From Life on a Dog Meat Farm to Life in San Francisco: Katara’s Story

I had written this awhile back for guest posting on another blog but it never got posted there so I thought I’d just go ahead and share it here:

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Katara is a two-year old Tosa (Japanese mastiff) mix who has a funny sense of humor, prances around like a horse and runs around excitedly tossing her toys in the air every single time she re-enters her San Francisco home. You might not have guessed this about her during her early days, though, when she was stuck on a dog meat farm in Korea, listlessly curled up in a too-crowded, dirty cage and awaiting her fate on the dinner plate.

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Katara was one of many dogs that are bred for meat in South Korea, one of only two countries in the world where this is still a legal practice. The sad part isn’t just that she was going to be someone’s food but that the practices in raising and killing these animals are horrifying; the lives they live up until their deaths are devastating and they often die by electrocution, hanging or beating. You could see the sadness in Katara’s eyes when she first came to the attention of the amazing humans who are working to rescue these dogs and end the dog meat trade.

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Adam Parascandola was on the ground working with Humane Society International to shut down the farm in Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea where Katara was living, if you can call her existence there a life. He told me that she was such a sweet girl when she was there but that she was subdued and probably depressed.

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Humane Society International is working with other organizations to shut down these farms, rescuing the dogs and working with the farmers to transition them over to agriculture farming such as rice farming and growing blueberries. Katara’s farm was the third to be shut down and all 114 dogs were brought to the United States. Katara came to the SF SPCA in September, and I’m told that for nearly two months she remained subdued, generally refusing to go for walks and not seeking out the comfort of humans.

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I began my search for a dog in late November, although I told myself that I wasn’t going to get a dog until after the new year because it was completely impractical. Ha! I knew the second I saw Katara’s sweet droopy face on the SF SPCA website that she was the dog for me. I kept returning to the website again and again, always captured by the expression in her eyes. I hadn’t set out to rescue a dog from Korea. I didn’t plan to get a dog that drools excessively. I wasn’t even particularly looking for a short-haired dog. She was none of the things I thought I’d want in a dog, really, and yet she was perfect. After a few weeks of eyeing her on the website and telling myself to wait, I could wait no longer; I had to go meet her and as soon as I met her, I had to bring her home.

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Katara bonded to me immediately, and she seemed to know instantaneously that this was home, but it took a little while for her to really get “warm” with me. She was sweet, but she wasn’t necessarily warm. She liked to be in the same room as me but not too close to me. And although it took me a couple of weeks to realize it, at first she would just acquiesce to whatever was happening or whatever I wanted. It was easy to miss this signal of anxiety / stress/ doggie depression, because she was such an easy dog, doing whatever I thought we should be doing. It was only later, when she began to give me signals about what she actually needed or wanted (affection, space, food, bathroom, playtime) that I could see how in the beginning she didn’t know how to identify or express her own needs. She had never had her needs met before; she went to the bathroom inside the cage where she lived and was underfed at the whim of humans. SF SPCA did amazing work with her while she was there, really bringing her out of her shell, but as great as the place is, it’s not a home, and it took the safe, loving space of a home for Katara to flourish.

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And flourish she has … every day we go to one of a few parks in the neighborhood, where she walks around off leash like she owns the place. She eagerly approaches other dogs for play; she especially loves Newfoundland and Pitbull breeds because they enjoy the same kind of body-slamming rough play that she does. However, she also loves little puppies and is astoundingly tender with them in a way that almost brings tears to my eyes every time. Katara is much shier with humans; she’s never aggressive but instead slinks down as low as possible and backs away when people reach out their hands. This is going away with time as she’s coming to learn that humans here in San Francisco are often bringing her treats and almost always bringing her affection.

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Katara has learned to tell me what she wants and what she needs. She likes to sleep in, rather than heading out to the park right away. She prefers lamb treats to peanut butter ones. When her sensitive tummy caused her a really bad night, she woke me up every hour on the hour to go outside; and I was so proud that she knew where to go and how to get me that I didn’t really mind getting up so often with her. She has a favorite store where we get her treats and she’s been known to plant herself in front of it and refuse to move if we don’t go in; while many may see this as annoying behavior that must be changed, I see it as a great sign of her confidence and ability to assert what she wants. I don’t let her run roughshod over me, but I do have a massive respect for her unique combination of adaptability, agreeability and growing assertiveness.

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She’s only been home with me for a couple of months, but it feels like life could never have existed without her. There is nothing that gives me more joy than taking her out to play. The enthusiasm with which she approaches other dogs is infectious. She has a funny charming horse-like gait, she likes to do somersaults, and although it’s gotten better with time, she doesn’t always know how to approach other dogs to initiate play so she has a funny little approach that involves stamping her feet and lifting up one paw. She cracks me up; and it’s not unique to me because I see everyone at the park laughing joyfully with her as well.

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Of course, this is a dog with a long, complicated history, so not everything is perfect. Her sensitive tummy issues may never be resolved, although we’re working on them diligently. And she is so bonded to me that she has separation anxiety. She’s learned to be alone in the house for a few hours, but when I try to have other people walk her or keep her at her place for an hour, she vigilantly looks for me and shows obvious signs of stress. She’s found her person and doesn’t ever want to let me go. The funny thing is, when we’re home together, she doesn’t usually want to be right up close to me. Although she cuddles sometimes and enjoys interactive play with me and accepts doggie massages, she usually prefers to sit at the opposite end of the couch and at night will move to the loveseat to sleep alone. She wants to know that I’m right here at all times and also wants to define her own space.

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If you want to follow along with Katara’s growth and joyful antics, she can be found on Instagram @rescuedogkatara.

 

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  1. […] dog, a unique mixed mastiff breed that was rescued from the dog meat industry of South Korea. You can read Katara’s story here. When she came to me, she was very shy and scared and a little shutdown but she and I bonded […]

  2. […] got Katara‘s DNA test down (Wisdom Panel 4.0) out of curiosity as to what it would say. Imagine my […]