Protests during the G20 Seoul Summit over moon bears held captive for their bile ― used in Oriental medicine ― helped to highlight animal welfare in South Korea. But for Canadian expat Katherine Hall, the issues raised were not new.
The animal-lover is hopeful for the future, with increased education on the ethical treatment of animals evident ― regarding the problems of keeping exotic pets, for example. But the 32-year-old is keen to play her own part whilst she is here, and has been volunteering at Asan animal shelter since January 2009.
Charis Cook at Asan animal shelter. (Charis Cook)
Now a coordinator, assisting with tasks including fundraisers and screening potential foster carers, Hall says more help is needed. People can get involved through volunteering, donating, fostering or even adopting.
“There are always animals in need, no matter where you live,” she said.
For Hall, the experience has been extremely positive, helping her to meet many new friends and giving her the sense that she is working for a good cause.
“Volunteering at ‘Jane’s Grandpa’s’ (the shelter) has brought a lot of joy to my life here in Korea. I’ve been able to help change the lives of many animals while enjoying the beauty of the Korean countryside at Asan,” she said.
The Asan shelter, affectionately known as “Jane’s Grandpa’s” is based mostly outdoors on an Asan mountainside. Approximately 150 dogs and 40 cats live there. Each Saturday morning, a group of volunteers get the KTX from Seoul Station and head for the shelter in South Chungcheong Province.
After a brief introduction, helpers are then free to walk, play and socialize with the animals, as well as help with feeding, grooming and cleaning, Hall explains.
“It’s important for us to interact with the animals as much as possible, since they only get this kind of attention once a week,” she said, adding “it gives us a chance to make sure all the animals are in good health.”
Most of the animals at Jane’s Grandpa’s have come from other shelters. Some have come from government-run “kill” shelters ― where animals are kept “on hold” for 10 days before being euthanized ― others from animal hoarders, or the streets.
Animal Rescue Korea, a grassroots network enabling animal discussion from adoption to pet care, offers lists of those available for adoption, fostering and sponsorship.
“Fostering is a wonderful alternative for people who aren’t able to keep a pet permanently. Expats are usually here for a limited time, and often travel or move to another country afterwards (so) it is hard to commit to adopting.”
But by fostering, you can help prepare the animal for its permanent, or “forever” family, and hopefully give it a second chance, Hall added.
So what makes a good foster carer? Hall says the most important thing is that you are sure about the commitment. ARK request that interested candidates complete a form, which she says contains questions that can help you ascertain this.
“Taking in a new pet can be stressful at first, so it is important to be patient,” she says. It is also important to be proactive in finding your pet a home, but, she emphasized, “Fostering does not mean keeping an animal while you are here and then re-homing it just before leaving Korea.”
Charis Cook has both fostered and adopted, taking care of one dog and three cats. She became so attached to the first dog she fostered, Dolce, she admitted she found it hard to pass her on to her new adoptive family. But now, she explains, “Dolce is a member of a loving, active, cozy family and I’m so happy for her.”
Volunteers at Asan animal shelter shear a dog. (Sofia Diatchkova)
She added, “Fostering means taking part in something bigger than yourself and letting a helpless creature find some love and comfort.”
For more information on volunteering, fostering, adoption or donation, visit ARK’s website at www.animalrescuekorea.org.
By Hannah Stuart-Leach (email@example.com