Dogs saved from South Korean meat farm find freedom, care in suburbs
It didn't take long for Linda Latelle to bond with Ellen, a Maltese she will introduce to human affection, a haircut and eventually a home.
Released from her crate after a daylong journey in a semitrailer truck driven from Canada to the Elmhurst Animal Care Center Tuesday, the little dog dashed across the floor of the veterinary hospital and accepted Latelle's embrace.
"Hi. Look it," said Latelle, petting the matted hair covering the dog's face. "Where's your eyeballs?"
Latelle doesn't know if Ellen will have lingering medical problems or trauma from a life spent in a dog meat farm in South Korea with no veterinary care and apparently no grooming. But Latelle, the president of a Hillside rescue group, is still accepting the challenge of acclimating the dog to a new life as a family pet.
"When you see even the smallest transformation, it just gives you such happy tears and goose bumps," she said.
Animal welfare activists from Humane Society International rescued Ellen and nearly 200 other dogs from a farmer who was raising the animals for slaughter and the pet trade. Dog-meat consumption is a centuries-old cultural practice, but activists say demand is declining among younger generations of South Koreans as they highlight abuses in the industry.
"They're extremely inhumane places," said Andrew Plumbly, a Humane Society campaign manager. "They shouldn't really be called farms. They look more like junk heaps with lots of wire cages containing dogs."
"They don't have bedding for the most part," Plumbly said. "So they sit, stand and sleep on wire mesh for their entire lives. There's no veterinary care provided because it reduces profit."
Activists next week are set to shut down the farm, about a two- to three-hour drive southwest from Seoul, after flying out the last group of dogs bound for a Humane Society shelter near Toronto, Canada.
Volunteers representing more than a dozen rescue groups in Illinois and other parts of the Midwest received 64 dogs in Elmhurst Tuesday. Three suburban groups -- Latelle's Magnificent Mutts & Meows Rescue, Animal House Shelter in Huntley and Chicago French Bulldog Rescue in Wilmette -- will care for the dogs before they place them in foster homes and later make them available for adoption.
"It's the best thing in the world. This is the best gift to save a life, especially a furry one," said Laura Hitt, an Animal House Shelter volunteer from Rolling Meadows.
The Humane Society has shut down 13 other dog meat farms in South Korea since a campaign against the industry began in 2015. Activists don't pay for the dogs but provide funding and other means of support to help farmers transition to growing crops or new jobs.
In the case of the latest closure, at the farm in Hongseong, the Humane Society is providing tuition assistance so the farmer can take computer classes and become a security guard, a spokeswoman for the anti-cruelty organization said.
Activists also are lobbying politicians to take steps to shut down the remaining 17,000 dog-meat farms in South Korea.
"The big-picture strategy is to essentially educate the government, provide them with a blueprint of sorts that closing down farms is something that can be done in collaboration with the farmers," Plumbly said.
Humane Society has rescued a total of 17,000 dogs from the 14 shuttered farms. Plumbly said the organization and rescue groups share the costs of medical treatment. Dogs are tested for dog flu, receive vaccinations and are quarantined at the farm or at a temporary shelter for at least a month before traveling overseas.
A small number of the dogs from Hongseong flew to shelters and rescue groups in Virginia, Maryland, New York and California. More than half the dogs that flew into Canada are staying there, the Humane Society spokeswoman said.
"They've suffered a life of malnutrition and mistreatment so there are a lot of more fundamental issues that can manifest later on, things like hip dysplasia," Plumbly said.
Latelle is rising to the challenge after accepting 11 dogs Tuesday and six others last week through her network of foster homes. Inside the trailer, she lent a hand unloading 64 crates holding Chihuahua mixes, Korean Jindos, French bulldogs, a Yorkshire terrier and other breeds while volunteers wiped away tears.
"This is the best feeling ever," Latelle said. "I mean, look at these faces."