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Tag: united states

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)

Canine pipeline: Dogs who run out of luck in Las Vegas are ending up in Canada

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Most people involved in animal rescue know that homeless dogs in America are routinely shipped from southern shelters to northern ones to improve their chances of adoption.

But here’s a canine pipeline I hadn’t heard of — dogs from Las Vegas, like Pono (above), are being flown to Canada to find new adoptive homes. He was the 1,000th dog to make the trip.

Pono, a 3-year-old male Pomeranian, left a Las Vegas animal shelter in September and ended up either for sale or up for adoption (depending on your point of view) at Petcetera, a large pet store chain in Canada.

He made the trip through a program called Foreclosed Upon Pets Inc., which has been operating since 2008.  The non-profit organization began shipping Las Vegas shelter dogs to Vancouver two and a half years ago, and now ships eight to 16 every week.

In Canada, they they are adopted out — for a $500 fee — through Petcetera’s 18 stores, according to a story initially reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and picked up by ABC News.

Both stories describe what’s happening — troubling as it is on some levels — as a simple matter of supply and demand: The U.S. has millions of surplus dogs; Canada, with its stricter regulations on spaying and neutering, has what some might call a shortage, especially when it comes to smaller breeds.

“For whatever reason, we have a shortage of small dogs here, and to be quite honest, we were shocked at the size of the problem in Las Vegas,” said Richard Kaga, the executive vice president of Petcetera, which operates big box pet stores from Alberta to British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

“Over here in the United States, we’re just one big puppy mill,” said Everett Croxson, FUPI executive director. “Las Vegas included … Let’s face it. People are breeding for money in their backyards, and the concept of spaying and neutering never enters their heads, even if the laws exist. Even if there are such laws on the books.”

Every week, Croxson picks up dogs from the Lied Animal Shelter in Las Vegas and takes them to the airport. After a layover in Seattle, they arrive in Vancouver. Since the program started in 2010, Croxson said he has exported as many as 1,100 small dogs, nearly three-fourths of them Chihuahuas. Croxson calls Las Vegas “the Chihuahua capital of the world.”

He started the organization to find homes for dogs that had been abandoned due to foreclosures, most of which ended up at Lied Animal Shelter,  a very high volume regional shelter that takes in more than 100 dogs and cats each day. In 2012, nearly 43,000 unwanted animals — nearly 23,000 dogs and 18,000 cats — came in, and many never left. An estimated 65 dogs and cats are put to sleep there every day.

Given that ugly alternative, it’s hard to find any fault with a program that’s bringing dogs happy endings in another country.

But what’s happening seems to make a pretty sad statement about our own country: “No, we can’t take care of our own.” “True, we tend to shirk responsibilities.” “Yes — cough, cough — our economy is a little unhealthy right now.” America in 2013 is producing refugees — albeit canine ones — who must be airlifted out of the country to stay alive.

Kaga, the Petcetera official, says there are no puppy mills in Canada and that Canadian pet owners  “would not think of having a pet” without spaying and neutering it.  Some might argue with that, but clearly Canada is a step ahead — or at least enough ahead that, when it comes to canines, it’s accepting our tired, poor, homeless and hungry.

Noble as it appears, the adoption program isn’t hurting business at Petcetera stores.

Kaga says the $500 fee the store is paid for each adopted pet covers the cost of the animals’ transportation, spaying or neutering, shots, health certificate, and their care and boarding at Petcetera.

But each dog adopted is going to need some food, and toys, and treats, perhaps a dog bed, and maybe a nice warm sweater.

“Like people, dogs have to have toys and food,” he says. “When we adopt a dog out, we hope the customer will come back to us for all that dog’s needs for the rest of its life. It’s worked out really well for all concerned — especially the dogs.”

(Photo: Foreclosed Upon Pets, Inc.)

One in five prefer pet as their Valentine

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So, with only three days left to Valentine’s Day, your honey still hasn’t firmed up the plans?

Could be he, or she, is planning to spend it with the pooch.

Rather than spending Valentine’s Day with their human partner, a fifth of adults would prefer to be with their pet, Reuters reports, based on a global poll conducted in conjunction with the market research company, Ipsos.

The survey of 24,000 people in 23 countries found, globally, 21 percent of adults would rather spend February 14 with their pet than their spouse or partner.

Interestingly, Turkish people were most inclined to want to spend the day with the dog (49 percent), while the French were least likely (10 percent).

The survey found that age and income were even bigger factors than country of residence, with younger, less affluent people more likely to choose their pet as their Valentine’s Day companion. About  25 percent of people aged under 35 opted for their pet over their partner, compared to 18 percent of those aged 35-54 and 14 percent of people aged 55 and over. Men and women were evenly split over the question.

