Korean-speaking readers will already know this, but others may not: the word beagle is an English loan word in Korean, spelled with an “L” sound at the end. If you change the final consonant, “beagle” turns into “tragedy.” So the Beagle Rescue Network becomes the Tragedy Rescue Network.
Many of the dogs at the Beagle Rescue Network’s shelter in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, have sad tales behind them, but a Tragedy Rescue Network it’s not. When I joined longtime volunteer Jeong Buyun on a recent visit we were met with wagging tails, inquisitive noses and muddy paws. Later in the day Buyun introduced me to Yoo Young Jay, the organization’s president, who also goes by Jay Beagle. And in between doggy kisses I tried to get some insight into the ongoing battle between the Beagle Rescue Network and rival animal charity CARE, or Coexistence of Animals on Earth.
The CARE controversy
In the fall of 2018 I had a chance to interview Buyun, a trusted advocate for lost and homeless animals in Korea, to get her views on the homeless animal problem and how to solve it. We also discussed speciesism, vivisection, and how potential donors can decide which animal charities to support.
Only a tiny fraction of our conversation fit into the article I was writing, but that day Buyun told me a secret the beagle rescue wasn’t ready to make public: CARE wasn’t sticking to its professed no-kill policy. Animals had been killed secretly, she said, not because of end-stage terminal illness but because there was no room for them.
Since then, the CARE controversy has been all over the media and there was a police investigation. CARE President Park So-youn has denied committing any crime, though media reports suggest she acknowledged and defended the secret killings. She’s also been accused of financial misconduct and of breaking a real estate registration law, according to Buyun, who told me the Beagle Rescue Network spearheaded the police complaint and publicized the case. As of now, the matter is before the prosecution and no charges have been filed.
Facebook wars: CARE vs. Beagle Rescue Network
I took the train from Yongsan Station in Seoul early on a Saturday morning in July, arrived at Gyeryong KTX Station around 9 o’clock, and soon found Buyun getting off the same train. We shared the hilly country road taxi trip to Nonsan for nearly 20 minutes, and Buyun said she hoped I wouldn’t get motion sickness.
That’s when I asked her about David Heo, a person I’ve never met in real life but who often posts in the Animal Rescue Network Korea Facebook group. More than once he’d addressed Buyun in a hostile, accusatory tone.
In March, he wrote:
“No more staying quiet due to politics. I will call out any organization or group who harms dogs. Stuff you Beagle Rescue Network for starting all this shit accusing CARE of so many things they didn’t do. The true rescuers here know the truth and you will be put to shame soon. Be careful of what you say. You know who am talking to (Jeong Buyun). Those who support what this person does better know the truth before they start talking shit.”
When I asked Buyun, she said she’d never met David Heo in real life.
“No, not at all,” she said. “All of a sudden, he’s trying to (pick) a fight with me.”
More recently Beagle Rescue Network President Yoo Young Jay and CARE President Park So-youn traded accusations and counteraccusations on Facebook, mostly about how funds were managed and used. On the way to the beagle shelter in Nonsan, I asked Buyun about Ms. Park’s “Tragedy Rescue Network” comment and she said it had to do with sick dogs at the beagle shelter. Those dogs had all received proper vet care, Buyun insisted.
Among the beagles
At 26, Buyun has been active in rescue for about eight years and has three more years to go in her PhD program. On average, she volunteers at the shelter twice a month. Most of the other volunteers who joined us that day were in high school or middle school, and some were there to earn school credit. As the senior volunteer, Buyun led the team and showed us all what to do.
When we arrived, dozens of friendly beagles jumped, barked and wagged their tails for attention from behind the fence. There were also a few dogs who didn’t look like beagles, but beagles made up the vast majority. A blind beagle named Rain, a rescue from a kill pound, greeted me in the main building.
Then Buyun showed me the cafeteria, in a separate building downstairs with colorful paw prints on the window alongside a cartoon beagle thinking “Stop Animal test.” It had a lunch table, brightly colored cubbyholes with extra rain boots inside, and a table displaying framed pictures of dogs who’d crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
The dogs housed in that building couldn’t live in group housing for whatever reason. They included Samsoon and Jangsu, two pudgy beagles who’d been pulled from kill pounds within the past two or three years. They were about 10 years old, and as soon as I saw them I was instantly in love.
A close call on a country road
That morning I walked Ari, a small beagle who was stronger than she looked. Two volunteers joined us downstairs, and Buyun leashed some dogs for them to walk too. We all went out to the road together and Buyun pointed to a building down the street, saying it was a dog farm and we shouldn’t walk past it. But we couldn’t avoid the nursing home next door, where two Jindo-type dogs were tied up outside and barked as we walked by.
Not far down the road, Samsoon slipped her collar and escaped from the volunteer behind me. I tried to catch the sweet elderly beagle, but there was nothing to grab onto. Fortunately, the other volunteer caught up with her almost immediately. She handed me Jangsu’s leash while she walked over to the bushes Samsoon was sniffing and re-leashed her.
