More than a Photo Shoot
Mr. Park walked outside and briefly looked at all of his foreign volunteers. He asked in his best, broken English, “Where is the mother? Why is she not giving birth here?” With solemn faces, the volunteers looked at each other. “He doesn’t know yet,” whispered one of the volunteers. While everyone else stared at the ground, one girl regretfully uttered the bad news. “She died, Mr. Park. She and the baby died on their way to the vet.” Mr. Park’s face grimaced in pain. “She’s dead?!” he cried. “The baby is dead, too?” The eyes of every expat swelled with tears. Mr. Park shook his head and waved his hands frantically because he couldn’t possibly vocalize his pain. I can’t recall what he said, but his cries pierced the air and my heart. He looked at all of his volunteers with grief, frustration, and anger. The volunteers tried to comfort him, explaining that the vet informed them the mother had heartworms – a ferocious and generally untreated killer of dogs in Korea. However, it didn’t matter. Mr. Park could not fight back his tears. He became so embarrassed by his display of grief that he went inside. Nevertheless, the walls of his small home were too thin to muffle his cries. It was not an easy day for Mr. Park and the volunteers of the Asan Shelter, but it’s never an easy job to be a last hope for dogs in Korea.
Meeting Mr. Park was not what I expected. A friend asked me to help take Christmas card pictures of the animals to promote the shelter. We boarded the KTX in Seoul and met a group of volunteers in Asan. It was shortly after enjoying my two Bavarian crème donuts that we learned a volunteer had found Mr. Park unconscious on the road by his shelter. The group frantically rushed to the shelter. They contacted 119 (emergency services in Korea), but 119 struggled to understand the foreigners and secure a translator. So, the group I accompanied arrived at the scene before the ambulance. We found Mr. Park face down on the pavement with an empty leash attached to his arm. His legs and feet were awkwardly pointing in opposite directions.
Mr. Park did not smell like alcohol, which is the common culprit for finding unconscious men on the streets in Korea. He had a strong pulse, but he had not moved for the first forty-five minutes since the first volunteer arrived. He might have been in that position much longer. When the volunteer found him, Beast (one of the dogs) was sitting panic-stricken by his side. Another volunteer had already escorted Beast back to his cage by the time we arrived. The ambulance finally came and took Mr. Park to the hospital. He appeared to be o.k. The volunteers collectively pushed back their tears, composed themselves, and proceeded to care for the animals at the shelter.
To their surprise, Mr. Park arrived later in the afternoon. From what they attempted to learn from the doctors, stress and hypertension caused his health scare. However, they assumed that because he couldn’t afford medical expenses, he left without adequate treatment. The situation didn’t matter to Mr. Park since the animals were his first concern. When he was absent, the volunteers brought Baby ( the pregnant dog) to the vet to ensure her safety during birth. When he learned of her death, Mr. Park blamed himself for not being there, although the situation was out of his control.
Earlier in the year, Mr. Park rescued Baby from death row at another shelter. Here is the story regarding how Baby’s owner abandoned her. Click below.
Baby’s story received press coverage and notoriety in Korea. Yet, Mr. Park was one of the few willing to help. Online, many Koreans falsely accused Mr. Park of forcing Baby to sleep in horrible conditions and improperly feeding her. According to the volunteers who sacrifice their weekends to help Mr. Park, these claims are false. From what I witnessed, Mr. Park has almost literally given his life to help these animals. He doesn’t deserve to be called a murderer or a hoarder; he deserves the charity, good will, and appreciation of other people.
How Bad is animal overpopulation in Korea?
In Korea, 17% of the population owns pets. However, according to a survey by KARA, only 3% of the population keeps their pets for over 10 years, while 51% of the population abandon their animals within five years. Volunteers at the Asan Animal Shelter informed me there are roughly 100,000 animals in the 385 different pounds in Korea at a given time. 65,000 of those animals will either die from natural causes or be destroyed by the shelter. The Korea Times also reported pet owners abandoned 100,000 animals in 2010 with very few of these animals being reclaimed or adopted at local pounds. The causes of Korea’s animal overpopulation are multi-faceted, and I included notes on some of the issues at the bottom of this post.
The Asan Shelter
Underfunded, private, no-kill shelters like Mr. Park’s are rare in Korea. The Asan Shelter protects approximately 70 dogs and some fantastic cats. People either bring stray dogs to Mr. Park, or he personally rescues them from death row of the other shelters. His shelter has limited space and he can only accept new animals if they find a foster or permanent home.
He does not have the resources to keep animals inside. The larger dogs reside in larger cages (since they need more room) on a steep hill and the smaller dogs live in sheltered cages near the foot of the hill. All of the cages have some form of doghouses with hay insulation. The shelter even recently raised money for self-heating pads for the smaller dogs. Nevertheless, due to the poor funding of the shelter and the health conditions of the rescued dogs, some dogs will likely die from the harsh Korean winter.
A courageous (but small) group of volunteers also come every Saturday to help feed, play, walk, clean and take the dogs to the vet. Teaching English in Korea can be a vigorous and exhausting task. Foreigners treasure their weekends to explore, drink and relax. Yet, this group works selflessly to care for and find new homes for the dogs. They even maintain profiles with updates of each dog online and will assist with the paperwork and help to move the dogs overseas to an appropriate home. Like many shelters, the care for the dogs is not perfect. However, these rescued dogs at the Asan shelter are the lucky ones. Korea is not a place a dog would ever choose to live.
If you would like to support the Asan Shelter or are interested in adopting or fostering one of their precious dogs, please use the two links below. This group will help assist in moving dogs overseas, and animal lovers in Korea can even temporarily foster animals while they live in Korea. The shelter also needs more volunteers and donations to help care for the animals. Also, I will help transport these animals back home to Florida in March if we can find homes for these wonderful dogs.
For direct contact with the Asan Shelter on questions about adoption, fostering, volunteering, and donations; please contact Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org
Link for the Asan Animal Shelter
An Awesome Video of the Asan Shelter by Tey Marie Astudillo
Dog Days of Asan by Noelle Pare
Asian Correspondent – Dogs and Cats Increasingly Being Abandoned Across South Korea