A Roanoke animal rescue group welcomed 13 South Korean dogs on Saturday.
ROANOKE – Over the weekend, members from Angels of Assisi drove to Maryland to assist with a rescue. Even though it took hours for the Roanoke animal protection nonprofit to make it to their destination, the dogs they brought back to Virginia traveled much farther—7,000 miles, to be exact.
The 13 canines the group transported arrived in the United States several weeks ago. They—along with 157 other dogs—came from a farm in South Korea.
However, they weren’t your average farm dog. Fido wasn’t corralling cattle. Ole Blue wasn’t herding sheep.
“These dogs were from a meat farm, which would go to human consumption,” said Lisa O’Neill, Angels of Assisi executive director.
Keeping With Tradition
The phrase “dog days of summer” has a different meaning in South Korea. On some of the traditionally hottest days of the year, some Koreans—no longer the majority—consume dog meat. The citizens call the festival Dog Meat Day, which lasts anywhere from three to 10 days in Asian countries.
According to some scholars, Koreans consumed dog meat for thousands of years. The protein source became common during Japan’s Korean occupation, World War II and the Korean War, when citizens had little food available.
As disturbing as the idea seems to Americans, the Koreans utilize the canine meat in several different recipes, from making soup to concocting drinks.
Anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 million dogs grow up in thousands of registered South Korean meat farms. Put into perspective, approximately 3.3 million dogs live in shelters across the entire United States.
Fewer Koreans eat dog meat now than in the past. However, multiple studies in recent years concluded that between 20% and 30% of the population still followed the practice. The remaining 70% to 80% either opposed the meal or did not partake.
Swooping in, the Humane Society International successfully completed a rescue mission a couple of weeks ago.
However, they didn’t only save the dogs’ lives. They also protected the farmers’ livelihoods. Rather than shutting down the operation and leaving farmers without an income, O’Neill noted that the Humane Society International helped them learn new skills.
“When the Humane Society goes in and talks to the owners of these dog meat farms, their goal is to shut these farms completely down. But they also have to give those farmers something else to do to maintain their lifestyle,” O’Neill said. “When they go in, the view is that the farm will be completely closed. They do leave those farmers with some other alternatives to make income and they bring all of the dogs out and those farms are permanently closed.”
For the most recent batch of pups, the Humane Society International took care of the travel arrangements from the South Korean farm to the states. Then, they placed the dogs under quarantine with American partners, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
During the quarantine period, people monitored the dogs’ health. They also kept an eye out for any red flags, ensuring that there weren’t any concerns adopting them out to American homes.
A Helpful Hand
Even though the dogs didn’t originate from the Roanoke area where the nonprofit resides, the canines’ home country didn’t influence O’Neill’s decision to offer local resources.
“We like to help out the HSUS as much as we can. They do wonderful work and they count on their local partners to help them do these big rescues,” O’Neill said. “The second part of it, it was just the right thing to do for these dogs who’d been saved so far away. If we had a chance to step in and help them out, we were all in.”
The lucky 13 dogs arrived in Roanoke on Saturday. They’re adjusting well to their new surroundings, but it could be several weeks before they’re ready to find homes.
“So far, so good,” O’Neill said. “Some are shy. Some of them have never been on a leash. They’re figuring out that humans are their friends. We have staff working with them. With COVID, we’ve had to really reduce the number of volunteers, but we have a few volunteers who are very experienced that are helping.”
The executive director noted that the dogs must adjust to city life before they can find new homes.
“We live in downtown Roanoke, so they have to get used to cars and car sounds and walking on a leash next to a busy street,” O’Neill said. “With a little bit of time and patience, they come around nicely.”
Some dogs could find homes faster than others. That’s okay. The Virginia rescue group works with animals on each pooch’s own terms.
“It’s not something that you can force on them. It’s something that comes in time,” O’Neill said. “We can’t put a leash on them, drag them outside and expect them to walk. We put the leash on when they’re inside and then we take it off. And then we take the leash off when they’re in the back dog lot. It takes a lot of time.”
Helping the dogs gain human trust, staff and volunteers often hand-feed the pups. That not only introduces them to kind humans, but also rewards them for interacting.
“If they’re younger, they adjust faster. But it can take several months,” O’Neill said. “We have had dogs that rehabilitation has taken nine to 12 months for some of them.”
After completing their rehabilitation process, all 13 dogs will go up for adoption. Well, 13 plus a few latecomers. One South Korean dog arrived pregnant and will give birth to a litter of puppies any day.
O’Neill discussed the perfect home life for the dogs originally bound for stew.
“We’re looking for homes that will be patient and understand that these dogs might not be your typical golden retriever puppy that’s going to pick up perfectly and be a wonderful addition right off the bat. They may have some trust issues,” O’Neill said. “We’re looking for some homes that will be patient and put them in a routine and let them come around in their own time.”
O’Neill thanked the community for backing Angels of Assisi, not only during the most recent venture, but throughout the years.
“We couldn’t do it without the help of people who donate food, money [and] supplies toward the care of these dogs,” O’Neill said. “We’re very appreciative.”
For more information on the Virginia rescue group, you can visit their website here.
Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]