“Thank you,” she said in English as she took Jangsu back from me.
It didn’t take me very long to fall in love with Paula.
When we were all getting ready downstairs, she was one of four dogs who were loose in the room. She looked a little scared, so when she hid under some furniture I sat on a chair a few feet away. When another dog ran up to me giving kisses, Paula yelped at the other dog to scare her away. She was guarding me, like a toy or a food dish, and I was flattered.
Paula was from a laboratory, Buyun told me later, but not “the worst of the worst.” The laboratory was owned by a dog food company, and she was probably used in palatability tests.
I asked if that was why Paula was overweight, but Buyun said no.
Many of the dogs at the shelter are overweight because they have free access to dry kibble. Group housing has pros and cons, Buyun said, and one of the cons is the potential for fights over food. Free feeding reduces food aggression, but it also tends to make dogs overweight.
I also learned that the shelter had about 165 dogs but only two full-time staff members. The organization is recruiting more workers, Buyun told me, but it’s hard to find people willing to work so far out in the country.
Near the end of the day Paula got a bath so she’d be ready to go to her new foster home the next day.
Paula is now in foster care.
Pepper and Mylk
It rained on and off that day. When it was raining we spent some time indoors, unpacking and preparing dog treats with the student volunteers. Two dogs got baths, a spitz named Mylk and a little silver dog named Pepper who sort of looked like a schnoodle.
Pepper and Mylk were from a puppy mill, Buyun told me. The organization’s representatives had gone there to rescue some beagles, but they couldn’t leave Pepper and Mylk behind.
Mylk’s coat still had dark scaly patches because she’d had mites when she first came in. The mites were gone, but it would take time for all the fur to grow back. Pepper probably had an allergy, Buyun said, because her fur was so thin that she was prone to sunburn.
Mylk was a little scared, but she cooperated when I gave her a bath and again when Buyun and the other volunteers dried her. Pepper was happy and excitable, perpetually jumping up and wagging her tail. But at the same time, she kept spinning in circles. Was that a habit she’d picked up at the puppy mill, I asked? Buyun said she didn’t know.
Kevlar suits not needed
When the sun was shining, I had a chance to help clean up the yard: Buyun gave me a big red pooper scooper and a metal tool to scrape dog poo off the ground. Parts of the ground were rocky, and the poo was mushy, so when I picked it up I got a lot of rocks too. I must have gone through three or four scoops, and it was awkward asking for new ones. But it was still a wonderful experience—the dogs would jump on me with their muddy paws and give kisses while I was working.
There are definitely no bad dogs at the beagle shelter.
Clinging to an old mindset
When the outer part of the yard was done, it was time to clean a smaller fenced-in area within it. There was a small house in this section that was relatively new and equipped with electricity and heating in winter, and it was a lot nicer than what I’d seen at other shelters. A caregiver who didn’t have much stuff and didn’t need luxury housing could probably live there with the dogs, I thought. A camera-shy beagle greeted me on the wooden porch outside.
Buyun came in to clean the beagle house with me, and she told me the dogs there had come from a vet school. They must have been used to practice minor procedures such as drawing blood and giving shots, she said.
At least the school turned them over to the Beagle Rescue Network instead of killing them as nearly all other vet schools do, she said as we were cleaning.
I said I thought it would be better if vet schools could open free clinics where animals from the community—animals who really needed shots or blood tests—could get them from students under close supervision. Buyun said she knew of only one such clinic in Korea. At most vet schools, animals don’t leave labs alive. Some vet students want to change things, she said, but their professors still cling to the old way of thinking.
None of the dogs had been used for surgical practice, Buyun told me when I asked, and I said the school must have used other dogs for that purpose. They must have killed those dogs instead of releasing them for adoption, I said.
Yes, she said.
A wooden deck on the property serves as a play area where the dogs can run around. In the morning Buyun and I went there with three dogs and two student volunteers. Two of the dogs were new and didn’t have names yet. The other, an affectionate girl named Amber, didn’t look much like a beagle, but Buyun told me her mom was a beagle who’d had puppies in a kill pound and then died of unknown causes.
“Her mother gave birth to five dogs in May 2017 if I remember it correctly,” Buyun wrote when I asked later. “Two of them got adopted through the pound and we took three. One got adopted and Amber and her brother Alfie are left.”
Amber was wearing a funnel collar, but she was running so fast on three legs that I didn’t notice one leg was bothering her. It’s getting better slowly, Buyun said.
Toward the end of the day, the student volunteers went home but Buyun and I stayed longer because of the KTX train schedule. She showed me a second group of beagles from the vet school and we gave them treats in the rainy weather. They were all amazing, but Sojungi was unforgettable.
Most of the dogs took their treats enthusiastically, and one even grabbed a treat out of my hand with his teeth. But Sojungi didn’t want treats. She just wanted attention. Later, she followed us to the gate and begged us to take her with us when we left. It was very hard to leave her there.