About 1,000 individuals per country took part in the poll, with Turkey showing the largest numbers by far of owners who preferred their pet’s company on Valentine’s Day.  Next came India with 41 percent, Japan with 30 percent, China with 29 percent, the United States with 27 percent and Australia with 25 percent.

The nations where residents were the least likely to want to spend the day with a pet over their spouse or partner were France at 10 percent, Mexico at 11 percent, the Netherlands at 12 percent and Hungary at 12 percent.

Dogs from around the world headed to Haiti

Dogs from New York City and around the world are being sent to help in the search and recovery effort in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

The U.S. government is sending two, 72-man search and rescue teams with dogs to help dig out survivors, said Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Business Week reports.

French teams with “sniffer dogs” were seen boarding vans yesterday, headed to the airport on their way to Haiti. China dispatched a chartered plane containing multiple sniffer dogs and 10 tons of tents, food and medical equipment. A team from the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations left Moscow, also bound for Haiti, Discovery News reports.

Elsewhere, dogs were departing from Peru, Taiwan, Mexico and Britain, where a 64-member team, including dogs and handlers was en route.

The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation has sent at least six dog-and-handler teams have been sent to Haiti.

“Our hearts go out to our neighbors in Haiti, and we’re honored to be able to help find survivors of this terrible tragedy,” NDSDF executive director Debra Tosch said. “This is the day that our teams have trained for; when the unthinkable happens, SDF Teams stand ready to respond, bringing hope and comfort to victims and their loved ones.”

“Pedigree Dogs Exposed” gets first U.S. airing

“Pedigree Dogs Exposed, ” the controversial BBC documentary that shed some much needed light on purebred breeding practices and the horrors they have produced, will get its first airing in the U.S. tonight (Dec. 10).

Probably the single most important piece of dog reporting in the past decade, the documentary led to the BBC dropping its coverage of Crufts, the UK’s equivalent of the Westminster Dog Show.

The documentary looks at how many breeds have had their physical appearance so exaggerated they’re unrecognizable from a century ago, and it examines some of the breed-specific health problems that have resulted from breeders emphasizing looks over health when breeding dogs for shows.

The show, which led to some changes in Kennel Club and breeder policies and practices,  airs at 8 p.m. tonight on BBC America.

The documentary revealed that dogs suffering from genetic illness are not prevented from competing in dog shows and have gone on to win “best in breed”, despite their poor health. It says physical traits required by the Kennel Club’s breed standards in the U.K., such as short faces, wrinkling, screw-tails and dwarfism, have led to inherent health problems.

This excerpt from the program shows a prize-winning cavalier King Charles spaniel suffering from syringomyelia, a condition which occurs when a dog’s skull is too small for its brain.

The documentary looks at other problems that have resulted from mating dogs who are close relatives, all for the purposes of accentuating certain physical features deemed desirable by the dog show crowd — boxers suffering from epilepsy, pugs with breathing problems and bulldogs who are unable to mate or give birth unassisted because their heads are so big.

While picked up here and there by the U.S. media, the story of shaping purebred dogs to fit arbitrary human standards of beauty — despite the health ramifications — remains best told by the BBC documentary. By all means, watch it.

Vick takes to the pulpit in Washington

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick spoke from behind the pulpit of a Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. yesterday — the latest in a series of talks aimed at helping to stop dogfighting and earning himself redemption.

With a line of police standing against the back wall, Michael Vick clutched the sides of a pulpit and told the crowd at the Covenant Baptist Church the story of how as a young child he watched dogfights in his Newport News, Va., neighborhood and eventually fell into a dogfighting operation, leading to his arrest, a 23-month prison term and more than two-year suspension from professional football.

You can read the Washington Post story here.

Vick was in D.C. as part of an arrangement he has made with Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), to make two public appearances a month to speak out against dogfighting.

The agreement played a role in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to end Vick’s suspension last week, allowing him to play in the Eagles’ game last Sunday.

Vick has spoken at events held at schools in Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

More than 200 dogs seized from Pa. kennel

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Animal welfare officials shut down a Pennsylvania breeding kennel yesterday, suspending the operator’s license and removing 216 dogs.

Under the authority of a new state law, agents of the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and the Humane Society of the United States shut down the Almost Heaven Kennel in Emmaus, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The dogs seized from the Lehigh County kennel, which state officials said had a history of abuse, were taken to the Farm Show complex in Harrisburg, where they are to be evaluated before being put up for adoption.

The seizure came after the Commonwealth Court rejected kennel owner Derbe Eckhart’s emergency appeal of his license revocation.

Twenty-five dogs will remain at the kennel because no license is needed for less than 26 animals.

A raid last year by the Pennsylvania SPCA exposed horrendous conditions at the kennel, which housed as many as 800 animals in filthy, crowded cages and kennels.

(Photo:  Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture)