbolizes the fresh start that I hope comes for both of us when I turn 62 tomorrow.

He, with his bladder purged of rocky deposits, and his claws at a reasonable length. Me, with a still-ticking heart, my favorite season virtually upon us and, most importantly, my dog back at my side.

Artist’s goal: Painting all 51 Vick dogs


I’m not sure what I love more about this artist — her paintings, her name, her theme or her determination.

Levity Tomkinson is a Kentucky artist who has tackled a serious project — painting all 51 of the dogs seized from Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation in 2007.

She’s more than one-fifth of the way there.

levityFinding herself struck by the resiliency of those Vick dogs who were rescued and rehabilitated, Tomkinson got the idea in 2012 and started what she calls The Re51lient Project.

Tomkinson had started painting dogs — beginning with her own, a pit bull mix named Rinlee — in 2010, when, after graduating college, she found herself without any good job leads.

After reading an article about Vick dogs who had been rehabilitated and adopted, the project began.

“I thought of the idea during a time in my life that was really unpleasant, where I was trying to find meaning and happiness and purpose again, and these dogs were absolutely a part of my healing process. They inspired me to be positive, to smile and look at the world and appreciate all different kinds of beauty …. I am forever indebted and grateful to these dogs for changing my life.”

Like many dog lovers, Tomkinson was moved how many of the dogs taken from the NFL quarterback’s Bad News Kennels managed to overcome the horrors inflicted on them there.

As she explains it on her blog, “I cannot begin to fathom the daily lives of the 51 dogs who were rescued, and those before who weren’t. I paint for the 51 …

“I paint for the dogs … that didn’t win in a fight they never wanted anyway, dying from injuries with punctured skin and a mauled lip and face that became raw meat. I paint for the dogs … with that were forced into a rape stall to unwillingly bring more dogs into the world of dog fighting. I paint for any dog who has been, is, or will be a part of this heinous world. The resiliency of the 51 is my courage, my push, my determination, and my love for this project.”

rayTomkinson, according to the Huffington Post, hopes to turn the project into a book, with portraits of all 51 dogs — those who were adopted and those who spent the rest of their lives in sanctuaries.

“Every single dog has importance and a story to tell, something to teach us, and either their passing or not being adopted doesn’t lessen their message or them,” she said.

“If Re51lient can empower one person to choose positivity over negativity, triumph over fear, allow them to let go of past hurt or add one more pit bull lover to this world, then my heart is happy. ”

(Photos: Lucas, a former Vick dog who died last year at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary; Tomkinson, from her Facebook page; and Ray, a Vick dog adopted this year)

Dachshund’s blindness doesn’t slow him down

Here’s a quick video update on Ace’s old neighborhood walking buddy, Frank, who went blind a couple of months ago from diabetes.

When first they met, the dachsund’s only problem was being a bit overweight. With exercise and dieting he was trimming down nicely when he was diagnosed with diabetes and, almost overnight, lost his eyesight.

That made him a little hesitant, especially when he was outside, and wary about taking that next step — but only for a few days.

Now, he he tears up the nature trail when he comes over my way for a visit. And, as you can see from this outing to a soccer field, recorded by his owner, he bounds as much as he ever did, if not more. These days, he doesn’t hesitate to go full speed ahead, even when he’s not sure what’s ahead.

Vick dog finds happy home in Dallas

I never expected our year-long cross country trip would include Ace riding in the back seat of a car with a former Michael Vick dog.

Then again, I never expected we’d be hanging out in a strip club, either.

But our visit to The Lodge in Dallas led us to meet Mel, a still meek and fearful, sad-eyed, mostly black pit bull — small in stature, short on confidence, and sweet as pecan pie.

Mel was adopted from Best Friends by Sunny Hunter, manager of VIP services at the swanky Dallas gentlemen’s club, and her husband Richard Hunter, a talk show host whose outlook on life isn’t as bleak as his goth appearance may lead you to think — especially since Mel came into their lives.

