This Has A Happy Ending
Kittens for sale (as pets or meat?) at Busan market.
For whatever reasons, animals in South Korea are not treated with the respect or kindness they deserve. You could argue that in most countries animals are subjected to excruciating pain in the name of food or entertainment. But it has been my experience in Korea that cats and dogs are deliberately beaten, tortured and even poisoned in a culture which is still new to the concept of animal welfare.
The popularity of keeping pets has risen, as a sign of affluence and as a marker of fashion. Unfortunately so to has the number of abandoned and mistreated cats and dogs. The dissociation between cute kittens or puppies from the long-term commitments of their care has never been so prevalent. The neighbourhoods of Korea are home to an abundance of wild cats and their litters. More than once I have seen dogs tied to lampposts abandoned by their owners. In one case a sign offered him to anyone who’d take him. The sad reality is that it’s not uncommon for stray dogs to be sold into the dog meat trade.
So it will come as no surprise to hear that the government has insufficient methods to control these problems. Government pounds receive funds according to the number of animals they euthanize. I’ve been told it is 200,000 won per animal but I have no evidence. However, I do have it on good authority that due to overcrowding and finances animals are routinely killed before their one month ‘expiration date’. The month is supposed to give families the chance to find their lost pets. Add to this the lacklustre Animal Protection Act 2011 which to date has not prosecuted a single case of animal abuse, although significant evidence has been presented (such as the case of a dog being dragged to its death behind a moving vehicle). It is clear that animal welfare has a long way to go.
But good things are being done by amazing people to help these animals. No-kill animal sanctuaries care for the homeless and unadoptable, groups organize successful catch-and-neuter programs on public grounds and then there are the small stories of regular people doing amazing things. All three of these stories came to a happy conclusion in the past week.
This kitten has no name. Walking home from a night out, I heard a quick fire, high pitch, distress mew from a baby cat. The echo of the sound had me looking up at the 15-storey high medical building when I almost stood on a tiny ginger kitten on the stairwell. Through adrenaline and instinct he scattered up the stairs and under the tiniest gap in some shrubs. He was no more than 4 weeks old.
Having played this scenario before we went into action. David sought clean water and wet cat food while I monitored the surrounding environment. We lost visual contact but continued to hear the mews. leaving the food, we decided to visit in the morning.
The kitten had chosen an unlikely stronghold, little more than a square meter of grass on a busy street corner. Above was a pharmacy and 15 floors of hospital and below was an all-night singing bar. Oddly, when we visited in the morning we could clearly see cardboard hiding behind a sign acting as a bed and next to it a second foreign water bowl. Someone else had been caring for this kitten.
It wasn’t until that evening that the mystery was solved. The kitten remained but had some friends. Two korean women approached me when I attempted to put food out. The younger wore braces and a wheelchair. She informed me that they had been watching the cat for several nights, in shifts, and were trying to coax him out. They had already rescued his three siblings from the fate which befell their mother – poison. “Bad men” she said, and pointed to the apartments nearby. I understood.
I chose to focus on the very good that the women were doing and not the bad. Having seen the need to help an animal, even though it was difficult and thankless, they had taken it upon themselves to rescue this kitten and others.
Little Lady Yeorum
Jaye and Yeorum meet Salome and Yeorum say farewell
Salome found ” Yeorum” (Summer in Korean) when she was 9 weeks old, living in front of a store in Daeyeon. The owners of the store said she was damaging their clothes with her claws and that they couldn’t keep her in the house. They wanted to get rid of her but couldn’t find her a home so they kept her in a cage outside instead. The cage gave her room to move around, but the isolation and heat (32˚C 96˚F) was far from ideal. The truth is that Yeorum is a very sweet kitten, but like all kittens needs to play and be taught how to behave.
Salome took her to the vet where Yeorum was treated for parasites. Next she began a online campaign to find her a home. Then Jaye came along. New to Busan, Jaye helped us celebrate a birthday one Saturday night. When the conversation turned to animals and Jaye expressed her fondness for cats and desire to live with them – the room went quiet and eyes turned to Salome. They talked for ages on Yeorum’s situation and the very next day, Yeorum found a new home with Jaye. They are both adorable.
Jack – The Pot Bellied Beagle
Jack and John, his temporary caregiver
Beagles are known for their smarts and Jack is no exception. One day after school I stopped to say hello to a group of kids with a puppy. I asked whose he was and no one knew. After an exhaustive effort talking to shop owners we got a tip to visit a local vet . A 13-year-old student named Jay came with me to the vet.
We learned that Jack had escaped from the pound, a 10 minute cab ride away, and that we should return him so he could be euthanized. Not likely. The vet looked him over. At 7-months-old he had alopecia, scabies, fleas, ticks and ear mites. My husband Dave joined us soon after, and although he had better things to do and had routinely spent large sums of money to help animals, he didn’t blink when I said I wanted to help. Jack began treatment. The vet was kind enough to lend us a cage for the next 5 weeks for free and my student stayed the entire 1 1/2 hours to ensure Jack was okay.
We have three other pets, all strays, and couldn’t risk bringing Jack home for fear of contamination. I called on good friends John and Erica who said ‘yes, we’ll take him’ even with all his nasties. John and Erica work longer hours than most and live in a smallish apartment with no air con. But they still said yes. 4 weeks and $US400 later Jack was healthy and significantly bigger. In comes Salome with her amazing connections and out goes Jack to Seoul with an excited Landi who takes him home on the KTX.
These people disrupted their busy lives to help animals. They travel long distances, cut short holidays, wake early and clean uncountable muddy footprints to secure them good homes. Stories like these restore my faith in humanity.