You may have seen posts on the SGA Facebook page about our trip to South Korea. We’d like to share a little more background about the trip and introduce you to the unsung hero that is Gyungmi Kang.
About 4 years ago, we were introduced to a rescue group in South Korea called Empathy for Life (EFL). One of our local vets, Dr. Min, is from Korea and she had just traveled back with some dogs. It was through her that we learned about the hardships that dogs face in Korea, where the dog meat trade is alive and well. While SGA’s focus is mainly on dogs in need in US shelters, we are always open to helping other dogs in need if and when we are able to. After learning about the dog meat trade, we became passionate about helping dogs escape this horrible fate. We were connected with Mrs. Kang, who started Empathy for Life, and that is when our journey with Korean dogs began.
For the past 4 years, our communication with EFL happened solely through email and messenger. Mrs. Kang would forward us information about the dogs in most urgent need and we would then plan to fly them to Seattle and get them into foster homes. We saved over 200 dogs from South Korea this way. While we had never met, we always knew that Mrs. Kang and her team worked tirelessly to bring dogs to safety, provide them with medical care and give them all the love they could muster. In a society where most dogs are not seen as beloved family members, but rather as a nuisance or a source of food, Mrs. Kang fights a battle each day to right the wrongs and to change a long-standing cultural mindset.
There are many stories about the dog meat trade in South Korea and also many misconceptions. Without going into too much detail, it is important to understand the situation a little more. Traditionally, dogs have been a food source in many countries, and eating them was often seen as offering special health benefits. In South Korea, there are still many dog meat restaurants to this day and in particular the older generation will still eat dog meat on a regular basis. While in Seoul, we googled ‘dog meat restaurants near me’ and were sad to find that over 200 search results came up. The restaurants get their dogs from either dog meat farms, where dogs are specifically bred for consumption, or from city pounds, where stray dogs are taken if found on the street. The farms are not strictly legal, but authorities often turn a blind eye. The breed and size of the dog are mostly irrelevant, though larger dogs are more typically used. Small dogs like poodles or Pomeranians have become quite popular as pets with the younger generation in South Korea and they have a chance of being adopted. The larger breeds (anything over 15 lbs) are unlikely to find homes and are therefore in danger of ending in the wrong hands or are destined for a life roaming the streets. The dogs used for consumption are killed in very cruel ways, as the belief is that the more pain an animal suffers, the more tender and healthy the meat will be. To be clear, not all dogs rescued are from the meat trade. Some are simply strays, who wander around searching for food, sometimes injured, cold and afraid. However, if they were not rescued, they are again at risk of falling prey to those on the lookout for dog meat. While there is a long way to go, there is also hope as the younger generation is more open to change and sees dogs in a different light. It is likely that the consumption of dogs will always continue to some degree, just as our Western societies will likely always consume pigs, cows, chickens and other kinds of meat. You can learn more about the dog meat trade here though the numbers in this article seem rather more optimistic than the reality.
When we finally met Mrs. Kang on our first day at Empathy for Life, she told us that she used to be afraid of dogs. It was hard to us to wrap our minds around that. Mrs. Kang is a small woman with a powerful presence. She takes care of over 90 dogs at a time and knows them all by name and can tell you each of their stories. The dogs follow her around when they are out in the yard and with one word from her, go back in their individual cages. They love her, they follow her, they allow her to pet them when no one else can come near them. The love she has for each dog is evident in her every move and every touch. She tells us that years ago she was introduced to a big Malamute. The dog didn’t like her much and the feeling was mutual. Over time though, they got to know each other and formed a bond. When the dog passed away from cancer, it seemed that life had suddenly lost its purpose. The deep love and connection with this dog had changed her profoundly. In searching for a way to honor her dog’s life, she started volunteering at a local pound and that is when her passion for rescue was truly ignited. Now, years later, Empathy for Life has become her life’s work. Mrs. Kang is there every day, seven days a week. The dogs are fed, medicated, taken to the vet, given play-time, clean kennels and as much love as time allows. Not only is it physically backbreaking work, it is also emotionally taxing. Some of the dogs arrive in horrendous conditions, having suffered at the hands of others, or are simply too afraid of humans to allow any interaction. The dogs live in outdoor kennels, where they suffer from the unbearable heat in the summer and the dreadful cold in the winter. It is not ideal, but the dogs are safe. Some have been there for years and some only spend a few months there.
EFL is located in Goyangsi, in the outskirts of Seoul, surrounded by fields and run down buildings. Sadly, by spring 2020 they will have to move to another location, as the current land has been designated as the site for new apartment buildings in an ever-expanding city. Finding a new location is difficult for many reasons. Where do you go with 90 plus dogs, little funds and little public support? Saving Great Animals has committed to helping as many dogs as possible to move out. As much as we want to help them all, it is not an easy undertaking. Flying dogs to the US is costly. Each dog needs to be thoroughly vetted, crates need to be purchased, volunteers need to be found to fly with the dogs and flights for the dogs need to be booked and paid for. We know we cannot help them all, but we will do our best to take some of the burden from Mrs. Kang.
We know that bringing dogs over from South Korea and other countries can be controversial. After all, there are plenty of dogs in need right here at home. The majority of SGA dogs have always and will continue to come from US shelters. However, it is important to us to also support those who dedicate their lives to helping animals, no matter where they are from. For Mrs. Kang, there is no rest, no time for complaining, no time for tears. There is only endless work, passion and dedication. Without support from rescues like ours, willing to re-home dogs in the US, the dogs at EFL would have no future. We hope that you will support us, and EFL, and the wonderful dogs who need us.
If you are so inclined, donations can be made via our website by clicking on the ‘donate’ button on the home page. All of our donations go directly to the dogs. (For those wondering, our trip to South Korea was paid for entirely out of our own pocket and not from SGA funds). For more information about EFL, please visit their Facebook page.
Thank you for all your support. If you would like to learn more or have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org