“The mountain babies” is what we refer to the dogs who are currently living in the remote mountain regions of Korea in a shelter run by a Buddhist nun. Many of them have been living there their whole lives. All of them have something in common – they all escaped terrible fates. How did they come to live here? They were all rescued by the nun who owns, runs, and cares for dogs at her shelter. For many dog lovers, especially those in rescue, helping dogs is a part of life. But for the nun, it has become a way of life.
Where They Began
The majority of the dogs in her care were saved from the dog meat trade. It didn’t happen overnight. Every now and then when she visited the town, she would come across a dog paralyzed with fear in a cage outside a dog tonic shop, or a litter of puppies bred to be sold to the meat market, or a dog at the market waiting to be slaughtered. When she could not turn a blind eye, she would “purchase” the dogs from their captors and bring them to live with her at the temple. What began as an act of kindness has become, by all definition, a shelter for abused and neglected dogs.
Running a shelter, be it a small or large one, is a constant balance of evaluating how much space, finances, and resources are available on hand in order to care for and provide a healthy quality of life for any potential intakes. It is a labor of love that is equally as disheartening as it is fulfilling. Having to walk through the town and past hopeless dogs who you wish you can save but know you cannot means having to come to terms that all you have done is enough, and that no one can do it all.
The shelter is by no means glamorous, but the dogs are safe and cared for. Situated atop a mountain, there is no running water; containers of water are delivered by truck. Like the majority of Korean shelters, the dogs are housed in outdoor kennels due to the lack of resources to build an indoor space. They make due by using coals for heat the winter and using sheets of plastic to cover the walls of the kennels to block out wind. Hay is used to insulate their beds. A thick plastic roof covers the top of the kennel to prevent snow from falling through and provide shade in the summer months. Although they live with humble means, at the end of the day the dogs are happy, safe, and cared for.
Now and Beyond
However, shelter living is not a long-term solution. The dogs are happy there because they don’t know of any other life other than the horrible circumstances they were rescued from. They are housed outdoors, enduring all elements of the weather year-round, whether under the scorching hot sun or the brittle cold. Playing with each other is all they have for enrichment, but most of the time they have to stay in their kennels because there are many dogs and few humans to supervise them on top of other chores around the temple needing attention. The dogs love when volunteers stop by to help, but it is also a rare treat.
The Buddhist nun has always known that despite all that she has provided, these dogs deserve more than she has to offer. She has now come across yet another hurdle. With aging health, her ability to physically care for the dogs is not what it used to be. Yet, there is no successor willing or able to take over in the unfortunate but inevitable time when she is no longer able to care for them. Convincing locals to pursue adoption in a country where owning companion animals is a developing norm is difficult enough in and of itself, but when the shelter is situated in such a remote area, the number of people visiting in hopes of adopting a dog are virtually nil, as are promotional and outreach efforts. Other shelters are already bursting at the seams, some caring for over 700 dogs at any given time.
The time to act is now, when we still have a chance. There are still a number of dogs needing homes. Although this little shelter they call ‘home’ is the only world the dogs have ever known, and there is an entire world beyond the walls of the shelter to discover, we have seen time and time again dogs like them have a lot of potential. The only reason we don’t see this potential is because limited resources and opportunities means their prospects have also been limited and preventing them from fully blossoming.
Meet the Weolbong Shelter Alumni
Over 50 dogs from Weolbong shelter have been adopted in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada.
Meet the Dogs Still Waiting for Their Homes
Written by Sara Liao, Board of Director & Adoption Manager