After a year of trials and tribulations, Bori finally feels at home
On April 20, Bori turns four. It’s not his real birthday, but exactly a year ago on our wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to make the day special and welcome a new member into the family — a furry son.
The manager at the private rescue shelter in Pocheon, Gyeonggi, who screened and evaluated us for adoption said many of the new rescue dog owners make the “Gotcha Day,” or the “Adoption Day” their new pet’s birthday because the dog’s real birthday is often unknown.
Bori is my second dog.
In November 2019, my first furry daughter Ashley died of lymphoma at age nine. She wasn’t adopted. I had bought her from a pet shop window before I learned the three-word slogan: “Adopt, don’t shop.”
I had always felt guilty about shopping for a dog. My excuse is, it was a cold winter in 2009 and I had left my family and come to Korea for work. I was lonely and thought a cute little Shih Tzu would ease my loneliness. I had paid 900,000 won ($730) to take this four-week old pup home. She was a little more expensive than the other Shih Tzus of similar age because she came with a certificate to prove that she was purebred. I was ignorant back then about Korea’s puppy mill situation and dog meat farms and felt so proud that I got myself a certified purebred. But like many dogs from puppy mills, Ashley suffered with many health issues, including a skin condition called dermatomycosis. She underwent three operations including one that involved removing her right ear. None of the antibiotics worked on her so regular hospital visits were a ritual for us.
Though it was not easy raising a sick dog — and very costly too — I do not regret my time with her. It allowed me to learn about the miserable reality of how pet shops in Korea operate and the harsh conditions of puppy mills, leading me to become hellbent on adopting my next pet.
After two years of mourning, my husband and I thought we were ready to welcome a new family member. We went online and were astounded by the amount of private rescue shelters and abandoned dogs. I didn’t know where to begin so picked one shelter that seemed to be located close to my house. When I checked out its website, it looked nothing like a shelter. In fact, it was promoting itself as a “high-end luxury shelter.” Unlike other conventional shelters, this so-called “rescue shelter” was in a seven-story building in southern Seoul, operated its own veterinary clinic on the first floor and a pet shop on the second floor.
I called and asked about the adoption process. A manager told me to pick a dog from the “rescue dog” tab on the website but also added that I would have to pay an “adoption fee” ranging between 200,000 won to 1 million won, depending on the pooch I picked. He said I could take the dog home right away.
“An adoption fee?” I queried.
The manager said it was required to “prohibit irresponsible adoption and to check if you are financially eligible to raise a dog. Many rescue shelters do this today.”
After thorough research, I was infuriated to find out how many pet shops are disguising themselves as rescue shelters and deceiving well-meaning adopters into taking “rescue dogs” by paying “adoption fees.” There were many testimonies online of people who say they had to pay as much as 1.2 million won to adopt a “rescue dog.”
According to the current Animal Protection Act, it is illegal for these so-called animal shelters to receive such fees. A revision of the bill, which passed the National Assembly on April 5, says that the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs will systematically manage Korea’s private rescue shelters when it takes effect next year.
In the meantime, if I wanted to adopt a rescue dog from a genuine shelter, I needed to do some more research.
I came across news articles about a private shelter called Aerinwon in Pocheon, Gyeonggi, that had been shut down by law enforcement officials in 2019. Maybe it was good intentions gone awry. The rescue shelter was established by a woman named Kong Kyung-hee about 25 years ago. Many animal rights advocate groups, including Beagle Rescue Network, the current owner of the Pocheon rescue shelter, accused Kong of abusing the abandoned dogs after witnessing the conditions of the shelter. According to Beagle Rescue Network, the dogs were starving to death and larger dogs were killing smaller and weaker dogs to eat them. Many of them were not neutered or spayed leading to as many as 3,000 animals living at the shelter. New-born pups were dying due to malnutrition and infections. Food and water bowls were occupied by rats. It was dubbed “the gates of hell for dogs.”
“The conditions were no better than a dog meat farm,” reads one news report by Hankyoreh published on Sept. 25, the day Aerinwon was shut down.
There were no legal grounds back then for animal rights activists to seize a private rescue shelter and throw Kong out. That was until Beagle Rescue Network found the real owner of the land. Kong had established the shelter on unused land owned by an individual. The court finally ordered the removal of Kong and the shelter for illegal occupation in 2019. The Beagle Rescue Network signed a proper contract with the land owner to take over the Pocheon shelter and save the dogs left in limbo.
After taking over the shelter, Beagle Rescue Network said it has been “trying everything it can to make a better environment for the dogs, such as separating the animals according to their size and characteristics, getting them neutered or spayed and systematizing the whole operation.”
I just could not believe what had happened to these dogs. I wanted to help by adopting a dog from the Pocheon shelter and creating a space for another dog’s life to be saved.
