Saving Korean beagles

It is always a struggle to decide which animal rescue efforts are worth supporting and which social justice campaigns are worth writing about. Today I’m rewriting and updating a post about a rescue effort that really tugs at my heartstrings: the Beagle Freedom Project. The bad guys have money, power and status quo bias on their side. Beagles have floppy ears and sad eyes.

These beagles were apparently the first ever to be released for adoption by a laboratory in Korea. They got their freedom on February 2 as part of Project Hope, a collaborative effort between Nabiya and People Defending Animals (동물과 함께 행복한 세상 in Korean), as well as the Irion Animal Hospital and the California-based Beagle Freedom Project (a rescue organization led by animal law specialist and filmmaker Shannon Keith).

It was People Defending Animals that approached the beagles’ “owner,” a drug company, and offered to place 10 dogs in permanent homes. If my understanding is correct, any 10 dogs would have been acceptable to PDA.

The company agreed, and the government quarantine agency approved the transfer. But there were secrets to keep: what tests were the beagles involved in? What did the vivisectors expect to learn from those tests? Among the rescuers, to the best of my knowledge, only one person knows which laboratory the beagles came from and the name of the drug company. That information was not disclosed to Nabiya, Irion or the Beagle Freedom Project.

“It’s very sensitive,” said Dr. Kang Sang-wook, one of the vets who helped care for the dogs, when I spoke with him at the hospital in March. I met nine beagles that day: Yudal, Solak, So Baek, Ju Wang, Halla, Ggachi, Gaya, Dharma and Geum Gan. (The Romanized spellings reflect the rescuers’ preference. A 10th beagle, Tae Baek, had already been adopted.) I couldn’t really interact with them but Dr. Kang said they were very friendly—the hospital staff had been worried at first, he told me, because they hadn’t known what to expect. The dogs were born in China and spent a year in a breeding facility before being transferred to a laboratory in Korea, where they spent five years in cages. They’re all males, and all of them were neutered at Irion.

When I asked Dr. Kang about the long-term impact of the program beyond those 10 dogs—how it might affect other dogs still in laboratories—he couldn’t give me an official statement on behalf of Irion. However, he described the plight of dogs in laboratories as “very sad and unfortunate.”

I first heard about the case in February from Nabiya chief director Yu Juyun and volunteer Cody Yoshizawa when I visited the organization’s cat shelter. They both talked about how exciting it was to see the beagles go outside for the first time and said they hoped the rescue would raise more awareness about animals used for vivisection (defined here as all experiments on animals that are not in the best interests of the individual animals). That number includes 8,000 beagles in Korea every year, Yu said. Both Yu and Yoshizawa are completely opposed to all vivisection for any purpose, but as a rescue Nabiya faces a dilemma.

“We have to be nice,” Yu said.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach the PDA representative who advocated for the beagles and secured their release, and a Skype interview with Shannon Keith of the Beagle Freedom Project in California fell through at the last minute some time last winter.

Since I published the original version of this blog post in March, five of the dogs at Irion flew to Los Angeles for adoption through the Beagle Freedom Project. They all have new names now, and I believe the other dogs were all adopted domestically.

Since then Beagle Freedom Korea has saved other beagles, including three  puppies named Young Su, Namsu and Chulsu. Although the three were bred for vivisection, I was told they were saved at 9 months of age and had never been used in any experiments, so they were all healthy and friendly. As of September Young Su had been adopted, and Namsu and Chulsu were in foster care.

Also in September, Beagle Freedom Korea and the Beagle Freedom Project worked together to fly three elderly beagles to Los Angeles for adoption in the United States. Former vivisection victims, they had spent at least a decade in a substandard shelter. The details of their amazing story is on YouTube:

I couldn’t be happier for these beautiful beagles, and I’m very glad they were saved. I still wonder, though, if this project will achieve its longer-term objectives of creating opposition to vivisection and eventually ending the practice. Will these videos make people realize that all beagles are just as sweet as Alvin, Simon and Theodore and that they all deserve to be saved? Or will some people tell themselves that vivisection isn’t so bad because the victims aren’t always killed like they were in the bad old days?

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