Meet Mel and the low esteem in which you may already hold Michael Vick — and, yes, we know he served his time — plummets even lower.

For one thing, you see — in his fearful eyes, his tentative stride — the effects of the torture Vick inflicted; for another you see a true innocent; a mild-mannered dog whose lack of killer instinct led him to be designated a bait dog, a living chew toy.

But you also see a dog who, despite all that humans did to him in his first year of life, seems to hold no grudge against the species.

Mel was only about a year old when he was seized from the Vick estate in Virginia. He was one of 47 survivors, and one of the 22 who, deemed most hopeless, were sent to Best Friends, the animal sanctuary in southern Utah.

He spent nearly two years at Best Friends, where trainers worked to help him overcome his fearfulness and eventually pronounced him adoptable.

Richard and Sunny already had an application in by then — starting off a process that would take more than a year. Sunny had grown interested in adopting a Vick dog after seeing a documentary. Richard had one of Best Friends’ trainers on his talk show.

The couple waited for nine months, then underwent a criminal background check, and a home visit. Finally, they were invited up to Best Friends to spend a week living on the grounds and getting to know Mel. They brought their dog Pumpkin, a terrier mix, along as well.

Pumpkin immediately became friends with Mel, and became his guardian — a role he continues to fulfill.

Last fall, the adoption having been approved by the same judge who sent Vick to prison for two years, Mel was delivered to the Hunter’s home in Dallas by a Best Friends trainer and caregiver, who stayed in town for a week, visiting daily.

Richard describes the adoption process as “daunting,” but worth it. Mel slowly came out of his shell, and though he still quivers at first when strangers show up, or when he’s in new surroundings, he’s getting more used to meeting people. It used to take three visits before he was comfortable with a stranger, now it takes only 20 minutes or so.

Pumpkin, who is 13, has been a huge factor in his transition.

“At home, when a new person shows up, Mel sits in the corner with his back to the wall, like a statue. Pumpkin gets in front of him and screens him. Pumpkin has been instrumental in getting him to relax,” Richard said.

Mel has never barked, or made any sound, in the time they have had him. At night, if Mel needs a trip outside, Pumpkin takes note of him standing by the door and barks for him.

Mel seems most comfortable when he’s in a car, Sunny and Richard said — so we decided that’s how we all should meet. We greeted Mel and Pumpkin through a window, then loaded Ace into the backseat with them — a tight fit, but no one seemed bothered by it. Pumpkin shielded Mel the whole time, allowing him to be sniffed and petted, but never leaving his side.

After a spin around Dallas, we all got out and sat in a patch of grass outside The Lodge. Mel skulked and quivered at first but within a few minutes grew at ease.

Richard says Mel was used as a bait dog, due to his small size and mild temperament. He was likely muzzled when he was thrown into the ring with other dogs being trained to fight. He was not one of those that Bad Newz Kennels terminated — sometimes by drowning or hanging.

“Most people really didn’t take the time to look at the details of the case – the jumper cables, the hanging, the drowning, the distance throwing contests. That’s just bizarre. It’s diabolical,” Richard said. As for Vick’s return to the NFL, he said, “It was very disappointing to me that the American public stood for it. He’s psychopathic, like a serial killer.”

While Vick’s dogs were, in most cases, rehabilitated, Richard is among those who doubt the same was truly achieved by Vick, despite his appearances in an anti-dogfighting campaign.

Mel’s tail, which was broken in his youth, stayed between his legs for the first few months, Richard said. “Now, he smiles and he walks with his head up. His tail was broken, so it doesn’t really wag.”

“When he plays, he plays in secret,” said Sunny. “At first he would just sit there and shake. Now he waits on the couch for me and gives me a kiss when I come home.”

“His resilience is amazing to me,” Richard said. “He really has changed my life. It’s amazing to me that he’s willing to love us — that he’s still able to judge people individualy when for the first year of his life, if he saw a human being, it meant something terrible was going to happen to him.

 “We just want to make him as happy as can be.”

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)