Emily Doran, an English teacher in Seoul, has found homes for more than 140 dogs over the past two years -- many of them “last-day dogs” from city shelters, where unclaimed strays can be killed after a 10-day holding period under South Korea’s Animal Protection Act.
Her rescue group, Domo’s Friends, has more than 1,000 followers on Facebook.
Doran is one of a number of advocates concerned about the animal rescue system in Korea and trying to mitigate its shortcomings through private efforts.
In 2014, Doran decided to foster a Pomeranian after seeing his picture on the internet, but it took months to find a home for Tigger.
“And so I was always kind of a little hesitant about taking in another rescue,” she said. She worried that she’d be stuck adopting a dog she hadn’t planned on, and avoided rescue pages on social media because she couldn’t bear reading about animals she couldn’t help.
But in March 2016, she started following again.
“And in June I stupidly downloaded Paw in Hand, and I say stupidly because that app’ll kill you.”
Paw in Hand is an app administered by the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency. It displays nationwide lost-and-found animal listings along with pictures of animals in municipal shelters.
A recent search revealed that 25,666 animals -- 26.5 percent of the total -- had been adopted in 2018 as of Oct. 22. Another 12,603 were reclaimed by their families. But 21,787 died “natural” deaths, mostly from illness and accidents, and 18,551 were killed. Smaller numbers were released or turned over to private rescues, and 16,096 remained in shelters.
“You can see when they come in,” Doran said. “You can see when they are killed and everything like that. … And one day I saw this really sad-looking mixed dog that looked like kind of a German shepherd mix, and it was a puppy. And I was like, oh my God, this looks like the saddest dog in the whole entire world.”
Doran kept thinking about the puppy -- probably around 3 months old, she guessed.
“But I know it’s going to be a big dog,” she told herself. She decided against fostering.
But when she learned that a group of dogs were going to be killed she visited the shelter with a picture of the puppy.
“The voice changed,” Doran said, remembering the shelter worker who told her.
“And I come to find out … they had killed that dog that morning.”
Doran, who still has the puppy’s picture on her phone, blames her “flip-flopping” for the animal’s death.
She took two dogs out of the shelter that day and found homes for them. Then she took more. She now works with seven foster families, mostly English teachers and US military personnel, and she regularly sends dogs to two private rescues in the US.
She screens local adopters with a seven-page questionnaire, and post-adoption they keep in touch on Instagram. If an adoption doesn’t work out, she takes the dog back. But she knows she’s limited as part of a small, unregistered network of foreign residents.
Another advocate, Jeong Buyun of the Beagle Rescue Network, drives from Seoul to Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, nearly every week to spend time with beagles.
A Ph.D. candidate at Seoul National University, Jeong has been an animal rescue volunteer for more than 10 years.
The beagle shelter opened in 2016 and has 220 dogs, including about 10 laboratory beagles. Most of the others were pulled from city shelters, she said.
The ex-lab beagles are fearful because they lack socialization. The beagles from pounds are more outgoing, Jeong said, but it’s still not easy to find homes for them because they’re “big dogs” with plenty of energy and a tendency to develop separation anxiety.
“I’m proud of our facility that we have a spacious playground and the dogs are not kept in a cage,” Jeong said. “So living with us forever isn’t that bad, isn’t that terrible, compared to other shelter conditions, but … finding homes for them is our priority.”
AJ Garcia and his wife, Park So-youn of Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth, have organized many protests and campaigned for stronger animal protection laws. Garcia has also carried out undercover investigations both here and in the US.
Through CARE, which operates shelters in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, he knows how important it is to showcase animals in adoption centers -- small shelters in high-traffic locations that are designed to be inviting to the public.
He’s also seen animals suffer because governments and charities couldn’t communicate openly or work together effectively.
“A lot of new policies and a lot of new programs (are) just for show,” he said. “They create something to make a big spectacle of it. They do it for a few years, or a couple of months, and then that’s it. It’s done.”
The three animal advocates generally agree that Korea’s municipal pound system is inadequate. They all want neutering to be more affordable. They’re all skeptical about the country’s animal rescue system in general, complaining of rampant mismanagement, questionable uses of funds, lack of transparency and low animal care standards. And they all agree that overseas adoptions, while acceptable in individual cases, shouldn’t be the norm.
Garcia said large-scale overseas dog rescues effectively take up homes that would otherwise go to shelter animals in the destination countries.
“I am afraid that animal welfare, animal protection or even animal rights has become such a fad and such a trend here -- and such a moneymaker -- that, unfortunately, people aren’t in it for the right reasons,” he said.
Considering the amount of money that people donate to animal charities here, he said, “a lot more could be done.”
One problem, he says, is that cities often hire private contractors to run shelters.
“And they don’t do their due diligence in checking, you know, what kind of person they’re doing their contract with,” he said. “If that person is connected to things like dog meat or dog fighting.”
Soon after the interview, Garcia left Korea. He now lives in Florida and works at a sanctuary for abused animals, including dogs and roosters previously used for fighting.
Jeong is working to shut down a substandard private shelter that has been neglecting animals for years. She urges readers to investigate animal charities and ask to see receipts to make sure the money is used for its intended purpose.
On Oct. 21, Doran made an announcement on the Domo’s Friends Facebook page. She’d lost Nova, one of her recent rescues, to distemper.
"My heart is broken now and so I need to take a break,” Doran wrote. “I will not be taking any new dogs in for a while. The dogs in the rescue are safe but no new dogs will be coming until I feel stronger.”
By Eileen Cahill(firstname.lastname@example.org