Flashback: From Korea to Japan

It was the summer of 2004, and Amber had been adopted several months earlier. My arm was in a cast after an accident at work, and a tiny dog was running loose through Seoul’s busy Jongno area with no guardian in sight. She was scruffy and had a bad eye infection, and I saw her run into the subway and back out again before I caught her.

By this time I’d moved into a gosiwon—cheap, dormitory-style accommodations with shared facilities. Fostering was out of the question, and all I could think to do was board the dog while I attempted to find her a home.

I took a taxi to the infamous “pet store” district of Chungmuro to look for a vet clinic. While we were crossing the street in Chungmuro, the little dog gave me a kiss on the cheek.

I found a clinic that was also a doggy boutique—it was full of colourful dog beds and cute accessories. In broken Korean, I tried to explain that the little dog in my arms was a stray but I wanted to pay for boarding and treatment.

What I said must have been incomprehensible because the vet wouldn’t even look at her. He pointed to the much smaller, drabber clinic down the street and insisted I take her there.

I paid the second clinic 30,000 won or so to treat the dog’s eye infection, and then I had no choice except to leave her there.

That evening I called Miky, hoping she could help. If Miky hadn’t agreed to pick the dog up from the clinic, I’m sure she would have been taken to a pound and killed. But Miky saved her, and I found out later that the little dog got a good home with a woman whose well-loved, well-cared-for dog had just died.

By 2006, I’d left Korea and was working as an assistant language teacher in rural Japan. I’d spent a big chunk of my savings after a bad career move, and I was planning my first visit to Canada in almost five years. There was a friendly stray cat in the parking lot, but my building had a strict “no-pets” policy. The cat was dirty and full of ticks, and he appeared to be starving. When I opened my door, he followed me inside.

I took the cat to a clinic for boarding, but they almost didn’t let me in the door. They told me it was because of his unknown vaccination history, but I found out later that they didn’t trust me to pay the bill.

I had to ask a no-kill organization, Animal Refuge Kansai, to help me find a home for the cat. After an ARK staff member pleaded his case for me, the clinic finally accepted him as a patient and named him Nyao.

Nyao was treated for malnutrition and parasites while I was in Canada. When I came back, I brought him to ARK’s shelter in Tokyo after smuggling him into my apartment for one night. The woman sitting next to me on the bullet train didn’t complain about Nyao’s constant meowing—I apologized for him and when we started talking, she seemed surprised that I had to travel so far to help him.

Nyao went to a foster home in Tokyo, but he soon had to move to the ARK shelter because he wasn’t litter trained. That meant a trip to Osaka, because there was no regular staff at the newer Tokyo shelter. I found out later that he got adopted and renamed Neo, but the incident left me with a bad feeling because I knew there would be others. And I knew that ARK couldn’t take every stray cat in Japan.

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