On September 25th, 2019, Korea’s largest private shelter was shutdown by law enforcement officials despite opposition from the shelter’s owner Gyeonghee Gong. The grounds for shutting down the facility was based on the claim the land did not legally belong to Gong and was therefore being used illegally. While the intention was to reclaim possession of the land to its rightful owner, the evacuation had inevitably attracted the attention of numerous rescues and animal welfare organizations as the fate of the dogs were held in limbo.
The shelter known as “Aerinwon” had been in operation for 20 years, once home to as many as 2000-3000 dogs. However, the facility became a classic case of ‘good intentions gone awry’ when the population became too much to manage and the quality of care impossibly divided between the quantity of dogs. Of the 1143 dogs who were evacuated, it became clear this was merely the first step of a long journey to come.
The dogs demonstrated an obvious lack of care and socialization. Large dogs were forced to share small quarters covered in dirt and excrement, food bowls and water bowls were beyond unsanitary, and many dogs lived with overgrown nails and matted fur. Some were curious and cautiously approached; others barked in fear while others trembled in terror. One of the rescuers on site described the conditions as being “no better than a dog meat farm”.
What began as an idealistic sanctuary with the best intentions soon spiraled out of hand. In an effort to help as many dogs as possible, Aerinwon refused to turn away requests from other rescues across the country, drastically increasing the number of residents beyond sustainability when they accepted all appeals with open arms. As numbers grew and due diligence pertaining to spay and neuters became unmanageable, the population again saw exponential growth from breeding residents. Soon the facility was inundated with overpopulation, disease, and hygiene. Moreover, accusations of financial mismanagement was rampant within the community leading to further withdrawal of support.
Aerinwon’s closure had been a legal and moral tug of war for many years, dating back to 2015. On one end of the rope was the legal issue of a land owner appealing for the return of his property. On the other was the moral dilemma questioning the fate and protection of the dogs who were now essentially homeless. With the facility now officially closed and its residents safely evacuated, animal rescues and welfare groups have banded together with a common goal of seeing these souls back to good health and prospects.
Written by Kris Soyoung Choi