August was quite a humid and warm month in Korea. It was also a very wet month. At times it would rain for a whole week with only a slight pause. Such was the week of August 5th. I joined a friend to visit his family in a remote village surrounded by beautiful, lush mountains and a wild river. I had already known it was going to rain that week, though I had no idea the rain would fall continuously, the whole week.

Upon arriving I was really excited at the sights surrounding me. There was no traffic (only a few cars), very little litter on the streets, a few people scattered here and there. The only noises were that of the rain hitting the leaves or traditional style Korean homes and of the raging river. I was happy to get away from the sights and sounds of the city. Of honking cars, traffic lights, shops, truck vendors, familiar people, familiar landscapes. I thought that the natural environment would de-stress me.

I didn’t mind the rain. In fact, it did relax me. I was no longer bombarded with noise I heard outside my apartment window or that which I created within it. Despite the rain I was going to take advantage of being in this beautiful environment and would not lock myself indoors. My friend invited me to his grandfather’s home. From the outside the home looks in ruins. It appeared to be supported by cardboard and twigs. Upon entering I discovered that it was fully functional. To describe a traditional Korean home would take a while. It took a while to get used to, particularly the height of the structure. I must have hit my head 10 times in the few hours I spent there.

The grandfather had a huge yard where he grew corn, peppers, sunflowers, pumpkins and zucchini. For such a frail looking and old man he seemed to be quite fit as he would chop down the thick stalks of corn. His wife had died just a few months ago. He occupied his time with cleaning, taking care of his garden and by taking care of three dogs he had recently received from his son. The three dogs were to keep him occupied since he no longer had a wife to take care of and no companion in the house. The three dogs were tied to makeshift shelters.

Maltese chained to outdoor doghouseThese “homes” were made of scraps of some sort of metal. The three walls and roof were so close together that the shelter did not completely cover the dog should he want to protect himself from the elements. Two dogs which I instantly began to love were tied next to each other. They were separated by a tin wall so could not keep company or comfort when in need. However, I am sure they could have smelled one another and heard their calls. The chains to which they were tied were less than a metre long. Because of such a short length, the dogs could only take a step forward or back, sit or lie down and stand.

The first time I visited the dogs (they were still puppies) I thought they would take down the whole structure of the shelters. They had more energy and enthusiasm than any dogs I have come across beforehand. They seemed strong and excited. As I expected, the animals had no contact with humans. In fact, the grandfather who was to take care of the dogs and keep company with, only fed them once every few days. Their contact lasted no more than five minutes. The dogs had food, though it was not adequately nutritious. The water they had was green with algae and was covered by a surface of their own hair. The first thing I did after playing with the two dogs was to change their water. I scrubbed their dishes (one was a plastic container while the other was an old pan) and filled it with fresh, cold water. The dogs began to drink from them instantly.

After changing the water it was time for me to reflect. I became angry at whoever had bought the grandfather the dogs. I felt no anger at the old man since it was likely not his decision to keep these dogs. I expressed my anger to my friend, who had been sitting close to me and the dogs. I was shocked when he told me these dogs were not only to provide his grandfather company. The dogs were there to grow and be eaten. Subsequent visits were not different from the first. The next day I visited the dogs I had a different perspective. I was no longer looking at dogs who were mistreated. I was looking at dogs who were, to many people, considered replaceable, merely things. Food.

Part 2

People must have renounced, it seems to me, all natural intelligence to dare to advance that animals are but animated machines…. It appears to me, besides, that [such people] can never have observed with attention the character of animals, not to have distinguished among them the different voices of need, of suffering, of joy, of pain, of love, of anger, and of all their affections. It would be very strange that they should express so well what they could not feel.

Voltaire, Traité sur la tolerance

On my second visit to the countryside house I was shocked. After the formalities of greeting my friend’s family I went into the garden to say hello to my new canine friends. I didn’t hear any barking. The first thought that came to me was that the dogs had been taken away. Then, when the dogs could sense my presence, one by one they began to communicate. It was raining, so the dogs were reluctant to come out of their “houses”. Soon, however, they were excited.

I walked over to the two dogs with whom I’d gotten the closest; the yellow dog, who I simply called “Yellow” and the black and white dog, who I called “Happy”. I saw the yellow dog first. His greeting was just as enthusiastic as the last time I saw him. He wagged his tail and tried to jump but was not able to as the chain was too restraining. He was no longer shy when I knelt down to pet his little head.