On the window outside the cafeteria is an image of a beagle with a thought bubble that reads “Stop Animal test.” But ending vivisection is a distant goal for the Beagle Rescue Network, Buyun said, not an immediate one. Buyun confirmed that she and the organization want to end vivisection, and they oppose vivisection on moral grounds, but she said they don’t see ending the practice as a realistic goal in the short term. For now, their goals are to save as many beagles as they can and force vivisectors to follow existing laws—for example, to obtain animals from registered “suppliers”—because doing so costs more and can mean fewer animals used.
Some thoughts on the CARE controversy
It goes without saying that a thorough analysis of the CARE situation is beyond the scope of this blog. All I can offer here is my limited perspective as someone who trusted CARE and was a regular customer at its two associated restaurants for about four years. From that standpoint, it’s heartbreaking.
At first I had doubts about CARE because of things I’d heard from sources within the Korean rescue community around 2011 or so. But around 2013 or 2014 I learned that CARE had adopted a no-kill policy, and the group seemed to have really taken the initiative on homeless animals with its centrally located adoption centers in Seoul. Conditions at those centers, from what I could see, were way better than average. I also respected the group’s unwavering commitment to veganism.
Around 2014-2015 I occasionally did volunteer editing for CARE. And in articles I wrote for Groove magazine (2015) and The Korea Herald (2018), I cited AJ Garcia—Park So-youn’s husband and a former senior staff member at CARE—as a main source.
At our October 2018 interview, AJ assured me CARE still had a no-kill policy. But since the news came out about the dog killings, AJ has all but disappeared from social media. He didn’t answer my request for a statement when I was putting this blog post together. Furthermore, none of CARE’s representatives have mentioned the controversy in the group’s Facebook community for English-speaking volunteers.
Of the Korean animal advocates I’ve talked to, a few—including Heeji Yi, the subject of my previous blog post—defended CARE and suggested critics didn’t really understand the context. Others, like Buyun, are firmly anti-CARE. Another person I asked preferred not to speak out publicly, but expressed concern about how this scandal would affect the animals at CARE’s shelters.
When I asked Buyun what she’d like readers to take away from the controversy, especially foreign readers who might have trouble knowing what to believe, this is what she wrote:
“Euthanasia itself should not be an issue. We all know it might be necessary at some point but the main issue is that they hid it and did it secretly. And lied when people asked.”
Helping beagles in Korea
To inquire about volunteering, fostering or adoption, email the Beagle Rescue Network at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Beagle Rescue Network, visit the group’s website (Korean only). Account information for donations can be found in the image below:
“Saving this dog won’t change the world, but it will change the world for this dog.”
February 2020 update: Indicted on some charges, not others
In January CARE issued a statement in English, saying, “CARE President So-youn Park has been declared not guilty of all charges of embezzlement, fraud, and abuse of donations.” By “declared not guilty,” CARE means the prosecution decided not to lay charges, despite the police having recommended charges.
In the same statement, CARE acknowledged that its president would stand trial for ordering the secret “euthanasia” of dogs, which may be prohibited under Korea’s Animal Protection Act since CARE isn’t a municipal shelter and therefore has no authority to kill animals for population control.
While not denying that CARE killed dogs, the organization defended its actions, saying, “CARE, while not a shelter commissioned by a regional authority, actually followed much stricter guidelines when deciding which animals to euthanize, meaning CARE tried to save as many animals as possible.” In its message CARE also discusses the real estate allegations and argues that Korean society should have a public debate on the subject of “euthanasia” for homeless animals.
I reached out to Jeong Buyun for a response and she said it was “obviously not true they followed much stricter guidelines when selecting animals to kill.”
Everyone was upset, she said, including many CARE donors, when internal KakaoTalk messages were made public and “they were selecting the animals with no guideline. That pissed off people. That is the point why she was indicted because their decision was not based on vet’s opinion but hers and her employees.”
Buyun asks if we should call that a guideline—making life and death decisions based on the opinion of someone who isn’t a vet?
More recently, on Feb. 22, CARE President Park So-youn announced on Facebook that she intended to step down.
The CARE controversy has been covered in numerous media outlets, both domestic and international. For a better understanding of homeless animal issues in general, I recommend anything by Nathan Winograd. His first book, “Redemption (2007),” is a good start for anyone who would like to see a world where every furbaby gets a fair chance.
Readers with any questions or doubts about the Beagle Rescue Network’s antivivisection stance would benefit from the timeless classic “The Case for Animal Rights” (1983) by the late philosophy scholar Tom Regan. It’s dense reading, but indispensable for anyone with a serious interest in justice for other animals.
To read my 2018 article featuring interviews with AJ Garcia and Jeong Buyun, mentioned in this blog post, click here.
Also, in this blog post I’ve used the word “vivisection,” even though it’s not an everyday word, in preference to euphemistic expressions that minimize the horrors of the practice. Some readers may question its accuracy for procedures that don’t involve cutting, but I’m using it in the wider sense advocated by Joan Dunayer in her 2004 book “Speciesism.”