In a back parking lot of a busy Cary shopping center, 31 dogs were gently coaxed out of pens in a tractor-trailer and into the open arms of volunteers welcoming them to a new country and different style of life.
The dogs were recently rescued from an unlicensed backyard dog-meat farm in Jeonju, South Korea — a city that draws tourists to its historic buildings, sports activities and food culture ranked among UNESCO’s Creative Cities for Gastronomy.
Kim Alboum, director of the Emergency Placement Partners program of The Humane Society of the United States, stepped off the back of the truck after most of the dogs had been loaded into vans headed for shelters across the state.
“These dogs will be scattered across the state and they will find their ‘forever homes,’ ” Alboum said. “There is a global effort to try to end the dog-meat trade.”
The dogs were all shapes and sizes.
There were some that looked like Jindos, an off-white or fawn-colored dog native to South Korea. Some seemed to be terrier mixes or a greyhound mix.
One of the dogs, described as a Nureongi mix, had a coat and face with markings similar to a tiger.
For a couple of years, Humane Society International has been on a campaign to move South Korea out of dog farming.
The animal rights organization has been offering incentives to farmers to give up their animals to be adopted as pets and transform their operations into agricultural farms that grow blueberries, mushrooms or other crops.
Dogs on meat farms typically live in small, metal cages and are fed discarded food until they are ready to be sold to slaughterhouses.
The dogs that Alboum and others sent out across North Carolina on Saturday afternoon had been quarantined in South Korea after being rescued from the illegal operation in Jeonju, about 120 miles south of Seoul.
They were flown to San Francisco and from there to the Washington, D.C., area for a temporary stay.
David Stroud, executive director of the Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society, was in Cary with his fiancee, Beth Cline, head of Paws of Bryson City, a rescue operation in the western N.C. town.
They took 15 of the dogs in a van, four of which they planned to drop off in Boone at the Watauga Humane Society.
“The exotic little angle of this is that helping Korean dogs, we’re going to get people to come to our shelters and they’ll see the other dogs we have and might leave with one of them,” Stroud said.
Humane Society International has brought 526 dogs into the United States and Canada to be adopted, according to the organization’s website. Though most have been adopted, some from meat farms still need homes. After each rescue, workers seek shelters in different states so one part of the country won’t be overburdened with too many animals, and that’s how the 31 dogs ended up in North Carolina this month.
Paul Alexander, a volunteer who came to Cary from the Outer Banks, watched as others calmed one of the dogs being led out of the truck and tried to put words to the emotions he felt, being a part of the North Carolina international rescue operation.
“It’s just amazing,” Alexander said. “This is one of the best days ever. The whole idea that tonight, they could have been dinner, but now they are going to be fed dinner, that’s just amazing.”
Though animal rights workers say it can be difficult to measure the global dog-meat trade because of poor regulation, the organizations fighting to end the trade estimate that 30 million dogs, mostly feral or stolen, are killed each year for their meat in Asia, in countries such as China and Vietnam.
South Korea, according to Alboum, is the only country in the world that has industrialized its dog-meat trade. The New York Times reported in May that government data show that more than 17,000 dog farms, some of which raise more than 1,000 animals each, supply 2 million dogs to meet a centuries-old appetite for dog meat.
Peak season for dog-meat restaurants in South Korea is the summer. Tradition has it that the stew, known as “boshintang,” has healing powers and helps beat lethargy caused by the heat.
Though some restaurants in South Korea still dish up bowls of the soup to the older generations, polls show younger Koreans have changing tastes and attitudes toward the animals.
A poll conducted by Gallup Korea last year showed almost two-thirds of Koreans under the age of 20 said they seldom eat dog meat.
The pet industry is growing rapidly there, too, and many now house dogs as pets.
“I do think this project has raised global awareness,” Alboum said.