Dog pulls against tetherSomething seemed off when the usually excited Happy did not let himself be known to me. So, I looked in his shelter and was disheartened. Happy was no longer there. The new dog who occupied Happy’s temporary shelter was terribly frightened of me. Upon seeing this deathly looking dog I didn’t know what to make of it all. Where was Happy? I stood up and asked my friend. I knew the answer just by looking at his face. He hadn’t been told anything of Happy’s whereabouts, but only the worst could have happened, we thought. I tried to console myself, perhaps he hadn’t been eaten, yet I became infuriated and sad all at once. I was shocked that the puppy I had taken on a walk just a few weeks earlier was gone.

I decided there was nothing I could do and to dwell on what may have happened to Happy would be useless, so I decided to introduce myself to the new dog. To describe him would not be difficult at all. He was malnourished and ill. His eyes were covered with a yellow mucus. His nose was pink, scabbed and encrusted with dried waste. His fur was dirty, matted and oily. What was most shocking to me, however, was his reluctance to come to me. He tried to hide in a corner and would not look in my direction. It wouldn’t be a stretch to describe him as shell-shocked. He looked like life had already been beaten out of him.

I decided then that I would not leave this guy without first reversing his idea that all of us were there to harm him. Having no knowledge as to what his life had been like up to this point, I wasn’t sure if he had been abused by humans or had not had any contact with them. It was more likely to be the former. What I did know was that his current situation likely contributed to his depression. It took a while for me to even allow myself to extend my hand and once I did there was still no movement from the dog. Instead, he sat there, scared and motionless. There was nothing around me with which I could somehow interest him, I just had my hand and my voice.

I decided then that I would not leave this guy without first reversing his idea that all of us were there to harm him.

I was with him for thirty minutes. In that time I was able to finally reach into his hiding place and touch his back. The spine stuck out and shook as the dog contemplated looking at me or down at the ground. Finally, as I moved my hand towards his face, he moved his head towards my hand and so I was finally able to place it close to his nose so that he could smell me. I tried to wipe the goo from his eyes.

Whether standing still or having my hand close to or on him, he remained still and lifeless. It seemed that life had been stolen from him. I knew that a mere 30 minutes was not going to persuade him to feel comfort, so I walked to the white Maltese-type dog, who, up to this point, I had described as crazy.I decided to somehow befriend this white, furry dog. He showed his teeth constantly. It wasn’t out of fear or malice, it seemed that something may have happened to his jaw. I was pleased with myself and with him when he finally allowed me to extend my hand. He smelled me and just from that single gesture, we became pals. He let me play with him and pet him on the head and along his dirty body. I don’t know his name. I didn’t name him, either. But, I did find out that he used to be a house pet and was later chained to that post because the family had a new baby to take care of. The dog was no longer necessary to occupy the family, as there was a new bundle of joy.

Greeting a chained dogFrom that moment on, whether walking away from him, or towards him, he showed what I had never thought I’d see from him, excitement. He didn’t growl at me, nor did he shy away. He was even trained to sit and extend his paw. The weekend was nearly over and I had to say goodbye to my new friends. Upon doing this, I noticed a bone on the ground, in front of the newest arrival’s shelter. I didn’t notice until I had picked up this bone that it was a piece of a jaw with teeth still attached to it. It was obvious that this jaw belonged to a small dog. I don’t know whether it belonged to Happy. It really didn’t make a difference to whom it belonged. Either way, I knew that this bone and the living dog next to it were one and the same and that the living dog was staring into his own future. Yellow dog, what is your fate?

Some days later I began to think of what I could possibly do to somehow help these dogs. Then I began to ask myself, if I could save just one, which dog would it be? Would it be the ever so enthusiastic Yellow, or the dog who I now endearingly call Crazy, or the sickly looking one? I had no doubt that Happy’s sickly replacement sensed something terrifying was going to happen to him. Yet, Yellow was still so much alive and so full of energy, it seemed impossible to even imagine him being lifeless. Crazy was once a house dog. If I had been able to, should I have taken him home, as he already knows what life was once like? Or the sick dog? Would I be able to rehabilitate him? These are desperate questions.

Unfortunately I was not able to take any of the three dogs with me. I know I could have done so much more, but I did not. One by one the dogs will be taken to an unknown place, some with hope, others without, will be slaughtered, eaten and then replaced. I still feel a sense of loss and guilt that Happy is gone but I know that somehow, even though for a short while, I made a difference in his life, just by taking him out on a short walk. It is so important for me to know that.

Written by Piotr Fester and originally posted on ARK in January 2008.