By Kyle Spurr
BEND, Ore. (AP) — Megan Watkins never wanted a dog until she met Florence, a Tosa mastiff rescued from a South Korean dog meat farm.
Watkins, who manages a Starbucks in Bend, hosted a grand opening block party in August. She remembers stepping outside the coffee shop and happening to see Florence being walked by Humane Society of Central Oregon Outreach Manager Lynne Ouchida.
Watkins, an owner of two cats, knew she found her dog.
“I felt instantly connected to her,” she said. “She just had this really tough, sweet, calm energy.”
Watkins offered the dog a puppuccino, a small cup filled with whipped cream that Starbucks employees give to customers’ dogs.
“We say it was a match made over a puppuccino,” Ouchida said.
Florence is one of 28 dogs brought to central Oregon in March from a dog meat farm in Wonju, South Korea. All but three of the dogs have since been adopted, and two had to be euthanized, reported The Bulletin.
Humane Society International, a global animal protection organization, goes to dog meat farms and trades services and goods for the dogs. The group teaches farmers how to grow crops or offers rice and berries in exchange for the dogs.
A total of 250 dogs were rescued from the South Korean farm and sent to Humane Societies around the United States.
The Humane Society of Central Oregon in Bend took 17 dogs, and BrightSide Animal Shelter in Redmond took 11 dogs. The breeds vary with mixes including Labradors, mastiffs, Jindos, and elkhounds.
Each dog had major medical and behavioral issues. The dogs had infections, orthopedic issues and broken teeth from being confined in small cages. Many were fearful at the Humane Society shelters and would hide in their kennels.
“These dogs were not raised with human contact. They were not raised in a social environment,” Ouchida said. “They were raised in wire cages. Their interactions with humans were extremely limited.”
Florence had two deformed legs from growing up in a small cage. She had surgery in September, paid for by Humane Society International. She is now recovering with her foster owner, Watkins, who will be able to formally adopt her from the Humane Society after she recovers.
“We came into her life through the worst of it,” Watkins said.
Two dogs from the farm remain at the Bend shelter; Owen, a 1-year-old Jindo, and Addi, a 2-year-old Tosa-Lab mix. Staffers continue to socialize and train the two dogs before they will be put up for adoption.
Jesse, a 1-year-old Jindo mix, is in foster care with the Redmond shelter.
Overall, 23 of the dogs have been adopted.
“This has been extremely successful for the dogs,” said Karen Burns, Humane Society of Central Oregon manager. “Yes, we have had some heartbreak along the way, but I would like to focus on all the positive we have done. These are success stories. These are dogs that are part of someone’s life and family now because of what we did.”
Changing the culture
Bend resident Debby Bever grew up in Taiwan, where it is common to see dog meat at the markets. She never got used to the sight.
“There were dogs at the market all the time,” Bever said. “There would be chicken, fish and then you would see a dog carcass.”
Consuming dog meat is a cultural tradition, Bever said, where some Asian people believe it will keep them cool in the summertime. The tradition is still popular among older generations, she said, but younger people are slowly changing the culture.
With the experience of seeing dog meat firsthand, Bever felt compelled to help the dogs that came to town in March.
She offered to be a foster owner for a Tosa mastiff puppy named Lana. After less than a month, Bever adopted the young dog.
Bever, who owns two mastiffs, said it has been fascinating to see how Lana interacts with her two large dogs. Lana almost immediately bonded with them, while remaining distant to any human contact. Over time, she has warmed up to Bever.
“They just attach to other dogs and don’t want to be by themselves,” Bever said. “All they knew were dogs and mean people.”
‘Part of the family’
At her home in Redmond, Watkins had a ramp, doggy door and outdoor enclosure built for Florence.
“She is part of the family now, and we set up the whole house for her,” Watkins said.
After meeting Florence at the block party, Watkins visited her at the Bend shelter for two weeks before bringing her home. During those two weeks, Watkins convinced her husband, Jason Watkins, they needed the dog.
He agreed, and Florence has fit into their family ever since.
“I just feel very lucky to have her in our lives,” Watkins said.