Hwani the Pup with the Huge Heart

Guest article by Tatiana Thompson

The following is part of a series of interviews with adopters about their rescue pups. This particular interview is with Hyang-Sook and her husband about their dog Hwani whom they rescued almost 16 months ago. Hwani had a rough start to life but with love and patience, he is flourishing!

1. How Did You Find Free Korean Dogs?

We had a dog before Hwani, but he passed away about a year before we brought Hwani home. We missed him, and the fun times we had with him so much. We knew that having a dog in our lives was such a blessing, so we started looking for a dog that needed a home the most. In the process of looking for a dog, we found out about Free Korean Dogs because of a news story they did about their work in Korea. When we learned about the organization, we felt that we needed to contribute to them and the dogs in need right away.

2. What Made You Choose Your Pup?

We chose Hwani because of his story. He seemed to have gone through so much in his short life. The picture of Hwani, when he was found, broke our hearts. We knew if we were lucky enough to be accepted, we could make a difference for him. This is the first image we saw of Hwani, and we knew we wanted to do something to make a difference.

3. What was the Application Process like for You?

The application process was simple; it was also clear why they were asking each of the questions. I would encourage anyone who wants to get a dog to complete the application process first and then take a look at the available dogs. There are so many beautiful dogs, and by completing the application, you can be ready when a dog you like becomes available.

4. Tell Me about the Day You Got Your Dog, How Did You Feel?

We were so excited to get Hwani!  The three-hour drive to Seattle from Portland was filled with conversation about what it would be like to have a new dog. The conversation continued through the evening and over breakfast in the hotel. We also reviewed all of the information we received and made sure we were doing everything right. When we got to the airport, we waited for the volunteer who took us to him, and we saw him for the first time. He was sitting in his kennel and he looked just like a little white fox. He was sitting up straight with his tail wrapped around his legs. He didn’t bark or move; he just sat and looked at us. We tried to pet him through the kennel, but he was in the middle and stayed put so we couldn’t pet him.

We could tell he was scared, and we desperately wanted to take him out of the kennel to comfort him, but we held off because we were told to wait until we got home to let him out.  We took a picture of him, and you can see why.

There was a snowstorm that day in Seattle, and the drive home took forever and even longer because we wanted to see him and hold him. We decided to let him out of the kennel in the backyard. When we opened the gate, he walked out of the kennel a few meters and then sat and looked at us as we looked at him. I think we were both wondering what to do next. We took his picture, and we’ve included it for you so you can share the moment we first saw him for the first time. He was glorious! This picture shows the two comments we get the most about him both are a little unusual for a dog. The first is he had excellent posture and the second is he is very polite.

5. How was the First Week?

The first week we had Hwani was rough. He was traumatized by the plane trip and was very afraid of his new environment. When we got him home, it took us a couple of hours to get him inside the house, and it was winter. Not coming inside continued all week and we knew that when we let him out it would take us an hour or hours to get him back inside. There were so many times when we wanted to leave him outside, but we stuck it out and kept working with him on it.  We had to let him out in our backyard because he wasn’t going out to walk on a leash at all.  The moment we put a lead on him, he sat and didn’t want to move forward at all.  So, we had to let him out in the backyard instead, but it was very challenging to bring him inside.  We searched for a solution.  We started to let him out after we placed a leash on him, and this helped him to be more comfortable. We were able to get him into the house quicker over time.  It has taken us a full year to get him to come inside by himself, but he is finally there. Time and patience can always win out over any behavior.

The other challenge we had was that Hwani was very afraid of his new surroundings and us as well. He spent the first week under our coffee table where he felt safe. We encouraged him to come out, and it was clear he did not want to come. We continued to talk to him the whole time, and he eventually came out and would sit with us, just out of reach, and would look at us. We could tell that he wanted attention, but he was too afraid to let us pet him or play with him. On the third day, when Hyang-Sook called him, he came to her and gently placed a paw on her leg. Hwani allowed himself to be petted briefly before going back under the table. She spent days talking to him and encouraging him and she never once forced him to come out. We felt it was important to let him take his time. He now comes running to her, and when they sit together, he always places a paw or his head on her leg to be close. I’ll never forget the excitement when I saw this picture for the first time, and she told me how soft his ears were.

While this might sound challenging, we knew the adoption process would be work. We also knew we would have to work with Hwani to help him overcome issues and share any burdens and problems he had so he could overcome them. By watching him and learning his behaviors, we developed a shared language that allowed us to help him be the dog we always wanted. It might seem a bit strange, but we also have learned a lot from him as we have helped him to trust us. We learned to be patient and learn to be appreciative of the small things dogs do. Hwani is a happy dog now. When we call his name, he often puts a big smile on his face which makes us very happy that we think bringing Hwani home was the best thing we did for us.

6. What are Some of the Difficulties Your Pup Has/Had?

Hwani is sensitive to sound and especially doesn’t like the sounds of trucks or other loud noises. When he hears these, his instinct is to run away and hide. We live in the city, and this has been a challenge because it results in him not wanting to walk the next day. This is a shot of Hwani thinking too much. We left shortly after. Nevertheless, he loves going on hikes in nature with us, and we take him on a hike at least once a week.

His fear of noise has improved quite a bit, but it’s still a challenge for him. Each time this happens we take him out and continue to work with him by switching directions of the walk and giving him treats. The time for him to recover from this is getting shorter and shorter.  We are encouraged that this will go away over time.  What helps us the most is our understanding and acceptance that he been through so much. By accepting him for the dog, he is right now, and not where we think or want him to be, we are never disappointed.  The behavior is not all bad, and we have moments when we can share his joy, like this one.


7. How Long Did It Take Your Pup to Adjust to Life in the States?

We live in the States but took Hwani up to Victoria B.C. The people there love dogs and he loved all of the attention and treats he received! He enjoys travel as much as us and we had so many comments about how well-behaved he was. Here’s Hwani discovering that the ocean that surrounds Vancouver is cold.


At home, it took him a while to adjust he needs to have constant exposure to new experiences and repeated exposure to build confidence. We found the best way to help him change was to be very careful not to push him too far beyond his comfort level. Hwani would let us know when he was uncomfortable by lowering his tail. When that happened, we would pull back to where he was more comfortable. Because we never wanted to push him too far, we had some short trips, but over time he was, and we were able to share more and more of the things we enjoy with Hwani.

8. What Does Your Dog Do that is Endearing, Funny or Cute?

There are so many things about Hwani that are endearing!  One of his behaviors that gets the most comments is his ears. They seem to have a life of their own and move around to catch the slightest noise. He also loves to be outside at the end of a walk and on a sunny day, a rare event in Portland, he pretends to faint on our porch so he can stay in the sun. The last is how much he uses his paws like little hands. When he wants your attention, he comes up and taps you very gently on the back of the leg or places his paw on your shoulder, just to let you know that he is there. In the car, he taps Jason’s shoulder when he wants his window down!

9. Did You Rename Your Dog? What is the Story behind the New Name?

When we got Hwani (meaning ‘joy’ in Korean), we did not rename him. He already responded to the name, so we thought it would be best to keep it. Looking back, it would have been nice to have a name more people could pronounce.

10. If You Could Do It All over Again, Would You?

Without a doubt! Seeing the changes over time is definitely worth the effort, and there is nothing better than experiencing a hike through the woods or a long walk on the beach with a joyful dog. I’ve included one last shot so you can judge for yourself if all of the challenges were worth it.

Adopters/Interviewees, Hyang-Sook & Jason
Interview by Tatiana Thompson

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