Volunteers

My reason for returning to South Korea was that I believed foreigners could help Sunnan fulfil her dream. I had sat for hours my first year in Korea, eating lunch with Sunnan and listening to her stories. She told me all about growing up with her father, her own hero. He was a Chinese Medicine doctor and had a very real appreciation for life and animals.

She told me about her dreams for her charity and for Korea. She was horrified that Koreans still ate dog. She couldn’t understand why they clung so tightly to such an outdated tradition. She told me she wanted Korea to be like the UK, where everyone loved animals and took care of them. I’m glad that I didn’t know then quite as many horror stories of Britain’s own brutality as I do now.

All of stories I had listened to during my first year in Korea inspired me. After that first year I went travelling in Vietnam and South China and teaching in Milan and as I travelled a plan started to form. I would return to Korea. I would get foreigners to volunteer at KAPS. Foreigners missed their pets, there were lots of foreigners living around Daegu. I didn’t know quite how they would help, but I was sure that we should help.

On returning to Korea I had talked about my plan with Sunnan, she listened patiently nodding her head.

‘Yes, good idea’ she said. ‘Whatever you think is best, you do it.’ I kept her informed, kept coming back with new ideas, she was always supportive, always sure I knew the right thing to do, her belief in me was empowering. I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have someone with such belief in me for a long time.

I started with a Facebook group. Luna and I went round to the cat shelter and took lots of pictures for the group. I called it simply Korean Animal Protection Society. I posted stories, I asked for volunteers. I asked people to come and walk dogs, come and sit with cats, come and groom dogs.

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It didn’t take long before people started joining. Several people came forward with a real interest and passion. ‘We want to help! How can we help!’ Some went home with foster dogs and cats, others popped in and visited.

Gemma* was one of the first to arrive. She had volunteered in shelters in America and had some great ideas. Gemma suggested we organise a dog walk. I really didn’t get it.

‘They can come and walk a dog whenever they like,’ I said ‘I do.’

‘Yes, but maybe they don’t know where everything is, or don’t know where to walk. It might be easier if we start off by organising one for them.’

It hadn’t crossed my mind that people might want support when volunteering, that they might find it intimidating to come into the shelter and walk a dog by themselves.

It was a genius move. Our first dog walk 25 people turned up. We gathered them in the subway station and did a safety talk. We told them what to expect, what to do when we were up there, what the plan was. We had people from all over, teachers from America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and Canada and people from the local Army bases.

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The first walk was a hit. We went up, got a dog and walked around Dyuru Park together. The Korean’s were bemused. Who are these crazy foreigners? Who walks their dog in the park!  We had all the laughter and the odd dog eating joke, but in general everyone was very positive and interested. We made it back with all people and dogs in one piece and everyone went away happy.

The next day they were on Facebook asking for pictures and wanting to know when the next walk was.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

Please Note: The charity has moved several times since these pictures were taken and the animals are now kept in lovely clean modern conditions.

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