The video was so heartbreaking, the kind you watch then wish you’d never clicked “play.”
Away from the competition on the field, the Olympic Games can shine a global spotlight on a country’s human or animal rights atrocities, and in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the biggest news story outside of the sporting events was about the dog meat trade.
I was covering my seventh Olympic Games for The Canadian Press, and it was only a couple of days after I’d arrived in Pyeongchang, when I read about Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel, who adopted her dog Moo-tae from E.K. Park and Free Korean Dogs at a pre-Olympic competition last winter there.
Her story was inspirational, and it sparked me to look deeper into the crisis. What I discovered was overwhelming sad. There are believed to be some 17,000 dog meat farms in South Korea, including several very close to the Pyeongchang media village where myself and thousands of other journalists from around the world were housed. The number of dogs killed annually is in the millions.
Numerous columns and articles about the brutal dog meat trade were written during the Games, revealing, in horrible detail, the awful conditions in which these animals live before they’re tortured and killed.
My friend Christie Blatchford, a National Post columnist, visited a farm with the International Humane Society. I saw her the next day, and Christie and I – both being dog lovers – spoke at length about what she’d seen there.
I was in Pyeongchang for almost two months, covering both the Olympics and Paralympics, and had a wonderful time. It truly is a beautiful country, but for this one horrible part of its culture. I wanted to do my very small part to help, and so reached out to E.K. about either adopting a dog or volunteering to fly another to safety in Toronto.
I did both.
My family lost our beautiful golden retriever last October suddenly to cancer. She was just nine, and her death was very difficult on all of us. My daughter Emma and I eventually chose to adopt a little mixed terrier named Carrot from Free Korean Dogs, and E.K. informed me I would be bringing a jindo named Terry back to Toronto as well.
Carrot was found wandering the streets of Paju, and was then rescued from a high-kill shelter on the day she was scheduled to be put down, while Terry was rescued from a shop that made tonic from dog meat. The poor boy was in a cage in front of the shop.
I was excited to meet both at the airport, and if I was apprehensive about the process of bringing two Korean dogs to Canada, E.K. and her volunteers completely eased my fears. Two women met me at Incheon Airport in Seoul, each one with a dog. Despite the obvious language barrier, with their help I was quickly checked in and through security, and the dogs taken away to be loaded. (The two women even helped me rearrange my luggage when my suitcase was overweight).
The woman who’d been caring for Carrot had tears in her eyes when I said goodbye, so I gave her a hug.
Once I arrived at Pearson, I waited for the dogs’ delivery near the luggage carousels, and then went through a secondary customs lineup, where I was asked several questions including “Do you plan to sell these dogs?” The whole process took about 30 minutes, and thankfully the dogs didn’t make a sound.
We’ve renamed Carrot “Nabi,” the Korean word for butterfly. We wanted to honour her Korean heritage, plus thought it was a great conversation starter. We can tell people Nabi is Korean, and talk about her journey to Canada, and the plight of so many other Korean dogs waiting for a safe home.
She’s been a great addition to our family, and has adjusted so well. She rode the Toronto streetcar on her third day in Canada, and had her paws on the windowsill watching with curiosity at her new city passing by the window.
Adopting a Korean dog does come with its own unique challenges, but we think they only add to the experience. Nabi doesn’t understand a word of English, for example. We initially tried a few Korean commands with the help of Google translator, to no avail. When I ask her if she wants to go for a walk, she answers with a blank stare, until I pull out her leash. She is learning the word “sit,” which is very exciting.
Both the experience of bringing home Nabi, and the satisfaction from knowing Terry was on his way to a loving Toronto couple, were extremely rewarding. And while not everyone can bring a new dog into his or her life, I encourage others to consider being flight volunteers. The process is easy, and so gratifying.
Written by Lori Ewing