MONTREAL — Olympic figure skater Meagan Duhamel strode slowly from cage to cage Thursday, greeting some of Canada’s newest arrivals from South Korea at an emergency dog shelter in Montreal.
“You’re scared eh? That’s OK,” she said, reaching out a reassuring hand to a big golden-coloured dog named Bear.
Duhamel was on hand as Humane Society International’s Canadian branch detailed its latest operation, bringing more than 80 dogs to the organization’s emergency shelter in Montreal from a farm in Siheung-si.
The Olympic star, who ended her competitive career in the recent Winter Games in South Korea with a bronze medal in pairs figure skating and a gold in a team event, added her voice to those calling for an end to the dog-meat trade.
After inspecting many of the canines, Duhamel said it is heartbreaking to see them when all they want is love.
Some of the dogs that were destined for the dinner plate were clearly suspicious and scared of interacting with humans at the Montreal shelter.
“But there are others who are friendly and loving and I think that they’ll adjust very well into homes and a loving family,” said Duhamel, 32.
“I just hope they all find a home and people that will treat them well.”
Ewa Demianowicz, senior campaign manager for HSI’s Canadian branch, who was on site in South Korea for the recent removal, described the conditions as deplorable and showed a video of multiple dogs crammed into tight quarters with fellow pups.
They were exposed to the elements and living off restaurant waste with no water, socialization or proper vet care, she said.
Duhamel, a vegan for the past decade, has travelled extensively in Asia over the past 15 years and had heard about dog meat being readily available in South Korea and China.
Wanting to help, she started by making a monetary donation and volunteering to fly with dogs back to North America.
“I thought: why would I hope this dog gets adopted and rescued — why wouldn’t I bring the dog back myself and keep him and give him a loving home?,” Duhamel said.
That’s how she ended up adopting Moo-tae, a miniature dachshund mix who was rescued from a South Korean dog-meat farm about one year ago.
HSI says there are an estimated 17,000 facilities in South Korea, where some 2.5 million canines are raised for human consumption yearly.
Borami Seo, a South Korean member of HSI, said it’s an industry in dire straits because of a dwindling older clientele and rising household pet ownership.
“They (some farmers) want to stop this industry because they know it’s a dying industry, there are not many people eating dog meat,” Seo said. “My family, my friends, I don’t know anyone who consumes dog meat.”
HSI said it has helped shutter 11 dog-meat farms and rescued about 1,300 dogs in South Korea. The farmers sign a legal agreement with HSI to move into more humane vocations.
Finding adoptive homes for bigger dogs in South Korea is problematic given most people live in Seoul, where smaller living spaces are the norm.
That’s not an issue in North America, where the plan is to find each a place to live, said HSI Canada executive director Rebecca Aldworth.
“This rescue will not be successful until these dogs end up forever in homes so we need the public to open up their hearts and homes to these dogs,” Aldworth said.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press