Eight months ago, Rey was shivering in an outdoor cage at a South Korean dog meat farm, fated to be killed and eaten.
Today, the sleek, brown large-breed dog lives in a Vancouver foster home, learning the ways of American pets as he waits for someone to adopt him.
Rey, a Tosa, or Japanese mastiff, is among the 102 dogs Humane Society International rescued in August after convincing the owner of one of South Korea’s 17,000 dog meat farms to switch to growing crops.
Although dog meat is considered a delicacy and is served at many Korean restaurants, animal advocates say the trade is unregulated, leading to inhumane living conditions and barbaric methods of slaughter for the more than 2 million dogs bred annually at dog meat farms.
The rescued dogs were flown to the United States in September and placed in shelters for rehabilitation, training and adoption. The Humane Society for Southwest Washington took in 25 of the dogs, mostly Tosas and a few small Jindo mixes.
“I can’t even tell you how hard our staff and volunteers have worked to make our Korean dogs successful,” said Denise Barr, the Vancouver shelter’s vice president of marketing.
Since the fall, 20 of the 25 dogs have been placed in permanent homes. Three dogs were euthanized: One had a devastating medical condition, and the other two had severe behavioral problems that made them unsuitable for adoption, Barr said.
Another dog from Korea, a fuzzy blonde Jindo named Chloe, is slowly getting to know a prospective adoptive family who visits her regularly at the Vancouver shelter. Chloe was so feral and undersocialized when she arrived in the U.S. that she wouldn’t let anyone touch her. But due to the patience and perseverance of shelter employees, Chloe has progressed to where she can transition into a home, although she still has a ways to go, said Shannon Boyd, the shelter’s transport coordinator.
“For a while, we just weren’t sure what we were going to do with her,” Boyd said. “It’s been a joyful experience watching her come out of her shell and just kind of blossom.”
That leaves Rey as the last dog from the Korean rescue waiting to be claimed by a forever family.
Rey’s adoption was delayed because he ate a tennis ball and needed emergency surgery over the winter. For the past five weeks, he has been fostered at the home of Vancouver resident Melissa Plate. She had considered adopting Rey but decided against it because she already has two large dogs in her small home.
Rey, who weighs about 90 pounds, is smart, sweet, affectionate, cuddly, goofy, playful — and afraid. That’s common with many of the Korean rescue dogs due to the lack of exposure to new experiences in their puppyhood. He has trust issues and takes awhile to warm up to people.
“I don’t think he’ll ever be that dog you just take anywhere you want. He won’t be that farmer’s market dog,” said Plate, 47, a registered nurse.
Rey would do best in a household with another dog to play with and to give him confidence on walks, she said. His strong prey instinct means he can’t live with cats. Also, his size, strength and clumsiness wouldn’t be good in households with small children because he might knock them down, Plate said.
Because he’s food-driven, he can be trained to do anything, she said.
Whoever adopts Rey would need to spend time getting him used to their routine, “and it won’t be easy at first because he’s so afraid of everything,” she said. “He just doesn’t know anything.”
To apply to adopt Rey, go to https://southwesthumane.org.
Kazi’s new home
Jason Fish and fianc?e Julia Tickerhoof of Vancouver adopted one of the Korean rescue dogs in October because “their story’s amazing and they’re beautiful dogs,” said Fish, 39, public relations manager for Main Event Sports Grill.
They brought their two dogs, an English mastiff and a 10-pound papillon, with them to the shelter. Ultimately, the dogs picked Kazi, a 1-year-old Tosa who was among the more social dogs of the bunch.
Kazi, short for kamikaze, was just skin and bones when they got her. Her hindquarters were weak and atrophied because she had never been out of her cage. She had never gotten to run. Now 100 pounds, Kazi loves to race around the house and yard. It’s taken some work, but she’s housebroken.
As with Rey, a great deal of coaxing is required to get Kazi to try anything new. She was hesitant to walk through doorways. It took her four months to climb the stairs to the second floor. Now, however, she bounds to the top landing, drops a tennis ball and chases it down the stairs.
“It’s like she’s a 6-month-old puppy,” Fish said. “All she wants to do is play.”
He recommends that anyone considering adopting a dog from a Korean meat farm should be patient and invest the needed time in training and bonding.
“You’ve got to build the bond with them,” he said. “Every day (Kazi) gets a little closer to everybody.”
They’ve never had second thoughts about adopting Kazi.
“For the most part, it’s been a great experience,” Fish said.
Vancouver resident Jaima Tidwell adopted a Tosa named Paxton on Dec. 5 from the Korea rescue. Her only pet, a cat, had died two years earlier, and she was looking for a large dog to keep her company. When she saw the Tosas available on the Humane Society for Southwest Washington’s website, “I raced over there,” Tidwell said.
She brought home Paxton that day.
Knowing Paxton had been caged in horrific conditions and used for breeding puppies that would be eaten “broke my heart. It was awful,” said Tidwell, 43, who works in escrow. “I wanted to give her the best of everything.”
At first, Paxton was fearful of new things, but Tidwell kept her on a routine and acclimating her turned out to be easier than expected, she said. Today, Paxton is housebroken and sleeps in Tidwell’s bed at night. They’re working on her basic commands.
“Now, she’s a whole different dog,” Tidwell said. “She wags her tail all the time, even in her sleep, which I love.”
They’re also working on getting Paxton to jump in the car on her own (though she adores car rides) and become comfortable with ceiling fans. But Paxton and her new mom will clear those hurdles together.
“She’s changed my whole life. I love her.”