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It was July 12 when Lilly and Tanya first set paw in the Green Lake Area Animal Shelter, two frightened, skittish and rumpled dogs who just five days later may have been sent to slaughter.

Their journey to safety spanned some 6,400 miles and 40 days, part of a 50-dog rescue in South Korea orchestrated by Humane Society International.

In June, representatives from the animal protection organization arrived at the dog meat farm of Mr. Shin in Namyangju-si, Gyeonggi-do, collecting the hoard of terrier crosses, Jindos and Labrador mixes mere weeks before the start of the Bok Nal summer season, when more than a million dogs are savagely killed and served as bosintang soup on the lunar calendar’s hottest days of summer, July 17, July 27 and Aug. 16.

Having been raised in crowded wire cages, in squalid conditions with no shelter from the elements, the dogs were suffering from skin and hair issues, eye infections, paw damage, intestinal distress and emotional trauma when they arrived at the HSI emergency shelter in Montreal, Canada, where they spent several weeks being treated for ailments and introduced to human contact.

Nineteen of the dogs were flown to the Midwest, with three transferred to the Fox Valley Humane Association in Appleton and two to GLAAS in Green Lake.

Lilly, a Jindo mix with perky ears and tan fur, and Tanya, a scruffy mixed breed “with a constant bad hair day” were at a healthy weight but terrified of human contact when they arrived at GLAAS. The petrified canines were immediately taken under the wing of the shelter’s executive director, Janine Rubeck, who was prepared for the challenge, understanding the undersocialized dogs wouldn’t be won over with a few pats and a handful of treats.

“These dogs are going to be project dogs for a while to learn how to be in the world around them,” Rubeck said.

“The only contact they’ve had is someone throwing slop in their cages and the next time they’re touched is when they get pulled out for slaughter,” noted Melissa Tedrowe, Wisconsin state director for HSUS.

The canine pair were used to a diet of slop made from restaurant waste, provided simply to fatten them up with no nutritional consideration. While dog meat is eaten year-round in some Asian countries — an estimated 30 million dogs are slaughtered for consumption annually in areas including China, Vietnam, Indonesia and India — about 80 percent of the one million killed each year in South Korea are served during Bok Nal. The slaughtering process is savage — prolonged deaths by hanging or electrocution — and often practiced in view of other canines. The Animal Protection Act prohibits such practices, but the dog meat industry is not outlawed in South Korea. In June, a court case in Bucheon brought a glimmer of hope, with a dog farm operator convicted and fined for “killing animals without proper reasons and violating building and hygiene regulations.”

Dog meat is banned in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore, but there are some 17,000 dog meat farms, containing 2.5 million dogs, currently in operation in South Korea. Dogs are caged singly or with one or two others of the opposite sex. While no breed is specifically targeted, dogs are generally slaughtered between the ages of two to three.

While 70 percent of South Koreans report they do not eat dog meat, only 40 percent believe the practice should be prohibited. Protestations from younger generations, as well as worldwide activists, have helped contribute to the overall decrease in consumption, and HSI has been working with dog meat farmers since January 2015 to close their operations and surrender their dogs, with 1,300 rescued thus far. The organization spends more than $1 million annually on the South Korea campaign, including public awareness, government relations outreach, farm closures, transportation and flights and veterinary care. The closure of Shin’s farm in June was the 12th coordinated by HSI.

“We’re seeing more farmers wanting to give it up and much more social opposition,” Tedrowe said. “The thinking has evolved.”

The organization doesn’t come in “guns blazing and snatching dogs,” Rubeck said, and only partners with willing farmers. Any pressure to cease the practice comes from their community members or their moral compass, Tedrowe said, and HSI makes an effort to “keep the famers in the equation of our compassion,” understanding that for most dog meat farming is a cultural tradition and the sole source of income for their families. Representatives and staff from HSI work with farmers to help them transition into profitable agricultural or scrap metal businesses. Shin contacted the organization after hearing from other local dog meat farmers who had agreed to close their operations, and with its help expanded his watercress crops after the dog cages were torn down.

The canines from his property received vaccinations and underwent testing for viruses and a quarantine period before being transported to Canada. Before the operation was closed, HSI representatives from Seoul took photographs and recorded video which is being used to spread awareness both in South Korea and worldwide.

“It’s vital that we show Koreans the grim reality of these places because most people have no idea and are really horrified,” said HSI South Korea senior policy manager Borami Seo. “Although the practice of eating dog is on the decline, and we anticipate it will ultimately die out, during the Bok Nal days of summer we still see an increase in people eating dog meat soup. We hope to change that by exposing the disgusting and cruel conditions, and we hope also to influence the government as a growing number of South Koreans are calling on our politicians to shut down this brutal trade.”

Though the HSI rescues have had their lives spared, their emotional and physical recovery is both slow going and ongoing. Rubeck sees “slivers” of improvement in Lilly and Tanya, but the pair are far from being adoptable or even consistently approachable. Neither dog is comfortable being out of their cage for more than brief periods of time, and both chewed off their collars. Tanya would eliminate if Rubeck so much as opened her cage door, and when put in another room will throw herself at the entrance in attempt to escape. Lilly at first darted frantically around her kennel when a person approached but will now tolerate being leashed, though she is quickly overwhelmed when brought outside.

Rubeck takes a low pressure, low expectations approach to their progress, entering their kennels briefly to deliver water, food and the occasional hotdog, and bestowing only as much attention as they will comfortably allow. Having lived their entire lives in isolated cages, they have no understanding of human kindness.

“I don’t want to put them in a position where they’re panicking and then we’ve lost them,” Rubeck said. “We have to teach them we’re a creature worth having a relationship with, and I think part of that is knowing when to back off.”

While Rubeck suspects it will be months before the dogs are comfortable socializing with volunteers, both seem to show signs of interest when staff is nearby. Tanya will allow pats on her side, while Lilly enjoys having her head and ears scratched, albeit in small doses.

Rubeck is taking her cues from the dogs, and says it will likely be 2019 before they are ready for adoption. She emphasizes Lilly and Tanya will need patient owners who will help them continue to adjust, viewing them not with pity but with potential. Rubeck herself doesn’t focus on their narrowly escaped fate, preferring to hope for their future.

“I don’t think about the ‘what if’s’ — I would drive myself crazy,” Rubeck said. “They’re here now and it’s all uphill from here. There aren’t ‘what ifs’ anymore.”

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Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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General assignment reporter

Emily Pyrek covers human interest stories, local events and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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