My husband and I began scrolling through the Instagram posts tagged “Former Aerinwon Dogs” of animals that were up for adoption. My eyes stopped on a brown and white mid-sized dog that looked somewhat like a Border Collie. The description read, “Geumi [Bori’s former name] is timid. He trembles in fear whenever a person approaches.”
It seems like all the lively and friendly dogs are quickly snapped up — but it’s not so easy for shy dogs like Bori. According to Beagle Rescue Network, many rescue dogs are nervous because of what they've been through.
I was under the impression that as soon as I chose a dog, things would move quickly. But the manager told me that I needed to first fill out a form online and that her team would evaluate my husband and I to see if we were eligible. The length of the questionnaire and the detail was beyond my imagination. It asked straight forward questions like how many family members I had and if I was living in an apartment or a house with a garden but also sensitive questions like my salary, as well as if I knew how much it cost to take a dog to a vet. It even asked if I was thinking about having a baby.
A day after submitting the form, I received a call from a manager at the shelter. She said my husband and I would have to be interviewed over the phone. She said a person from the shelter usually makes a visit to potential adopters' homes to see if they are suitable for a dog, but because of Covid-19, she said I should send them photographs of every corner of my house. In the phone interview, the questions thrown at us were even more personal and we also had to make a visit to Pocheon to see Bori in person and make sure we were 100 percent about the adoption.
“I feel like I’m adopting a kid,” I said to my husband. I was irritated by all the formalities at first and having to share my home and personal details with strangers. But after some thought, I realized this was the proper procedure because raising a dog is no easy task.
When we made the visit to see Bori for the first time, he was in cage No. 5, categorized among the “most timid” dogs, the volunteer who showed us around the shelter said. She said they are not sure if Bori was born when Aerinwon was being operated by Kong or rescued during that time. She said he was around three or four but that we should get him checked by a vet. The only documents related to his history showed that he had continuously run away from his previous adoptive parents so was returned to the shelter a year ago.
It was only after we sent a photograph to prove that we had purchased a large kennel, two leashes and installed a one-meter-high fence at the entrance of our apartment that we finally got the green light to bring Bori home. The fence and two leashes were deemed necessities for Bori because of his habit of running away. The manager repeatedly warned us that we should not try to approach him unless he opened up to us and that we shouldn't take him outside until he'd become familiar enough with us and his new surroundings.
On the first day we brought Bori home, we were so excited to embrace him and cover him with kisses. My husband had already purchased a disc to play fetch with him. But to our disappointment, we were advised to put him in a separate room and only interact with him twice a day for just five to 10 minutes. We installed a camera in the room so we could watch Bori’s every move. For the first two days, Bori did not eat or urinate. Whenever I approached him, he backed as far into his kennel as he could. I was so disappointed.
Finally, on the third day, he started eating and drinking water. We were able to see, only through the camera, that Bori began sniffing different places around the room from day four.
On the fifth day, when I went in to say hello, Bori followed me out of the room. It was just five steps and he ran back into his kennel when I looked back. But that day, I shed tears of joy. For days after that, I tried really hard to make Bori approach me by enticing him with a warm chicken breast in my hand. He only came to eat when I had held my arm out and looked away. I repeated such effort for two more weeks. Though Bori ran off to his room when my husband and I were around, he began to lie down on our couch and walk around to smell different corners of the house when we were not around — all captured through the camera.
We were finally able to take him to a vet in the sixth week and got him groomed, after consulting with the manager. He received the shots he needed and was registered as a Seoul city dog. On the seventh week, we were finally allowed to take Bori out for short walks. I was obliged to communicate with the manager everyday about Bori’s status and condition for about two months until she told me Bori seemed stable.
It’s been a year and Bori now sleeps in our bed, sits beside me on the sofa and ironically, show some signs of separation anxiety.
Last August, Super Junior member Kim Hee-chul faced backlash after saying on JTBC’s entertainment program “Petkage” that professionals don’t recommend that first-time owners adopt abandoned dogs as “abandoned dogs take too long to get over their painful past and blend into a new family.”
Many animal activist groups like KARA criticized Kim saying that his remark “was misleading, making it sound like all abandoned animals are difficult companions.”
I understand what Kim means as an owner of an abandoned dog, but also sympathize with the concerns of animal activist groups. It’s been a year since Bori came into our family but we still have difficulty taking him to dog parks as he’s afraid of other dogs and people. I am still very anxious when I take him out for a walk during the day because he gets frightened by passersby. (His favorite time to take a walk is around 11 p.m.) We can’t really invite friends over to our place because Bori gets scared. My husband still hasn't used the fetch disc he purchased a year ago because Bori can’t be off his leash outdoors.
But raising Ashley, a carefully shopped purebred, wasn’t easy either. All dogs come with huge responsibility and people should not take in a dog, whether shopped or adopted, without careful consideration — but since both options have difficulties, why not do a good deed and adopt?
Happy Birthday Bori.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [email@example.com]