Story of the Week, Part 1:
The first few years of her life, she lived outdoors in an unmarked cage. She didn’t have a name or even a number, and she wasn’t the only one. As far as her big brown eyes could see, there were dogs of all breeds, shapes, sizes, and personalities lined up in rusted metal cages and dilapidated wooden structures. Some lay quietly while others stood and barked; some were alone, and others were crowded together with little room to move. As this scared Japanese Mastiff looked through the bars of the wire crate that had been the only home she’d ever known, she was simply one of hundreds of dogs who had two things in common: they were being raised for meat on Farm 3 in Haemi South Korea, and they were only days away from liberation.
Story of the week, Part 2:
She cowered in the back of her cage as they walked to the door and looked inside. She had learned from experience that humans were cruel, so she trembled and looked away as one of them opened the latch. However, instead of shouting and force, this time she felt a soft touch and heard them say, “You’re free now, girl…” as they pulled her from the cage. Hands ran down her back and over her ears, and though she trembled in fear at this unfamiliar experience, there was something different about these people. Though she had no way of knowing this at the time, they had just given this strong, beautiful girl a new life that would take her around the world and land her in a place where she would have a name, a family, and a very important purpose.
NOTE: The exact details of this rescue have been inferred based on the facts available and fictionalized to capture the essence of the story.
Story of the week, part 3:
In July 2015, the staff of Humane Society International first visited Farm 3 in Haemi, South Korea and urged the farmer to release the dogs into their care. Knowing that this farm was this family’s livelihood, they came prepared to offer another option: agriculture. The farmer responded that he hated his job but hadn’t seen another option, so with their help, plans were made to replace dog cages with fields of blueberries and corn that would feed his family as well as the surrounding communities. “We will find homes for the dogs, tear down the cages, and help you start a new life,” they told him. It was time for the cruelty to stop. This farm was one of many that was closed as part of a combined effort between the Humane Society International and Change for Animals Foundation, and two months later, they came back to do just as they had promised.
On liberation day at Farm 3, Adam of the HSI and Lola from CFAF were two of those on the ground releasing and naming each of the 103 dogs. A deep brown Tosa was one of the dogs who moved into freedom, and before she left the farm, she was given the first piece of her freedom, her new name: Katana. Not only is naming practical for keeping track of 103 dogs who were rescued that day, but most importantly, naming signified that each dog was no longer a commodity but was now a valued member of society and would soon be a beloved family member.
For more information about the release of Farm 3 as well as the other farms liberated by HSI and CFAF, visit the links below:
Story of the week, part 4:
When we turn on the news and open social media, it’s easy to wonder if anything positive is happening in the world. One of my purposes in sharing these stories is to remind us that miracles do happen, that kindness does exist, and that for every one person who is causing harm, there are many more who are doing good. Enter: Michelle. When Katara (originally named Katana) and the other dogs from her farm arrived at the SFSPCA, she was shut down. The SFSPCA has a groundbreaking facility with comfortable rooms and play yards for dogs to relax and recover, but Katara was too fearful to enjoy her new freedom. Michelle is a volunteer who donates her time to train dogs who are difficult cases, and when she met Katara, she wanted to help. Almost every day after work and on weekends when Michelle could have been resting, exploring, eating, or playing, she instead devoted her time to helping Katara learn to cope with new experiences so she could have hope of moving into the real world.
Katara’s first few years of life were spent in a cage, and Michelle told me, “It was almost impossible to get her to try new things. It took a trail of treats and a lot of patience, but she slowly began to adjust, and eventually I was able to take her on her first day date outside of the facility.” Michelle had a lot of guidance and support from other staff and volunteers a the SFSPCA, and with time they all saw this fearful brown Tosa grow in confidence and personality and knew that she was ready to find her new family.
Story of the week, part 5:
She was sitting in bed on her laptop, scrolling through the San Francisco SPCA’s adoptable dog list when she first saw Katara’s photo and froze. “I knew she was the one,” she told me. Kathryn had been working with the SPCA’s pet therapy program taking a dog named Lucy to provide therapy for people who had experienced trauma, but when she came back to her own home, it felt empty. She wanted to meet Katara as soon as possible, but things kept going wrong. Kathryn told me, “The first time I visited, the shelter was closed because of a computer crash. The next time, I learned that someone had already applied to adopt Katara and she was on a hold. But I still knew that she was my dog and asked if I could meet her.” Thankfully, Kathryn was right, and after the other potential adopter backed out, she rented a car and set off to pick up her girl.
Try to imagine life through Katara’s eyes as she settled into life in San Francisco. The first years of her life, all she knew was the inside of a cage in the middle of nowhere, but now, she was surrounded by unfamiliar objects, places, and people. To get outside, she had to walk up and down stairs, and to go to the bathroom, she had to brave city streets teeming with people and noise. Her senses were on overload, and her mind was spinning. According to Kathryn, “she was scared of everything. She didn’t want to leave the apartment, and no bribe was working to get her to go outside.” But, Kathryn was patient and gave her time to adjust. “In the early days, she wouldn’t do anything unless I explicitly told her to. I was thrilled when she started getting in to ‘trouble’ at home because it was a sign that she was starting to be confident enough to have and express needs.” Two years later, Katara walks the streets confidently and has learned to trust people. “Basically what helped her was to be in a safe, supportive home with a regular routine and lots of people around being nice to her so that she could learn that most people are good people.” She still has residual issues from her past trauma, but her resilience is amazing.
Story of the week, part 6:
Two years after leaving the farm in South Korea, Katara’s life is different in every way imaginable. She is a beloved family member who enjoys all that her city has to offer such as ice cream outings, beach romps, and play dates with other rescued farm dogs, but as her mom Kathryn relayed her story, I was deeply touched by how @rescuedogkatara has changed her life on a deeper level. Kathryn told me, “Katara is my emotional support animal and a trained service dog. I have a long history of recurring depression that is generally well managed with medication, therapy, self-care, support system, etc. But I do have to be vigilant about it and there are relapses. Katara helps as an emotional support dog by being a comfort but also because I have to get myself out of bed enough times per day to get her out for a walk. She helps with my daily self-care. I don’t typically need her as a psychiatric service dog because the conditions are managed in other ways but I’ve trained her in a few specific commands that we practice in case I do need her one day.” I had tears in my eyes imaging the good people who provided emotional support for Katara as she learned to overcome her fears, and then in turn, Katara has the opportunity to provide the same for her mama. Aren’t dogs AMAZING?
Story of the week, part 7:
Dog meat farms have been under scrutiny with this year’s Olympics being held in South Korea, and incredible steps are being taken by groups such HSI and CAF to close these farms and find loving homes for the dogs. However, the problem still exists, and it’s easy to think “this is happening so far away… what can we do?” There are many answers, and I can give you more information about how to foster, adopt, or donate towards the care of these rescued dogs. However, I can’t share Katara’s story without pleading with you to consider the reality of factory farming here at home. When Americans hear about the conditions of dogs in meat farms, it’s easy for us to think “we would never…” but every day in the US, people are consuming unprecedented numbers of animals who have been raised and slaughtered in similar or worse conditions. Farm animals are intelligent, empathetic, thoughtful beings, and most people don’t realize that their many similarities to our beloved dogs. If Katara’s story has touched you, would you be open to learning more about how you can help? Wherever you are on the spectrum from meat enthusiast to strict vegan, it is always possible to take a step in the direction of compassion. If you be interested in learning more, I will post a few of my favorite resources in IG stories.
Check back each day this week to hear more of this incredible rescue and adoption story!