When moving to another culture, a foreigner’s first impulse is to nest in his or her habitat; that is to say, one surrounds themselves with as many familiar things as possible. While the point of the experience is to experience something unfamiliar and exotic, there are days where you just want to slob around and watch The Lion King without requiring English subtitles.
For both of us, ‘familiar’ consists of the following: tomato soup (exists here but very rare), marmite (even if we found someone who’d heard of it, it’s nowhere to be found) and the presence of a dog on a day-to-day basis. We know that our situation prevents us from actually owning a pet with any kind of permanence, but have nonetheless found ourselves in contact with a local(ish) canine shelter on our days off.
Two of our closest friends in England are in the volunteer business of fostering dogs from shelters in their area, in order to find loving families for them elsewhere. To clarify:
Adoption = have a pet to own forever and ever, not just for Christmas etc.
Fostering = relieve a potentially overstocked animal shelter of adoptable dogs, cats etc. with the intention of independently finding homes for them.
Fostering is not so much a ‘responsibility-free’ adoption scheme (unless you’re a particularly lazy/awful human being) as a rewarding process of integrating unloved and/or potentially traumatised pets back into a ‘home’ environment. After being informed of the predominance of ‘Kill Shelters’ (the dogs have 20 days to be adopted before being euthanized, regardless of health or age), there was no way we couldn’t try to help.
After getting massively lost and flustered, we found our way to the Yangju Animal Shelter a little way north of Namyangju (our hometown, for the amnesiacs/English-speakers out there). In contrast to previous rants regarding my intolerance of the crowds thus far, we met nothing but wonderful people on our journey (with the exception of an especially intolerable girl who decided that shoving me into an elderly dear getting on the train was highly preferable to waiting 1.5 seconds); such wonderful people including a petrol-station attendant who took time off his shift to call a taxi for us when we got off the bus too early, and an employee of the Yangju Culture Centre who actually drove us down the road himself.
A kilometre or so down the road, there was no confusion as to where the animal shelter was; the open fields of the countryside seemed to carry the enthusiastic barking and yapping of over two hundred dogs. We immediately met up with Ula, our English-speaking contact and volunteer at the sanctuary, and the tour began.
Firstly, despite the unbelievable efforts of the staff and volunteers there, it is a sadly underfunded and overstocked shelter; it spans roughly two acres, divided between the main house (for smaller dogs, eg. puppies and ‘toy dogs’ who would suffer from actual exposure to any kind of elements) and two separate areas for larger canines. Each pen usually holds two or three dogs chosen for their ability to get along, often consisting of one terrified animal and one ‘protector’ who seems to address the humans while the other hides in their kennel.
Within moments, our trousers were stained and paw-printed with enthusiastic greetings by the dogs – every time we left one pen, the neighbouring dogs went berserk with optimism because it was their turn with the humans oh boy oh boy. We met some familiar faces from the website, including adorable yet sad-eyed Lennon, Kang (one of the many apparently obliviously cycloptic dogs we met) and Floyd – who we will admit we do have our hearts set on, provided we are deemed suitable temporary owners.
Although requiring extensive paperwork and permits by the sanctuary board, it’s encouraging that they’re so particular with the prospective owners of their dogs. It would be far more convenient for them to throw care and caution to the wind – the shelter grows exponentially, as it takes in far more dogs than it gives away to families – but they actually care about the animals, a trait not necessarily consistent with many such facilities in the country. The ‘Kill Shelters’ have a death row of 20 days, whereas the Yangju Shelter has five-year-old dogs who were born there.
Although we can’t spare much time to volunteer – the journey alone will prevent us from going up on a hugely regular basis – Meg and I are set on helping publicise and foster the dogs there. Expect considerable gushing over ad-aaaawable dogs over the next year or so.